Ten Cent Shoes

I recognize the fact that many of you have better things to do on Christmas Day, so I will speak out of turn. Experience has made me morose and more but I hope you can find some piece of truth or the heart of the Day in my musings.

Christmas in many jails is like any other day. The timing is impeccable as is the monotony. We tend to not watch the TV specials so it even echoes yesterday. There is nothing to signal what rattles your very soul. There are no funny Christmas presents and if orange is festive you would throw up on Easter.

The most painful part of incarceration for me was to surrender my fatherhood like it was as worthless as my watch and clothes. We are numbers and last names; nothing more.

On more than one occasion the flavour of the season was delivered by the Salvation Army. Bars prevented the hug I longed for but candies and such were a welcome amusement; humble gifts. I was more satiated by their presence. Who wants to go caroling in a jail? I listen to hours of music each day, it is my morning coffee but seared in my mind are the notes coming from the accordion on the other side of the bars. Strangers can help to mend a torn heart. I was a father without the whiff of my children and visions of them tearing into wrapping paper laid waste to my strength. I don’t know about most of you but I have many Christmas memories. Imagine letting them all loose when you’re in shackles that very day. There is only anguish at each passing vision. I was disinfected of any meaning despite what swirled in my mind. It was like being a Goldfish. There was all that stuff beyond but the best you could hope for was a sore nose.

The first Christmas I spent in jail was in the Stratford Gaol. It was built in the 1800’s with nothing much more than stone. The season was colder than I was accustomed to. We hooded ourselves with blankets as the stone shone cold on our bodies. Our frigid defence was rendered useless as we were ordered to leave blankets in our cells as they were a security issue. Fire with Fire.

I soon decided Christmas was going to be delivered even if compassion was held up with customs. I had a weakness for sweets while incarcerated. When I was in hospital I would waken in the night and eat a black licorice. I would waken in the morning with a piece or two on my pillow and lost half a tooth soon after but it was comfort. My family has a taste for black licorice and I must have found a connection when I was without them. Sweets were also a connection to the outside while in jail. A “snickers” tastes better than a “snickers” on the outside…trust me.

I always had a couple of chocolate bars either near me or in me. I would ration them. To eat a whole chocolate bar was like throwing away several moments of ecstasy. I ordered enough chocolate bars using the system used to procure street food and product on canteen. On Christmas Eve my cellmate turned into an Elf and ran diversion as we were being locked up. As he pretended to use the toilet I filled my pockets with chocolate bars and scurried from cell to cell and gave each man a chocolate bar. I shook hands with my own pain and glanced into the same infinitely sad eyes but there was a sparkle. It was Santa in an orange jumpsuit wearing ten cent shoes.

P.S. Thanks Mom for the canteen money.

My Neighbour’s Children

I’m not sure how it slipped by Mr. Harper but it seems one of his officers has put his foot in his mouth. Industry minister James Moore is quoted as saying:

“Is it the government’s job – my job to feed my neighbour’s children? I don’t think so; obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry…but is that always the government’s job? Empowering families with more power and resources so they can feed their own children is I think a good thing.”

Mr. Moore,

That may be a good thing but your dream doesn’t fill half our heads and less stomachs. While you’re making signs to tell us about your plan to empower families many of them are going hungry. If you guys can pass something between prorogues we would all be pleased. When there is no food in your stomach there’s a lot of grumbling between budgets. You sound confident in your plan but just to prove the earnestness with which this government is dealing with the issue we would like you to stop eating 3 meals a day till this all blows in. I think that’s a good thing. This power and these resources you speak of might be helpful if wrapped in a sandwich. We can’t eat your perspective or promises. This problem is like a sore thumb never to heal. How many more meals do these children have to go without while you dance this into a motion that brings food and more? It is not a simple economic principle when in fact many who use food banks are employed. Selling the country to create jobs doesn’t always end hunger.

The next time you walk to the refrigerator sir, I would have you pause. Go sit somewhere quiet. Wait until you start hearing your stomach rumbling. Now wait an hour and consider the number of times your thoughts turn to food. The rumbling and anguish you may sense is in fact a regular and often prolonged experience for some Canadian children. Children who have no voice, no vote and clearly from you sir, no compassion. Possibly you’re so smart because you had the privilege of growing up with nutrition. Imagine algebra with an empty stomach.

You may think it is not your job to feed your neighbour’s children but as a federal minister you represent each of the homeless and the many more who go without food. There are 30 000 homeless in Canada and 833 000 visit a food bank each month. When we see this sort of disaster in another country we are alarmed, recognize the need and take action. When these numbers happen slowly and are spread out, our empathy is diluted. Does hunger feel different in Canada than Cambodia? If a tornado hit Toronto and the numbers were the same, I doubt we could expect such callous and stupid statements. These numbers are a national disaster being administered to by charities in many cases. Why can the military be roused to assist another country but will not hand out food packets from the back of their trucks here in Canada unless their government declares it an emergency. This is an emergency. To not have a roof or to be hungry is not something we ignore or prorogue when it happens far away. I do think Mr. Moore that it falls on government to administer to something this serious.

From your words it would appear you have no problem passing the potatoes with the prime minister but to hell with those hungry kids next door. What specifically is the distinction you make?

It is interesting that you don’t consider it your job to feed your neighbour’s children but assuming your neighbour pays taxes it is their job to work and save for you to eat your parliamentary meals, a salary and even a pension. You sir would like to be fed by your countrymen with a silver spoon but you won’t commit a quarter for a hungry child.

I can swear like a drunken sailor but you sir are curse enough.

Dear Ed Holder, (Federal Member of Parliament for London West)

Dear Ed,

I received your Merry Christmas card in the mail today. I am humbled you remembered me. It was ages ago that your office gave me the runaround and it had slipped my mind. I was glad it hadn’t yours. The card has healed the wounds of your bureaucratic whip or should I say whipped. You haven’t had an unscripted word come out since the Prime minister stuck his hand in your back and made your mouth move. The Library of Parliament all done up in tinsel pales to the one of you on the back cover. To be honest I was hoping to forget the faces of several Conservatives this season but you rub my nose in it and symbolize those who thumb the same at democracy and fair government.

The back of the card I found to be a taunt. I can contact you in Ottawa, London or while on prorogue with email. Would it be helpful when I use these avenues of democracy to mention that you in fact sent me a Christmas card this year?

As one of your constituents who is literate and can therefore write, here we be. My good fortune is such that I have a roof and wall with a phone on it and can call you. I am shy to divulge my luxury but I even have a computer with which I can email you. In a few short words I would like you to know that you work not for the proroguing hairpiece but in fact me.

Using said computer I have a few calculations for you. There are roughly 40,000 households in London West; “Dear Neighbours” as you say. Possibly you have read my blog and singled me out with your sentimental salutations but considering the impersonal words I expect the other 39, 999 households received your blue box fodder as well. I don’t know how much the parliamentary printer charges us but with gloss and envelope let’s assume they cost a nickel each. Forty thousand X’s a nickel is $ 2000.00 dollars. As angry as that number makes me my mind catapults to the fact that the federal government is doing this across the entire nation. It is a magical season but the postal workers have not sprouted angel’s wings to move your boxes of parliamentary Christmas cards. They use gas and are paid wages to distribute the fabulous faces of many if not all members of parliament.

You smile from the back of these cards oblivious to your country. 30 000 Canadians are homeless every night and 833 000 are assisted by food banks each month.

There are 13 320 615 households in Canada X’s that nickel equals $ 666 030.75

I take comfort in the fact you used an envelope made from recycled paper to send a non recycled card. I might have thought you had no conscience with your recycled aspirations. That is why you sent the card isn’t it? To wiggle your toe in the direction of re-election? You and your pension prone pals should be ashamed. You would rather hold an elected seat than feed people? No cards went out to the homeless and the shame of it is; all that money should have gone their way.

I don’t believe in Santa but I believe $666 030.75 would find shelter for many or if we had a parliamentary baker we could see a loaf of bread for each dollar. I guess the difficulty lay in the fact that those with empty bellies and absent addresses tend not to vote.

This is nearsighted stupidity and parliamentary propaganda laced with sentimental bull. As my mind wanders to Ottawa I hope the lot of you are dethroned for your lack of vision regarding your less fortunate constituents.

Hristos se rodi

Will The Pharmacist Wag His Finger?

“A new study out of Ohio State University shows there is a cyclical relationship between casual sex and mental health – poor mental health contributes to more casual sex, which leads to more mental health problems.” This springs from The Christian Post dot com, Last Generation Network News Christian Edition, Baptist Ministries dot org. and Brazo Valley Ministries dot org.

If casual sex is linked to poor mental health what a sinner am I. Judging from my psychiatric history it would be a wonder I found time to eat being busy with the other. If we must extrapolate from a study it is worth looking at the findings with some common sense. If there is a link, please explain childhood mental illnesses. My first contact with the mental health system was at the age of ten. This I can now clearly link to me playing doctor with that girl from kindergarten. There is a long list of disorders which afflict children who are most unlikely to be sinners. To use one study to perpetuate perceptions of morality is irresponsible and possibly manipulative. What do you tell the virginal anorexic? What about the biblically sound schizophrenic?

I was under the impression that sin was no longer considered the cause of mental illness. We have long since ceased trying to cast out evil spirits and in fact the chastity belts that were used on psychiatric patients have proven ineffective. I guess it does offer some hope; if I can keep my knees together quite likely this cloud of depression will disappear.

I was seven years celibate while dancing with justice. I would like any of my readers who can relate to being thirty something to imagine a drought such as this. Maybe we should extrapolate that the worst years of my mental health were a result of not getting enough. If anecdotal evidence is worth anything I longed for touch when I was in jail and hospital. I’m not condoning casual sex but to link it to mental health only adds to the shame many experience as a result of their illnesses. When I walk into the school following my hospitalization what are the assumptions and attitudes of my classmates? When I walk into the pharmacy for my medication will the pharmacist wag his finger?

Change Who Comes Out

I came across an older news story about the Ombudsman looking into the 52% increase in black offenders in the federal system in the last decade. Black people comprise only 2.5 % of the Canadian population while black offenders make up 20 % of the federal prison population. Aboriginals represent a quarter of all inmates while comprising only four percent of the general population.

Why are these figures so illogical?  Why is it that the colour of skin or heritage or ethnicity creates a greater chance that I will find myself imprisoned? What have we done and seem to be doing? Is poverty a factor?  Does the colour of my skin influence the severity with which the law deals with me? Do we profile?

How long does it take for an attitude to change? Had I been allowed in a bar in my youth I would have walked in a different entrance and sat in a different area than aboriginals. That image would have seared my mind as to their value and despite our progress the scar would linger. When they started letting black people drink from any fountain they wanted, people didn’t stop lynching them. It takes some time for a belief to truly change. It has many images, words and experiences to which it is rooted. They were still throwing around nasty words when anyone could sit anywhere on the bus. To some extent there is an underlying attitude of less than in some minds still. Has it revealed itself in these statistics?

We are somehow failing two diverse and culturally significant populations. I know a little aboriginal spirituality, their simple wise beliefs and traditions, their beautiful culture. I have known several and have one as a friend. They have endured humiliation, segregation and general mistreatment from people they share their land with but few stand prouder. Let what I know of aboriginals into prisons and the men and women in them will absorb it. We need to include families and communities in our institutions. Social bonds lead to order and people can be shown how to be better citizens. If all I see is orange I can’t reflect much else. We need to give people the opportunity to be changed by imprisonment rather than simply being punished by it. While we’re waiting to change who ends up in prison lets change who comes out.

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212

A Canadian who is a paraplegic and has a mental illness was denied entry to the United States of America. The denial of entry was based on a previous hospitalization for clinical depression. I am not personally alarmed as they have many reasons for my exclusion. Here follow the lawful reasons for exclusion of an alien.

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212,  (I) to have a physical or mental disorder and behavior associated with the disorder that may pose, or has posed, a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others, or

(II) to have had a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder, which behavior has posed a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others and which behavior is likely to recur or to lead to other harmful behavior, or

I could have a nosebleed and be denied entry. I would in fact be a threat to someone’s property were I to bleed on their carpet. I would likely be a threat to my own property. I could bleed on my blue suede shoes. It appears to me a fairly inclusive grouping of words. It provides a failsafe to deny entry. More power to them. A country can exclude anyone they choose but it crosses a line when in fact it is discriminatory.

Discrimination is a verb for stigma. I see the words physical disorder but I can’t imagine a threat from a physical illness and any there may be would likely prevent the said alien from day tripping across the border. Does diabetes pose a threat? Epilepsy? Cancer? Amputation? Heart disease? Scoliosis? Hemorrhoids? Are my crutches a weapon? The National Rifle Association laughs. It seems the word physical is thrown in for appearance. I would be curious to know the numbers who are denied entry for a physical disorder and how many are excluded because their disorder was mental.

This reveals an underlying misconception about mental illness. It is associated with violence when only 3% of violence in society is attributable to mental illness. To find threat in depression is odd to me. I might have been a risk to the bed sheets for not caring to get up and change them but little more. I guess the laughable part is that it is unlikely someone who is depressed and therefore a risk would want to go on a cruise ship. I would think that behaviour would be significant proof that any such threat to be found in depression is almost guaranteed immobilized.

The only reason I am even commenting on the United States of America is because they espouse so much more and because I am sincerely concerned for Canadians. What about the Canadian who will suffer in silence at this news. They may forego treatment because they have relatives in the U.S. Possibly they cottage, or have their family reunion in the U.S. I for one would seriously consider going undiagnosed or untreated if the circumstances were such. The condo in Florida is worthless if your depression is a threat. We are talking about one in 7 adults (13.4%) who will experience symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder at some point during their lifetime. Depression is a mood disorder nowhere near violence or virus.

If all countries were to profile and turn away aliens with a history of mental illness there would be a few less border guards. Using rough calculation 7 million Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. If you consider that the average spending per person on an overnight trip to the U.S. by a Canadian is $705.00 it begins to add up. Personally, I have been to Florida several times for a week or two. If you consider I was with family each time it becomes staggering. The Americans can take it or print some more, it doesn’t matter to me. I have enough space to stretch my legs and lift my spirit. Canada has shorelines and mountains. We have Polar bears, muskeg and cities. If I am an undesirable alien because of a mental illness the delusion is America’s.

I don’t know if it adds to my argument but 7 presidents of the United States of America are confirmed to have suffered from depression. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge.

As I know you’re probably eavesdropping Barak I would enjoy an explanation. I dropped the C because you need to.