location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 2 / Chapter 3 Operation Big Scoop / Friday, September 4 -- Reflections on Operation Big Scoop

Friday, September 4
Reflections on Operation Big Scoop

On Friday, September 4, I interviewed three of the prisoners who had been part of Operation Big Scoop, now released back into the population. I also touched base with some of the staff to get their reflections on what had happened. Mike Miller was the first prisoner to whom I spoke. He told me that in the past, and in other institutions, he had been a major player in the drug trade, but that since his transfer from Kent in May, his only involvement was in using heroin on a very limited basis. As he put it, "I've been cool as a cucumber." He gave me a copy of the assessment he had received from Officer Gagné in the substance abuse program, which showed he had received consistently high marks with very positive comments from the instructor. I asked Mr. Miller what he made of Operation Big Scoop. He told me, "Given a little bit of time, I figure that I can explain almost anything, but how can you explain what happened the other day? So far as I'm concerned, the only thing I could say is that my reputation preceded me, because there was absolutely nothing else upon which they could have justified putting me in seg."

I asked Mr. Miller whether, in his opinion, the warden had captured the players in the institution in relation to drugs and muscling when he segregated the thirteen prisoners in Operation Big Scoop. Mr. Miller went through the twelve other prisoners, one by one, explaining, as only another prisoner can, their personal and business profiles in the institution, and concluded that the real players were not among those caught in the net. He could name fifteen to twenty prisoners who were main players in the drug scene, and they had not been part of Operation Big Scoop.

I also interviewed Darryl Ghostkeeper and Ron Tessier, interested particularly in how their segregation affected them as individuals and as members of the Inmate Committee. Ron Tessier admitted to being a consumer of drugs, but said he was not a player or a dealer, and that that should be fairly evident to anyone who looked in his cell. He barely made it from canteen day to canteen day keeping himself in tobacco. He was convinced the real reason he had been placed in segregation was because he and Darryl Ghostkeeper were on the Committee; the administration had anticipated that if a large number of men were segregated, the Committee would naturally become involved and somehow agitate the population to participate in a protest such as a sit-down. He felt this assumption was unfair because, in the year he had been on the Committee, he had demonstrated his commitment to negotiation rather than confrontation. On a number of occasions he and Darryl had intervened in tense situations and had cooled things down rather than stirred them up. Mr. Ghostkeeper pointed to the hypocrisy of the warden telling the committee at a recent meeting that it was important to sit down and talk things out, that the CCRA indeed required wardens to involve prisoners in decisions, and then, when there were some real problems in the institution, of the warden scooping the Committee before doing anything else.

In reflecting on what had happened and comparing it to prison regimes a decade earlier, Ron Tessier said the only difference was that ten years earlier the prisoners would have all been shipped to Kent the same day. In describing Operation Big Scoop, he summed it up this way: "The same struggle, just different faces."

Warden Brock's justification for Operation Big Scoop had been grounded in his desire to change the criminalized culture of Matsqui. Based upon my interviews with the prisoners who were the immediate subjects of the operation, the irony was that, far from undermining the criminalized element of the population, Operation Big Scoop reinforced a sense of the lawlessness and arbitrariness of the system and of the men and women who operate it.

Before leaving the institution that day, I went up to the segregation unit to get Rick Cregg and Mike Csoka's impressions about what had been achieved by the events of the last week. In response to my question, "How is Matsqui Institution different this Friday than last Friday?", they agreed that nothing had really changed and that Operation Big Scoop had achieved very little. In fact, Rick Cregg was of the view that it may have made matters worse; prisoners were laughing at the staff because they had had to let most of the guys out within a few days. Mike Csoka suggested it was all a question of perspective. If the guys who were boxed realized they were walking on thin ice, then maybe for a while they would keep a low profile. On the other hand, if they were seen by the other inmates as heroes, then their influence and power in the institution would be even greater than it was before. I asked each of them why they thought the operation had gone sideways, and their answers were quite different. Rick Cregg said he did not blame it on Warden Brock; in fact, "after the tracking meeting on Thursday, I went to the warden and shook the man's hand." Rather, he blamed it on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the CCRA, and all the legislators and lawyers with their bleeding hearts protecting the rights of prisoners. As he saw it, the CCRA put the warden in a legal straitjacket, and that was why he was unable to transfer these prisoners out of the institution. As for the Charter, "The warden's power has been chartered to death." Mr. Csoka also did not fault Warden Brock, but felt that middle management were the ones to blame "in not getting their act together." I asked both officers whether they thought most of Operation Big Scoop's targets had been released because they were not really the players in the institution or because the documented information was not on file. Not surprisingly, both felt the latter interpretation was correct. The problem with official files was that they were prepared for the most part by case management officers, yet these people did not know who the prisoners really were. CMOs saw the prisoners in their offices during the day, when they were putting on their best face and doing all the programs the institution had set up for them. However, the correctional officers and the correctional supervisors saw the real people back in the unit in the evening when, in Mike Csoka's graphic words, "The beast comes out. If you want to see what the prisoners are really like, just see how they relate to the staff in the living unit. It's totally different from how they relate to their CMO, but it's a far more reliable indicator of who these men are: violent criminals rather than smooth-talking rehabilitated cons."

Page 1 of 1

Mike Miller