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The Protagonists

I had first met Gary Allen in 1991, at one of the meetings I regularly arranged between students in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia and prisoners at Kent. I started the meeting by challenging the prisoners to explain why the students, when they became lawyers, should have concern for the lives and rights of prisoners. After all, there are many disadvantaged groups who have not offended against the law and have a strong claim upon the time and energy of lawyers concerned with social justice. Gary Allen, in rising to this challenge, explained the effects of living through years of imprisonment marked by the daily practice of injustice. He told the students he was nearing the end of a decade of being locked up and he would be leaving Kent with a raging anger that would imperil everyone with whom he came into contact. Lawyers, he said, should be active in protecting the rights of prisoners if only to protect themselves, their families and their friends from becoming victims of the anger and violence prison generated in men like him. He explained that when he felt his anger rising, it was as if an electrical energy pulsed through his veins, and there were times when that force was so great it seemed the electricity flowing out of his hands and feet would have the power to electrocute anyone standing close to him. On these occasions, although wearing runners and standing on a concrete floor, he would feel his toes curl and grasp the concrete as the anger coursed through his body. He felt as if he were literally transfixed to the floor.

Gary Allen was a giant of a man, with an upper body toned by years of working out with heavy weights. His description of the anger flowing through and out of his body, and of the danger that this could generate for the public when the steel and wire insulation of a maximum security prison was removed, was truly frightening.

I saw Gary Allen again three years later, in February 1994. He had received a new sentence and was in segregation in Kent. I told him I wanted to interview him after he was out of segregation, but that interview never took place. A few hours after he was released from segregation on February 22, he was stabbed by Hughie MacDonald in the courtyard of Kent Institution in front of prisoners and guards, and he later died of his injuries. I was in Kent that day, although at the time of the stabbing I was interviewing prisoners in segregation. What I did see later was the trail Gary Allen's blood had left as he was taken from the courtyard to the Health Care Unit. A trail of blood was what Gary Allen had predicted would be the product of his long imprisonment: either someone else's or, as it came to pass, his own.

Hughie MacDonald was charged with the first-degree murder of Gary Allen. The following account of the events leading to Gary Allen's death is drawn from the evidence in Mr. MacDonald's trial, court exhibits, my own notes on the trial, and the judge's charge to the jury. The MacDonald trial serves to introduce not only the dynamics of maximum security but also many of the cast of characters who feature in later chapters of this book.

The protagonists in the courtyard at Kent Institution on February 22, 1994, were no strangers to violence. Hughie MacDonald was the older of the two men by eleven years. His criminal record dated back to 1958 and prior to 1977 consisted principally of property offences. In 1977 he was convicted of manslaughter and received a sentence of three and a half years. In 1978, while at Collins Bay Institution, he fatally stabbed two staff members and wounded a third, as a result of which he was convicted in 1980 of two counts of first-degree murder, receiving the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum of twenty-five years before parole eligibility. Gary Allen's adult criminal career dated back to 1974; in addition to property offences such as theft, breaking and entering, and possession of narcotics and stolen property, it included convictions for assault, assault with a weapon, robbery, and one conviction for manslaughter.

Gary Allen and Hughie MacDonald first met in Edmonton Maximum Security Institution in 1983. Hughie MacDonald came to Edmonton from the Special Handling Unit, where he had spent almost four years as a result of his deadly assault on the two correctional officers at Collins Bay. Gary Allen had been in Edmonton since 1981 and was halfway through his four-year manslaughter sentence. On January 23, 1984, Gary Allen and his younger brother, Tony, were involved in a violent confrontation with Hughie MacDonald and Howie McInroy in the courtyard of Edmonton Institution. Edmonton and Kent Institutions were built around the same time on the same architectural model, with the living units in both institutions opening up into a central courtyard. But there was more than architectural symmetry connecting Edmonton and Kent in this case. Although the events were separated by a decade, what took place in the courtyard at Edmonton Max in 1984 had profound significance for what was played out in 1994 in the courtyard at Kent Institution.

At his trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack in May 1996, Hughie MacDonald testified about the circumstances which led up to the confrontation in Edmonton. He described how Gary Allen and two of Allen's brothers had been involved in strong-arming and intimidating other prisoners in connection with drugs, and he said that the Allen seemed to have been granted relative immunity from sanctions by the prison administration. Hughie MacDonald gave as one example a case where Gary Allen and one of his brothers laid a beating on another prisoner using hockey sticks. Even though the authorities knew about this, no disciplinary or other action was taken against the Allen brothers. Hughie MacDonald's account of his and other prisoners' experience of the influence of the Allen brothers at Edmonton Institution was corroborated by CSC's internal documents. According to one report:

The Allens over an extended period of time had by the use of force, threats, and blackmail placed themselves in an untenable position to some of the other inmates who viewed them as receiving extra privileges and protection from the administration of the institution and as such it was only logical to the other inmates that the Allens were selling out the inmate population in some fashion.

The beating of [name blanked out here in report] by the Allens with no reaction by the administrative authorities was viewed by certain factions in the population, that the Allens were protected and had special statute [status] in the institution. (CSC Security Investigation Report, February 3, 1984)

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Hughie MacDonald