Wrapping Your Mind around Fairness
Following his return to Kent, Gary Weaver began a determined and focussed
effort to place himself on a path leading to the street rather than to
segregation and the Special Handling Unit. He dug deep within, questioning
the directions his life had taken.
I've been basically challenging all my lifestyles
from the past. Like it used to be real appealing to wind up downtown.
You know, the flashy lights and the women and the bars and the action.
There was a real draw for that. I think of that stuff and it's with disgust.
I question how did I ever get attracted to that in the first place. I
saw my whole world as just a mission to score drugs and rock 'n' roll.
The image is you're going to have a great time, but then you see people
doing dirty moves all the time over dope. It takes away all their class
and respect. They sell it for dope. I've come to question all that.
My values are changing these days towards positive
things, because I've got a perspective toward the future now, whereas
when I was sitting in the SHU you can't possibly hope for the future.
You might be dead the next day. It's as simple as that. (Interview with
Gary Weaver, Kent Institution, March 27, 1996)
Gary completed Kent's Substance Abuse Treatment Program in December
1995. The following April he graduated from the Anger and Emotions Management
Program, and in July he finished Cognitive Skills Training. He received
excellent evaluations, and his instructors were impressed with both his
commitment to change and his ability to take concrete steps to demonstrate
it. According to one report:
[He] challenged thoughts and beliefs which he had
lived by for years only to realize that in some cases, they actually create
or escalate emotions. Mr. Weaver explored this area with amazing sincerity
in exercises. His input during the sessions was also beneficial to other
group members. (Program Performance Report, Kent Institution, April 30,
I asked Gary how realistic it was to expect that two or three programs
could change such long-entrenched attitudes. This was his answer:
It's not realistic in itself. But it's not just the
programs that elicited change. I was sick of living my life the way I
was living it, and I recognized a need to change that. If I kept going
the way I have been going, I was just going to bury myself. I'd be better
off dead. But there's a level of fairness that I've experienced here since
I came back [from the SHU] that's opened a lot of doors for change. .
.My mind has been helped a lot over the past year to be wrapped around
the idea of fairness. I feel that I've been treated fairly on a pretty
consistent basis in my interactions with staff. The drug counsellor is
a good example. I got to know him as a person and I told him that his
group was just incredible, although I didn't expect much out of eighty-three
hours of training on substance abuse and pre-release programming. When
I first went in there I thought, he's a former guard teaching a course
and he probably doesn't know his head from his asshole. When I went for
my first day I was expecting him to be standing up there reading stuff
out of a textbook and trying to help us identify and deal with problems
that he couldn't possibly grasp. When was he ever in the street shooting
coke out of mud puddles, and when was he in the sleazy, seedy neighbourhoods
and motels with the whores, the bikers, the weirdos and everything? I
went in and this guy, he knew this program like the back of his hand.
He was well organized. When you asked a question he could give you an
answer, and if he couldn't give you an answer he didn't bullshit you.
He shared a little bit about himself on pretty much a daily basis. I like
this guy. I regard him as good people, and I didn't see him as a guard
teaching a program because, for the first time in my life, here's a guy
that's talking about what's going on at his home, how he's dealing with
situations with his wife and his kids and how a lot of this program helps
him in his day-to-day living.
I find that when you help guys wrap their minds around
fairness, changes occur. For the years when I felt that I was being dealt
a bad hand, I thought, "Fuck 'em. I'll get out of this someday. I'll get
out and do whatever I want, like I did before I came in." They're supposed
to be the law. They're supposed to be role models. They're supposed to
be upstanding. They're supposed to be people that didn't do to their lives
what we did to ours. Yet here they are in their roles committing assault
causing bodily harm, extortion, threatening, on a daily basis. It's just
the regime itself, just the way it operates. To grab you and forcibly
confine you and give you very little, if any, reason at all as to why
you're in seg, and then even more far-fetched reasoning for why you're
not getting out of seg. You just think "fuck 'em." With me, all of that
seems to be over, this going to segregation and fucking up and getting
charged and being in their faces and their being in mine. (March 17 and
Gary Weaver's concept of fairness went beyond the conventional legal
definition. He emphasized that the staff members in his programs showed
respect for him as a person, not as a prisoner. In turn, he was able to
extend a reciprocal respect to them as "good people" rather than as guards.
Part of this respect came from honesty: "There was a strong level of honesty
there, and I never saw honesty before in any situation with a guard and
a prisoner, since I came to the pen" (March 27, 1996).
Respect is a concept many prisoners have talked about in my interviews
with them. Respect can mean many different things. It can refer to what
those who live outside of prison might think to be a corrupted courage
to maintain the self-respect of a career criminal. Many older prisoners
use the term to differentiate themselves from a younger generation of
prisoners who do not understand the "traditional" values of convicts.
This concept of respect requires maintaining a division between prisoners
and guards. Although it can tolerate a level of day-to-day informality
in communication, beneath the surface the lines are clearly drawn. It
was to this version of respect Gary Weaver had subscribed for most of
his life as a prisoner. It was an important part of both how he saw himself
and how he believed maximum and super maximum security must be survived.
He had now come to a concept of respect large enough to include staff
as part of the prison community, provided -- and it is a big proviso --
that they saw him as a person with strengths, with a capacity to learn
and grow, and not as a prisoner to be written off as incorrigible.
Gary Weaver's wider concept of respect is, in essence, humanistic, and
as such, places great value on respect for human rights. He was in the
Quebec Special Handling Unit when he saw the shocking images of the strip
searches at the Prison for Women on television. Gary Weaver's girlfriend
was in the P4W at the time, although she was not among the prisoners strip
searched. "I saw that as nothing but a mass sexual assault," he told me
in a later interview. "It was sick and twisted. Just seeing that I wanted
to smash my cell up." For Gary Weaver, as for many other prisoners, the
events at the P4W were seen not as an aberration but as the expected result
of a system which had no respect for legal rights.
The guards will do as they're told. Rights don't
have anything to do with it. If his boss tells him to do that, he's going
to do it because he doesn't know what rights are. He doesn't know how
to enforce peoples' rights. It's not a concern. (Interview with Gary Weaver,
April 19, 1995)
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