A Lonely Planet Guide To The Men’s Slammer

Will Offley
If nothing else, nine days in the North Fraser Pretrial Centre taught me quite a few valuable (and in some cases, unexpected) lessons about the realities of short term incarceration in Canada’s prison system.  These included the realization that while extremely unpleasant, a short-term internment is not necessarily an awful experience, depending on how you approach it, and that you may encounter significantly more kindness and humanity from fellow inmates than you might otherwise expect.
I was arrested at the gates of the Kinder Morgan site on Shellmont Road in Burnaby on May 16, 2018.  On May 16, along with four other co-defendants I was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a Supreme Court injunction prohibiting any attempt to impede or block access to the facility.  From August 16 to 24 I became inmate CS#11210028 at North Fraser Pretrial.
When the judge pronounced sentence, it was for fourteen days’ imprisonment for violating the Kinder Morgan injunction.  This was automatically reduced by 33% (although if I had been naughty during my confinement, prison administration could increase this to the original 14 days).  This is apparently standard sentencing practice, as it provides an incentive for those in prison to be on good behaviour during their stay.  The first and last days inside count as full days, even though I was not taken into custody on August 16 until around 4:30 PM and was released on August 24 shortly after 2:00 PM.
Once the sentence was pronounced, I was immediately taken into custody.  One of the courtroom sheriffs led me to the door leading to the stairs down to the holding cells.  I was cursorily frisked, handcuffed, and placed in leg shackles.  When the sheriff asked me to put my hands behind my back for handcuffing, I shrugged my shoulders and made a face, and he relented and let me be cuffed with my hands in front of me.  This was a good thing, as the stairs down to the cells are quite steep and any fall with your hands immobilized behind you could be quite serious.
Once downstairs, the handcuffs and shackles were removed, I was placed in a holding cell briefly, and then went through a preliminary registration process, which included being asked my name, date of birth and place of birth.  I was made to empty my pockets, and a record was made of the contents, including the exact amount of money in my possession (which was later transferred into my trust account at NFPC).  My shoes and vest were also taken (you are allowed only one layer of clothing), and I was put back into holding.  During all this my compatriot, Rita Wong, was being sentenced upstairs to 28 days in jail.  The discrepancy in sentencing was due to the fact that the prosecution had developed an algorithm, meaning the length of sentence asked for depended almost entirely on the original date you were arrested on.  I was arrested on May 16, 2018; Rita was not arrested until the following August.  Three others in my group – Kyle, Barry and Mel – received fines or terms of community service as they had been arrested during the earlier blockades before penalties began to ramp up.
About half an hour later I was taken out of the holding tank, and the handcuffs and leg irons were reapplied.  I was then walked by the sheriffs in my stocking feet to a prisoner transport SUV in the parkade, and put in the back compartment.  In a few minutes Rita was brought out, also handcuffed and shackled, and put into the prisoner compartment.  We were able to talk through the partition (barely) and both quite chilled (the air conditioning was turned on full blast, but only in the prisoner compartment, as the thermometer on the dashboard read 23 degrees Celsius) which I interpreted as a little low-grade sadism on the part of the sheriffs.  We then set out on our trip to prison (NFPC for me and Alouette women’s prison in Maple Ridge for Rita (it appears there is no pretrial facility for women in the Lower Mainland, which is why all the women jailed around Kinder Morgan have been sent to Alouette).
Around 6:30 we arrived at North Fraser Pretrial.  Rita was transferred into another sheriff’s van and continued on to Alouette.  I was relieved of my chains and put in another holding cell.  Having missed supper, I was given the worst sandwich of my life (wonder bread, Kraft cheese and margarine), and left for a protracted period of time.  I had left my watch at home before court, knowing I could not have it on me during my imprisonment, and had not anticipated the degree of disorientation I would feel not knowing what time it was or how much time had elapsed.  Eventually I was taken out and the checking-in process began.  First up was a trip to the guard booth where I was asked again for my name, DOB, place of birth and the charge I had been convicted of, as well as having to show any tattoos or identifying marks.  Then to another booth where I had my picture taken and my fingerprints electronically scanned, and was issued my inmate number and prison ID.  Then to another room where I had to strip, submit to a visual exam of my behind, lift my scrotum to ensure there was no contraband behind my testicles, take off my earrings, place everything in a plastic bag for storage, and don prison garb (red t-shirt and scrub pants, harsh cotton boxers, socks and cheap white sneakers with Velcro closures.)   You are also given a plastic Tupperware tub containing a blanket, two sheets, two towels, a change of clothing and basic toiletries.  I had brought a letter from my doctor listing my medications (antihypertensives), a three-day supply of meds, and a list of my potential visitors (with full names, dates of birth, address and phone number) which was absolutely useless, as they were sealed in the bag with my clothes and went nowhere until I was given them back nine days later.  (see section on Bureaucracy, below).   Back to holding for a while, then on to another room where I had a full body scan x-ray, and back to holding.  Then on to the nurse, who asked a short battery of basic nursing questions (health history, current medications, drug/alcohol history and risk of withdrawal, are you suicidal or homicidal?) and took a set of vital signs.  Then back to holding.  Then a final assessment by the senior corrections officer, who assigned me to Bravo North, the only work unit in the facility. 
North Fraser Pretrial Centre
NFPC is a males-only facility.  It is located at 1451 Kingsway in Port Coquitlam, just off the Mary Hill bypass and close to the Pitt River bridge.  Unlike your typical prison, the inmates are at all the various stages in the penal process -- some have been charges and are imprisoned awaiting bail hearings.  Some have been denied bail and are awaiting trial.  Some have been convicted and are waiting to be sentenced, and others are actually serving their sentences, in some cases apparently for up to several years.
It is a maximum-security institution that holds up to 300 prisoners, with a weekly turnover of 30-50 individuals.  There are three pods – Alpha, Bravo and C pod.  Most of these have four cell blocks, each with 30 cells and capable of holding up to 60 inmates. 
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Alpha pod holds the prison health centre and an infirmary, and reportedly also houses inmates undergoing mental health assessments to determine whether or not they are fit to stand trial.
Charlie pod is designated for prisoners who are in protective custody and are being kept separate from the general population for their own safety.
The remaining pods contain the general prison population.  The one exception, Bravo North, is the NFPC work unit, where I was held.  Bravo North contains prisoners who are considered not to be risks for violence and who are able to work for minimal wages.  I was told that there had not been a fight on this unit for over a year, and during my stay I saw almost no interpersonal friction between prisoners.  One of the perks of this unit is that the population is deliberately kept low (during my stay there were on average 30-33 inmates present), meaning almost everyone had a cell to themselves and overcrowding was not an issue.
Another perk of being on the work unit is that there was no gang presence.  NFPC has some famous gang members currently residing there, including Jonathan Bacon of the Red Scorpions and Larry Amero of the Hell’s Angels.  I was given to understand that the general population units were pretty well controlled by the gang members present in each block.  You are asked on admission if you are a member of a gang or have any affiliation as a routine means of determining where to place you.  Currently in BC’s underworld there seems to be a basic alignment of Wolfpack (Hell’s Angels, Red Scorpions, Independent Soldiers, Big Circle Boys, triads and others) versus United Nations and the remnants of the Dhak and Duhre gangs.   (This is only an approximation.  I think you might need a doctoral degree to fully understand the extent and complexity of BC gangs with any accuracy.)   If you are in one of these alignments, it is definitely unhealthy to be placed in a unit dominated by the other.  During the 2018 forest fires the facility in Oliver temporarily evacuated all of their inmates from Oliver to NFPC.  I was told this resulted in multiple serious fights the first night before it was sorted out where everyone needed to be sent according to their individual gang ties.  https://www.cfseu.bc.ca/gangs-in-b-c/
Bravo North
The typical cell block is a 50’ X 50’ X 35’ concrete cube.  Two walls have three tiers of cells, ten to a tier.  The guard booth is in the opposite corner to the cells, providing an unobstructed view of every cell door and the showers on each floor.  My cell block is well maintained, well lit, and far from dismal.
Each cell (mine was tier 2, cell 17) is approximately 12’ X 8’.  They are furnished with double bunk beds (each with a 1½” mattress that defies sleep), a metal cupboard, a table with cable TV, a seatless toilet, a sink with on/off hot and cold water taps and a plastic chair.  There are also two 8” X 48” windows covered with metal grating that provide a scenic view of a trucking company parking lot full of semis and trailers. Getting into or out of the top bunk requires genuine care, as there is a real risk of falling if you are not totally focused on what you are doing.  I quickly learned to limit my fluid intake after 4:00 PM so as to eliminate the need to get up during the night to pee.

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This is a view of the cell block from the guard booth.
The ground floor common area has ten circular tables for meals.  Inmates sit in the same group all the time.  I did not have to ask where there was room for me to sit at the first meal, as my next door neighbour took me under his wing and made space for me at his table.
There is also a counter with three 4-slot toasters (some of which work) and two microwaves.  Power to the microwaves is turned off except for mealtimes (see Weapons, below).  There is also a large room for programs (which I never saw used) and a small interview room.
Out of sight to the left in the photo above was the yard, a 15’ X 70’ cement cubicle with no windows and a wire mesh grate for a roof.  It was used for walking (25 circuits equals about one kilometer – I averaged 4K a day) as well as shooting baskets and (rarely) playing handball.  Annexed to it was a small exercise room with two weight machines, a stationary bike and a chinup bar, most of which were in near constant use whenever we were not working or locked in our cells.  The yard is generally not used on rainy days, as the wet cement is lethally slippery (I fell hard once finding that out, and again when I tried to make it back in to dry ground).
Settling In
All right, I was nervous.  It really had helped reading the account that eight of my co-conspirators had written on their experiences at Alouette, as it gave a pretty good basic idea of what to expect, and helped to reduce the totally normal fear of the unknown.  All the common perceptions (assault, sexual assault, pick-up-the-soap, Shawshank Redemption et.at.) were there at the back of my mind from the day it had become apparent that jail was a real possibility.  And it didn’t help at all when I walked through the door of Bravo North and found that despite it being a relatively placid work unit, a disturbing number of my 30-odd blockmates looked like genuine career criminals.  Many faces were deeply marked with anger or sadness.  There were quite a few guys with cutting scars on their arms.  One guy was 6’3”, 250 lbs. and had “AR-15” tattooed on one arm and a picture of an AK-47 on the other.  (I never struck up a conversation with him.)  There were more tattoos than I see at my work, and I work with nurses, who in my experience have more tattoos per square inch of skin than any other profession I have worked with.  Some of these guys were huge -- four of them wore XXXXL scrubs, a category I didn’t even know existed.  There were men there who were slabs of muscle, who had been there for years and literally had nothing else to do all day but use the chinup bar, stationary bike and the weights machine.  I watched one young guy (5’ nothing) invert himself on the chinup bar and do (at least) 31 upside-down situps.  Anyone in there could have broken me in half without raising a sweat, so I wasn’t totally surprised that my blood pressure that first night was through the roof at 184/130 and I couldn’t urinate to save my life.  This was purely due to normal human stress response – three days later, familiar with what to expect, my BP had dropped to a low normal 110/70 and I could pee again.
Unexpected little kindnesses

What really did surprise me, and what I was almost completely unprepared for, was the number of small kindnesses shown to me from the very first day.  I do not know how things work in the general population at NFPC, as I was never exposed to the other cell blocks and had no opportunity to observe daily life there, but I can report what I saw and experienced on Bravo North.  People gave me juice containers, packages of ramen, extra jam for my toast, mostly things they had bought from the canteen with their own money.  They scrounged me a pillowcase (I hadn’t been issued one) and a prison sweatshirt (also missing from my tub of gear).  They lent me a pair of Crocs (way more comfortable than the standard-issue sneakers).  When word got out that I was a newbie totally unfamiliar with prison life, several undertook to school me on the basics of prison etiquette and the particular institutional quirks and idiosyncrasies of NFPC.  One inmate in particular, who was lodged in the cell next to mine and who took meals at my table, made it a personal point to serve as my go-to for information and pointers, all of which were a major help in settling in and learning the routine.
I don’t know how much this reception was due to my age (I was probably the second oldest on the unit), to the fact I had never been in the slammer before, to being a nurse, or to the fact that I had been jailed for protesting the pipeline (like my compatriots in Alouette, I was repeatedly told “you shouldn’t be in here”), but I am certain that at least some of it was simply part of the culture, because it started right from the beginning, before there was any real possibility of word getting out on the grapevine that any of these factors attached to me.  There is a genuine solidarity, at least on that unit, that means a huge deal to anyone who has been a beneficiary of it – a solidarity of little gestures and small kindnesses that cut across stereotypes and preconceptions.  I watched one inmate spend five minutes picking up a spider with a piece of paper and taking it out to the yard to keep it from getting stepped on.  And all of this is despite the fact that many of these men had done (or were alleged to have done) some genuinely terrible things.  At least one had repeatedly assaulted his girlfriend.  Six of them – 20% of the population of the cell block – were in for second- and first-degree murder.  One of them, 80 years old, was awaiting trial for killing his wife and another person.  Another had hacked someone to death with a machete.  I got to know five of the six, and if I had had to guess I would never have suspected them to be among those in for murder.  They were indistinguishable from those who were in for relatively minor offences like failure to appear, breach of no-contact orders, driving while under prohibition and the like.
Another surprise was the cleanliness.  The moment you walk in the door for the first time you are immediately under social pressure to go take a shower.  The inmates are very conscious of the health risks of large numbers of people living in close proximity, so the institutional habits include showering, often more than once a day, to reduce those risks.  Quite a few came in from living on the streets, so lice and bedbugs were a continual potential problem to be dealt with.  Inmates were expected to wear footwear between their cells and the shower to reduce the risk of fungal foot infections.  Common areas were continually mopped and swept by one of the inmates, but the cleanup after meals was pretty much a collective effort, and the microwaves were kept spotless, something I can never say about the microwaves in the nursing break room at my work (!)
I had done quite a bit of thinking in the weeks leading up to jail, and had figured out a basic approach that I thought would minimize frictions and hassles with other inmates.  This included following the golden rule: You Do Not Ask Other People What They Are In For.  I followed this rule scrupulously, and found that you  don’t even need to ask, as within a few days a significant minority of people began volunteering their histories, and the offences they had committed (or were alleged to have committed).  A few people asked me why I was there, which gave me the chance to give a brief pitch about climate change, Kinder Morgan and the existential threat to civilization and the human species, but I also avoided going on too long on the topic unless the other person showed genuine interest (there were a few who did), because I also wanted to avoid proselytizing people.  Many of the other aspects of this approach were common sense -- try to get along with your cellmate, do not gossip, do not fraternize with the corrections officers, pick up after yourself, treat others the way you would like to be treated – and I think on balance it proved to have been a very useful guide for me. 
Daily routine

Daily life on Bravo North follows an unvarying routine.  The typical schedule is the following:
0700 – Lights on, cell unlocked, breakfast
0830 – Medication lineup
0900 – Lockup #1
0930 – Cell unlocked, free time
1030 – Lunch
1115 – Lockup #2
1200 – Cell unlocked, free time
1300 – Lockup #3
1430 – Cell unlocked, free time
1540 – Lockup #4
1610 – Cell unlocked.  Dinner
1725 – Lockup #5
1810 – Cell unlocked, free time.
2015 – Lockup #6
2050 – Cell unlocked, free time, medication lineup.
2145 – Final lockup, lights out.
Lockups allow for breaks and lunch/dinner periods for the corrections officers.  During your lockout you are confined to your cell with nothing to do except talk (if you have a cellmate), read (virtually all the books on the book trolley are low budget pulp fiction), or watch TV (there is nothing on TV).  During free time outside the cells people play cribbage, poker and chess.  Some are quite good at it.  Every day a copy of the Province and the Vancouver Sun showed up.  The yard and exercise room are in constant use.  There are supposed to be programs (anger management, etc.) but I never saw any evidence of them.  Boredom is acute and chronic.

This schedule varies during the week with work assignments taking place from 0830 to 1030 and from 1230 to 1430.  Generally there appeared to be four categories of work detail.  Maintenance seemed to primarily involving mopping hallways between pods and common areas.  Laundry detail was the largest, involving washing, drying, sorting and folding prison-issue clothing and linen for the whole prison.  The plum job was fish detail… those little plywood fish that elementary school kids paint every year and hang on the fences outside their schools all come from NFPC.  Two inmates sit every day for four hours, one of them painting side #1 white and the other painting side #2 blue.
I was assigned to recycling detail, alone with three other guys.  We spent four hour every weekday ripping open garbage bags and clawing through the food waste, hair clippings, discarded clothing and occasional feces to pull out and sort any recyclables.  Then at the end we would wash down the sorting table, disinfect it and go back to the cell block.  Having worked on a garbage truck four decades ago and given that I work as a nurse, I did not find this the most awful job I have ever had to do.  I earned $1.50 a day (it would have risen to $3.50 if I had stayed longer).  There was always music playing, my coworkers were reasonably pleasant and cooperative, and there were even unexpected perks like the poo bonus.  If you came across human feces during the course of your work, you had only to show it to the C.O. and you received a $2.00 bonus.  I intend to raise this idea with hospital management at the first opportunity, as I think it would be an exciting and dynamic innovation, something guaranteed to raise nursing morale in our facility.
I noted that as a work unit, Bravo North is a somewhat sheltered and privileged unit.  Inmates can earn a little extra money and augment their trust accounts.  They are safe from violence and do not have to deal with gang politics.  The population of the cell block is kept close to 30 inmates, so virtually everyone there had a cell to themselves and the luxury of privacy.  So I found it interesting that out of 30-33 inmates, during my stay only one that I was aware of was an indigenous person (3% of the unit’s population), despite the fact an estimated 30% of BC’s male prisoners are aboriginal.  ( https://www.straight.com/news/1094481/bc-prisons-are-filled-hugely-disproportionate-numbers-indigenous-inmates-stats-canada )  This seemed to tally with my arrest experience, where I was politely warned five times that I had to move or I would be arrested, then arrested politely, walked to the processing tent a hundred metres down the road, and released on a promise to appear.  I was not even asked to empty my pockets.  Compare this policing with that experienced by the Unist’ot’en in northern B.C., who were forcibly arrested by Mounties carrying automatic weapons ( https://unistoten.camp/arrests-at-gidumten-checkpoint-rcmp-raid-anticipated-at-unistoten-camp/ ) , the or Mi’kmaq in Elsipogtog, N.B., whose antifracking blockade was broken by RCMP using dogs, mace and batons ( https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/4w7ymm/did-the-rcmp-just-ambush-a-peaceful-native-anti-fracking-protest ).
Prison etiquette

I was briefed early on by my neighbour on the general rules inmates expect other inmates to abide by.  First was, as mentioned earlier, you don’t pry.  I observed one inmate who had come in a day or two before me manage to get himself rapidly ostracized due to being overly inquisitive.  This led – accurately or not – to the widespread suspicion that he might be a snitch.  He didn’t suffer any physical harm because of this suspicion (at least, not during my stay) but within days he was complaining loudly about how he was being shunned by everyone on the unit. 
Other rules included not fraternizing with the C.O.’s.  A certain amount of interaction was inevitable, especially in the work areas, but hanging around the guard booth and chatting was a definite no-no.  The C.O.s at the check in area tended to be younger and quietly hostile.  The regulars on Bravo North were mostly professional, polite and sometimes individually respected by guys on the unit.  The two C.O.’s supervising my work unit were good-natured, humorous and pleasant, even when they were frisking us twice a day on our return to the cells.
You don’t whistle. I quickly found that out by whistling.  I was told that tradition has it that guards used to whistle while walking death row inmates to their executions as a sign of contempt.  The first time I whistled, several days in,  ! was immediately instructed to cut it out by several inmates.  There was no hostility involved, they were just stating an expectation.
You do NOT call anyone a “goof” unless you intend to get into a physical fight.  “Goof” is a synonym for pedophile, and ranks 10/10 on the scale of epithets that will get you into genuine trouble.
I did not learn of any other expectations during my short stay apart from the common-sense steps you would take living in close proximity with a relatively large number of people, e.g. cleanliness, keeping your shared cell tidy (inspections once a day), and generally being considerate.  Most would be second nature to anyone who has been in the military or grew up with siblings.  Share.  Be respectful.  Practice the golden rule.  And don’t call anyone a goof.

The food is awfulIt is primarily carbs.  I did not see a single fresh vegetable the entire time I was there, and I was getting vegan meals on the advice of former prisoners, even though I’m a vegetarian, not a vegan.  At least I did get a piece of fruit once a day, unlike the regular diets (fruit can be fermented, leading to alcohol, so there seemed to be limits on what diets included fruits).  At one breakfast I was given a muffin, a handful of corn flakes (literally, the amount you could hold in one cupped hand), almond milk, one cup of coffee and a packet of sugar.  I cannot even describe the “vegan salami”,  but the absolute rock bottom came on my last night, when I was served two cold “vegan hotdogs”, but with no buns and no condiments, the only meal I could not eat.  Between the crap food and the small portions most inmates regularly supplement their diet with junk food purchases from the canteen – ramen, chips, candy bars, cookies, etc.  I can only imagine the negative health effects of several years of a diet like this, especially if it is true (as I was told but can’t verify) that the only dental care available is extractions.  I was psychologically prepared for bad food, even to being ready for a short-term fast (if necessary) and that was a good thing, as the food was thoroughly disgusting and required some real self-discipline to get down on more than one occasion.  My impression is that food in regular prisons (like Alouette) is pretty bad but nowhere near what is served up at NFPC.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you that jail isn’t punishment.

Sleep was next to impossible, due to the thinnest mattress I have ever experienced.  I sleep on a firm futon at home, and have long been used to sleeping on a skimpy air mattress while camping, but the mattresses at NFPC are in a whole different category of major discomfort.  You are only issued one thin blanket and the cells are quite cool at night (despite it being only August) so I regularly slept in my clothes.  There is no reason not to think the facility might be significantly colder during the winter.  After lights out the light in the cell dims to the equivalent of a very bright night light, so there is never darkness.
Body functions

The only toilets are in the cells.  The practice is to ask your roommate to step out or if they are not present, to loop a length of toilet paper through the outside door handle to signify that you need a few moments’ privacy.  You need to be careful to leave the door slightly ajar or it will lock and you will have to call the C.O.s’ booth on the intercom to have them come unlock the door.  This results in loss of face.

There is a shower on each tier in the corner directly opposite the guard booth.  They are small showers for use by a single person at a time, and are surprisingly well-designed, with two metal partitions screening you, but with your head, shoulders and feet visible from the guard booth.  The water is pleasantly hot.  You are issued soap, toothpaste, a small single blade razor (!) and a tiny toothbrush.  I was given half a bar of soap by my roommate on my first night there (another little kindness) which I used instead of the prison issue.  The toothbrush was virtually unusable, and left you with a mouthful of bristles.  Due to the design of the razor I never shaved while I was in NFPC as I was concerned it might be interpreted as an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

I had been encouraged by other climate arrestees to be prepared for the first couple of days by bringing a list of the friends who would want to book visits.  This was useless, as it was promptly locked up with my clothing by the guards.  What you need to do is to fill out a form, but no one told me this was the procedure, or where to find the form.  In addition, visitors have to phone the jail a day in advance to book visits.  This led to a comedy of errors that meant my partner was not able to visit until my incarceration was more than half over.  (You are allowed one visit a day, for a period of one hour, seven days a week, and are booked by calling NFPC at (604) 468-3566.  Visits are limited to no more than two adults and two children.  Visiting hours are 1:00­2:00, 2:00­3:00, 3:00­4:00 and 6:15­7:15 except on Tuesday and Thursday when there is no 1:00­2:00 slot.)
The visit room has five booths.  You are separated by a plexiglass partition.  Conversation happens through a hollow pipe beneath the partition.  You basically have to yell into the opening, as the acoustics are terrible, and the configuration means you have to stretch out nearly horizontally to put your ear next to the opening to hear what your visitor is saying.  Essentially you are forced to choose between making eye contact and being able to hear.  NFPC was built in the 1990’s, not the 1600’s, but sometimes it was necessary to keep reminding yourself of the fact.

There apparently is no limit to the amount of money you can bring in to NFPC with you.  It is counted prior to transport to the facility and you sign a receipt for the amount that was in your possession when you were taken into custody.  This is then automatically transferred into your prison trust account, and can be used to purchase items from the prison canteen, up to a maximum of $125.00 a week.  Orders to the canteen go in on Thursday night and are delivered on Friday night (it’s a bit of a party).  Family members can drop off additional money at the prison administration during the daytime.
Phone calls
Inmates have a separate phone account set up on arrival.  You fund this account by transferring money from your trust account (there is another special form).  Local calls are $0.90 and last half an hour.  All calls are recorded and monitored except for privileged calls to your lawyer.  To make a call, you key in 1 for a local call, the number to be called, your correctional service number, and then speak your name into the receiver for voice recognition.  This requires multiple attempts (once I had to repeat my name 24 times before  I got through).  There is a reasonably accurate depiction of the process available on Youtube that can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMS2VnDveP8 .
Human ingenuity can find ways of transforming common objects into weapons, nowhere more so than when access to likely materials is as restricted and controlled as in prison,  I was told some of the more common ones.  One is to take a large quantity of margarine, put it into a coffee mug and heat it to near boiling point for a projectile weapon.  Another is to steal quantities of plastic wrap from the work areas, crumple it into a tight ball and repeatedly heat it in a microwave.  This can rapidly be formed into a hard, heavy sphere and put into a sock for use as a bludgeon.  Yet another is to gradually accumulate the 3” pencils from the guard booth, bundle them tightly with plastic wrap, and then assemble six or eight bundles with more plastic wrap to create a perfectly serviceable set of nunchuks.  And there’s always the old standby of razor blades.  My neighbour had spent five months in Surrey Pretrial before coming to Bravo North, and during his stay there one of the inmates had been stabbed and slashed nearly to death.
You don’t need to bring common medications in with you, although if you are on more uncommon ones it might be useful to bring 3-4 days’ worth, as they may not ne in stock in the prison pharmacy.  I was given my antihypertensives right from the first night with no problem.  Medication calls happen multiple times a day.  They take place in the central common area joining four cell blocks together.  The guards call your name, and you go out to the common area, showing your ID to the CO at the door.  S/he ticks your name off on their clipboard and you get into line.  There are normally 3-4 CO’s present during this process.  The nurse administering the meds is in a closed booth with a plexiglass window.  You show your ID and are passed your medications and a small cup.  After you swallow them, you have to turn to the nearest CO, open your mouth and then lift your tongue to prove you have actually swallowed them.  There are separate calls during the day for inmates who are receiving suboxone or methadone for opiate withdrawal; I would estimate this included more than half the inmates on my unit.
Inmates at risk for alcohol withdrawal are isolated in the infirmary for the first three days, and are given copious amounts of diazepam to prevent withdrawal seizures.
Nicotine patches and gum are not provided, as these can be used as unofficial currency.  Smokers simply undergo cold turkey.
The general atmosphere
What I experienced was more kindness, cooperation and laughter than I expected.  These all made the stay much more bearable than it otherwise would have been because it.  Is.  So.  Utterly.  Boring.  Time crawls.  I can’t really describe it adequately, and I absolutely cannot fully understand how it would feel to have months or years of imprisonment stretching out in front of you.  There were a number of occasions when I would be standing on my tier looking down on the common area and would be struck by an acute sadness at seeing the dozens of wasted lives.  I wasn’t there long enough to really get to know any of my co-residents beyond superficial first impressions, but I knew in my gut I was seeing in many cases – possibly most – the end results of childhood abuse and neglect, fostering, the streets and, in due course, addictions and conflict with the law.
One incident particularly sticks in my mind.  I had been thinking of how it might be possible to express my appreciation for how much many of the other inmates had done and how bearable it had made my stay there.  I thought that as it was the night before I was to be released it would probably not be taken as an attempt to curry favour but as the thank you it was meant to be.  So I bought some cookies from the canteen, and put a box on each of the ten dinner tables when everyone was there for supper..  As it turned out, they were the cheapest chocolate chip cookies possible.  They turned out to be genuinely awful (they are $2.34 a box from the prison canteen, $1.50 a box from the dollar store).  But that made no difference at all.  For the next two hours until lockup more than half the people on the unit came up to me, shook my hand, bumped fists, thanked me in many different ways.  There were smiles on many faces I had never seen to smile, including the 60 year old in for murdering his drug dealer who had first gone to jail at age 26 and has only been out for 10 years in the whole intervening period.  I was completely unprepared for what I can only describe as an outpouring of gratitude for a small and largely symbolic gesture.  And I was deeply saddened by it, as it spoke to me of a bunch of lives starved of even the simplest kindnesses.
What I learned from North Fraser Pretrial Centre is that imprisonment is very unpleasant, but – for a short period of time -- not inevitably awful.  It can be made far less onerous when you know what to expect and if you have adequately prepared yourself mentally and emotionally for the experience.  However, if it is bearable over the short term, I have no doubt my experience was also largely shaped by the brief duration of my sentence and that if I had been there six months, or twelve months, I would have had a quite different experience.  Even after only nine days in the slammer the feel of sunshine on my face, a warm breeze, the embrace of my partner were beyond description.  But yes, should it become necessary, I would be prepared to do it again.  Given the enormity of the environmental crisis facing all of us, there may not be much choice in the matter.
Will Offley
September 10, 2019