The Origin of Violence (or Why I Got Punched in the Face)

I hope…that all mankind will at length, as they call themselves reasonable creatures, have reason and sense enough to settle their differences without cutting throats; for in my opinion there never was a good war or a bad peace.
-Benjamin Franklin

In middle December I was assaulted by an inmate here at Fraser Regional Correctional Center. It happened while I was stuck in maximum-security, awaiting my turn to be moved into minimum-security, where non-violent prisoners are supposed to be held.

It turns out it was a blessing in disguise, as it ended up fast-tracking my move to minimum. The terms ‘maximum-security’ and ‘minimum-security’ are actually misnomers, as your life is never more in danger than when you are placed in maximum-security, and you are never more safe and secure than when you are placed in minimum-security. It sort of reminds me of the terms ‘controlled substance’ or ‘correctional center’ or ‘justice system’. Oxymorons abound.

I guess some may argue that the security part of maximum-security refers to the security of the outside community rather than the security of the prisoner. This perspective is also mistaken, as the security of the outside community is put at risk every time some angry, mistreated, brutalized, desensitized, hardened criminal is released back into the community. The Canadian prison system creates violent people – nothing secure about that.

But it is not just prisons that make people violent. Violent assault provided me with much insight into the origins of violence within prisons and in greater society. I’ve managed to identify these 5 major factors that resulted in my punch to the face.

The number one factor is overcrowding. Overcrowding results from the inability, or lack of desire of politicians to differentiate between ‘risky to self’ activities and ‘potentially harmful to other’ activities. ‘Risky to self activities’ refers primarily to drug crime and prostitution, but also includes civil disobedience, sometimes trespassing, and all manner of thought crime. Overcrowding also results from ignoring other solutions like mediation and restitution. Overcrowding results in non-violent prisoners being thrown into maximum with violent prisoners for months at a time. Overcrowding also results in an artificial scarcity of resources such as single-bunk segregation cells and easy-to-access phone systems – which brings us to the second major factor:

The number two factor in my assault was the telephone system. In the max-security unit I was in, there were three phones, and my phone card worked in only one of the three. To add to my dismay, we were locked up for 14-16 hours per day, not including an hour of gym and an hour of yard. This meant that my phone was only available to me for 6-8 hours per day. There were 40 prisoners on my unit and some of them were experiencing similar problems with the other two phones so, in reality, I had to compete with 20 convicts for that one phone.

By my calculations, each of us would get 18-24 minutes access to the phone per day, if it was shared evenly, but it was never shared evenly. Tough guys and guys with influence reserved the phones in the evening, so the rest of us had to race to the phone immediately upon being released from lock up. If the guard didn’t start with my level first, or opened doors starting with the farthest cell away, I would be left with no access to the phones. If I did manage to get to the phones first, there would be someone there a second later telling me to hurry it up, but that was just the beginning of the problems.

The next problem was getting the phone to work. It could take a minute or two to get the phone to recognize the phone card and then could take dozens of tries to get the system to recognize my ‘voice activation identification’, probably not helped much by my lengthy name.

Unless I said my name exactly like I did when I first signed in, the phone wouldn’t work. Right before I got punched in the face I was trying to reach my lawyer, Kirk Tousaw, to prepare my appeal for the next day. I had managed to finally get to the phone that afternoon, after it was busy all morning. It was only going to be free for a maximum of 20 minutes. I called Kirk, but he didn’t answer his phone. Prison phones don’t allow you to leave messages – not that a message would have done me any good. Then I called Cannabis Culture Headquarters to see if anyone on the main floor had seen Kirk. I chatted with Anna, the store manager, for a moment, but nobody had seen my elusive lawyer. I was about to call the third floor number, when one of the prisoners behind me said, “get off the phone, I have to call my lawyer. Lawyer calls take priority!”

“But I’m trying to call my lawyer,” I responded. And that was my big mistake.

In hindsight, I should have just given up the phone and tried again later instead of arguing, but I wanted my appeal to be launched so badly I fought too hard for the phone.

Interestingly, the inmate who punched me wasn’t the guy who was waiting for me to get off the phone so he could call his lawyer. The inmate who punched me was one who was encouraged to do so a couple of weeks earlier by a guard, which brings me to the third most important factor:

Factor number three in my assault was the way some guards and powerful inmates were able to use intimidation to maintain control of the behavior of others, remove unwanted prisoners from the range, and amuse themselves.

There was an unfortunate incident a few weeks before the assault where I accidentally locked a prisoner into his cell – I pulled when I should have pushed. Such a mistake tends to annoy both the guard, who has to remove themselves from Facebook or the latest Twilight novel to come unlock the door, and the prisoner, who is locked in his room even longer than usual (as the guards tend to take their time unlocking the door).

On this occasion, the guard suggested to this prisoner that he should punch me in the face. The prisoner declined, telling me later he didn’t take instructions from guards. Still, I can help but wonder if the green light the guard gave to the prisoner for a face-punch had something to do with his decision to knock my noggin a couple weeks later. By the way, most guards weren’t sadistic violence encouragers; most guards felt a bit sorry for me and thought I should be in minimum. But as I learned back when I was eighteen years old, working at the Edmonton Young Offender Centre as a recreational therapist or arts and crafts program director, there is always one guard who delights in the pain and torment of weaker prisoners.

The fourth factor in my assault was the punch-in-the-face-filled programming that all prisoners and most guards watch daily on TV. There are the mixed martial arts fights, often bloody, which take up a third of the sports channel programming – “the fastest growing sport in the world” I’m told. Then there is Don Cherry’s Rock’em Sock’em Hockey, boxing, wrestling, football, and the Jerry Springer Show, with punches thrown on about 95% of the shows.

If you like your violence a bit more extreme, there are cop shows about with real-life police beatings on errant motorists, drug dealers, and prisoners; and all sorts of murderers attempting to get away with all sorts of murders on documentary shows like Cold Case Files and Criminal Minds, CSI New York, CSI Miami, CSI Toledo, etc.

If you like your violence with a bit of history thrown in, you can watch Battles B.C. on The History Channel. Then there is Hollywood, where the word ‘violence’ is replaced with words like ‘action’, and ‘thriller’, and ‘horror’ – and where brutal killings are deemed less concern-worthy than explicit sexuality by the ratings system.

I’m not saying that violence in movie and TV shows causes violence – that’s too simplistic. What I am suggesting is that violence portrayed as an art form, a religion, and a solution to everything instead of a preventable problem in search of a systemic solution, helps to encourage the extreme side of the competitive spirit that resides within all of us. Which brings me to our last factor in my assault:

The fifth and final factor contributing to my assault is the overriding force-feeding of the competitive spirit at the expense of the cooperative spirit. This competitive-spirit foisting is present in most institutions in our society, be it the economic system, the political system, the education system, or competitive sports.

Take sports for example: when you play competitive sports, even when you’re the winner, at least half and sometimes most of the people you are playing with are losers. Your happiness is dependent upon their sadness. Your victory is dependent upon their defeat. When you translate that into competitive economics, your wealth sometimes depends upon another person’s poverty. When you translate that into politics, your freedom sometimes depends on another person’s enslavement, or your life sometimes depends on another person’s death.

Some might argue the reason we have a competitive world is due to human nature. I believe it suits those at the top to use their power and influence to perpetuate the myth that humans are predominantly competitive. Scientists like Peter Kropotkin have noted more examples of cooperation in nature than examples of competition. Human cultural evolution is full of cooperation too, from roadways to socialized medicine to public firefighters to marriage (evolving from a property arrangement to a partnership).

It is obvious to me that humans have the potential to be either mostly competitive with a bit of cooperativeness or mostly cooperative with a little bit of competitiveness. It is a choice we all make, and we could all change our minds at any time.

Getting back to the assault: these five factors combined resulted in an inmate punching me in the head. “That’s just the beginning,” he warned.

I told the guard on duty at the time that I had been punched and that I would like to be moved to minimum. I spent a night in segregation, and after repeatedly failing to elicit the identity of my assailant from me, and after offering me the opportunity to be put in protective custody with rats and child molesters and rapists, they finally relented and put me in minimum, where I am today.

On a final happy note, it turns out that November House, the minimum-security tent I was moved to, happens to have a Hacky Sack, a luxury unavailable in maximum. Hacky Sack is a cooperative sport involving the passing of a small pellet-filled sack back and forth between two or more people, using every part of the body except the hands and arms. Of course, there is a competitive element to the game – who can make the nicest pass, or pass with the fewest shots – but the goal of the game is to include everyone as much as possible.

Sometimes I wonder what our world would be like if we found the wisdom to model our economic and political systems on Hacky Sack.

David Malmo-Levine is a Vancouver marijuana activist incarcerated at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, BC, for his establishment of the Vancouver Herb School. Please click here and here for more information on David’s case.

David Malmo-Levine



  1. Anonymous on

    Should have punched him back. All you did was snitch. You deserve another assault.

  2. Anonymous on

    this study would suggests people who act like like Marc Emery have compromised brain capacity and that’s why they are fearless, and assertive and egotistic.. if this is true that he’s basically- abnormal- and the movement is worshiping a brain damaged leader who is playing out biological destiny rather than acting on any sence of critical personal decision making..

    an MRI is not a fact – its a picture

  3. Anonymous on

    Marijuana Prohibition is upheld worldwide because of what scientists discern from feeding THC to lab mice. The things they learn watching stoned mice are passed on to politicians who instruct cops to kick your door in.

  4. Doug on

    Even some bloggers can be “violent” in their own way. Comments can be aggressive rather than constructive. The real purpose of their comments is to elevate their own brain dopamine levels (reward) response by instigating, laughing at and belittling others.

    “We learned from these experiments that an individual will intentionally seek out an aggressive encounter solely because they experience a rewarding sensation from it..”

  5. Anonymous on

    Its not a good idea to hit anybody.- even Dave here
    Its also not a good idea to goad people who believe in hitting people Dave

    Seems you got hit by someone who has a tad different philosophy than you do Dave.. what did you do? Try to explain to him how wrong he is, like you chirp that girlish nyah nyah on the CC Forums and your stoner TV shows ?

    and here you are, always the girl, complaining about getting your ass whupped to thr stoner community.

    Man it out Dave, grow up or stand back but move on..
    the CBC will not do an hour long documentary on how you were tortured in jail for your beliefs

  6. Anonymous on

    You forgot another reason you got punched. You are an annoying little shit that most people want to punch. When I heard you were assaulted the group people i was with all chuckled. No one is surprised that someone locked up clocked you. I want to punch you. A little blond girl who went to the art gallery told me she wanted to punch the moron in the cat in the hat with the bullhorn. Punching DML is pretty much natural instinct.

  7. Anonymous on

    you got punched in the face because that’s just the way maximum security prison is. there’s always some guy around with something to prove, or a prison gang ladder to climb so he’ll just randomly assault you for no reason. most people in there are doing real time and have nothing to lose.

    the guards (hacks) of course think this is awesome. why else would you take the job? the only perks to being a corrections officer is unlimited power tripping, racketeering, drug smuggling and the ability to freely inflict violence with no repercussions.

  8. Samson on

    seems to me that about 150-200 years ago several Europeans had your same mind-set…..Punching(literally and metaphorically) native Americans and Africans in the face. I’m glad to see you have become what your ancestors hated– a believer in inequality and continental segregation.

  9. Anonymous on

    You pondered about the origin of violence and asked the question via this blog. I believe that this is the most important issue we face. If we solve this then the Large Hadron Accelerator, Hubble Telescope and Mother Teresa are only hints about the advancements we can attain.

    Here is a multiple choice question about the origins of violence

    1) status quo…..there is no “stimulation” or firing of neurons in the brain which gives us pleasure when we are violent, torture or murder. We will continue to have genocide (Africa), wars (Iraq, Afghanistan), torture (Gitmo), videoed beheadings (Pakistan), cartel violence ( Mexicans were doing mass beheadings when the white man arrived and they are still doing it), riots, pedophiles and serial killers.
    2) paradigm shift ….there is at least a possibility that “something” that we unconsciously desire or find pleasurable is occurring in our brain when we are mean, violent, torturing or murdering. We identify “it” through research. When we peg it we attempt control “measures”.

    Your Canadian accusers are stuck in paradigm 1). They honestly believe that they are righteous in “punishing” you for “breaking the law”. They are extra hostile towards you because you openly and honestly state your opposing views. That hostility was satiated somewhat when the inmate struck you. Many would take great pleasure knowing that you were punched (especially the guard who told the inmate to punch you). They are very comfortable right now in the knowledge that they have “set you up” for a bigger fall next time. They are satiated and feel good about your case.
    The Vatican felt good when they placed Galileo under house arrest and censured him. History has proven that those officials were wrong, inhuman, backwards, primitive and stupid, stupid, stupid.
    The British felt good when they put Ghandi in jail. History has proven that those officials were wrong, inhuman, backwards, primitive and stupid, stupid, stupid.
    The medical system fought with Lister about controlling infection. There were “medical idiots” who honestly believed that it was OK to pierce your orbital brow and thrust a cutting scalpel deep into the frontal lobe to cut, cut, cut. There were other “medical idiots” who honestly believed that if you were sick, you could be cured by slicing you to let your blood drip out.
    Martin Luther King went to jail for disobeying laws that were unjust. History has proven that his tormentors were the actual undesireables.
    The Saudi Arabian judge who sentenced a female to many public lashes for being raped is just as convinced that he is right as Judge Joseph Galati when sentencing you. History will prove that your judge and Peter Eckels are just school yard bullies.

    David, perhaps you are stuck in a paradigm about violence. You pondered “Sometimes I wonder what our world would be like if we found the wisdom to model our economic and political systems on Hacky Sack”. If you at least consider option (2 then many things will make better sense.

    • Your judge and prosecutor are bullies and “got off” on abusing you using only subjective rationale as an excuse for their behavior. You cannot reason with them. You cannot produce factual evidence to change their minds. You cannot appeal to their “better nature”.
    • The guard and inmate “got off” on punching you. Meanness and violence will always be their driving force. They lack the empathy needed to thwart their desires and actions that satiate.
    • The blogger from Jan 30 wrote “Thats our new thing PUNCH A EUROPAN in the head everyday until they leave our lands!! hope the guy who punch you does it again!! Maybe you will GO HOME EUROPEAN!! get it LEAVE!! no ones buying your european bullshit no more!! ya dumb fuck.
    Can’t you see how much this person “got off” when he typed and posted? He is destined to apply this stimulus to himself over and over and may never recognize the internal workings (grrrr) that are interfering with his humanity?

    When you get back out there be careful. Do not underestimate your accusers. They will “get off” even more if they incarcerate you again. They are on a blind path that leads only to bullying and abuse. The whole Canadian “War on Drugs” is fertile ground for selfish individuals to get covert “gratification” at the expense of innocents. Know your enemy better, David.

  10. Anonymous on

    Thats our new thing PUNCH A EUROPAN in the head everyday until they leave our lands!! hope the guy who punch you does it again!! Maybe you will GO HOME EUROPEAN!! get it LEAVE!! no ones buying your european bullshit no more!! ya dumb fuck.

  11. Anonymous on

    Your right about the Bonobos. Gorillas and Orangs have kind hearts too. Males might kill each other, but the killing is not murder for murders own sake like in lethal raiding. Only Chimps and Homo Sapiens do lethal raiding.
    We share the “dark side” with chimps only. There are so many similarities. Take rioting. If you see a video of a chimp troop meeting up with another chimp troop and compare it to a video of humans in a riot, there is little difference. We break glass and set fires. Male chimps break branches. We yell, male chimps howl and beat their chest. We both charge and retreat. And we both “feel better” the next day. Satiated and calm, we wait for the next build up.
    Wars….now there is a good excuse for violence and murdering. The Crusades were done in the name of God. The extremist Islamist yells “Allula Ekhbar” before murdering himself and innocents.
    And domestic violence! Our physiological need to be violent is not restricted to “males outside of the community”. How many more females and children will suffer because we don’t recognize that the perpetuator is “hard wired” to abuse family members no matter how much they are couselled and incarcerated? Judges and families who scold the convicted serial killers before judgement believe what they say matters. The hard wired killer cannot help himself and cannot change under our present penal system and beliefs.
    Back to the “war on drugs”. How idiotic can homo sapiens be. Women in Saudi Arabia are subject to public flogging for drinking alcohol. Marijuana traffickers in Singapore are subject to execution by hanging. Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives want to put people in jail for 9 months for growing one plant in a rental premise. The critics of marijuana are “warring” on harmless pot heads because it makes them “feel good”. Not one single death attributed to cannabis for 4-5000 years. Thousands of deaths attributable to cocaine, heroin, alcohol. The Dutch think that canabis is anti-violent. And it suits the “drug war” advocates to lump marijuana in with the other hard (harmful) drugs. Then they show guns,booby traps and violence as equating to marijuana. They are surely “getting off” on their treatment of the innocents like Marc Emery.
    I say that if we are to advance as a human species, we better conduct our business like Bonobos. Even though I am a male, it would be better for the females to run world affairs at least until there are better studies on malebrain response during violence, torture and murder. Here are a few links to this topic you might find interesting.

  12. jeremiah on

    From David in prison:

    From Wikipedia –

    “Observations in the wild indicate that the males among the related Common Chimpanzee communities are extraordinarily hostile to males from outside of the community. Parties of males ‘patrol’ for the unfortunate neighbouring males who might be traveling alone, and attack those single males, often killing them. This does not appear to be the behavior of the Bonobo males or females in their own communities, where they seem to prefer sexual contact over violent confrontation with outsiders. In fact, the Japanese scientists who have spent most time working with wild Bonobos describe the species as extraordinarily peaceful, and de Waal has documented how Bonobos resolve conflicts with sexual contact (hence the “make love – not war” characterization for the species).”

  13. Anonymous on

    David, there is an alternate explanation to your analysis of 5 factors
    Here is a simple truth. Chimpanzees get a desireable brain response from lethal raiding. They get very excited when they are torturing their male chimp victim to death. They each take turns in the carnage.
    Men (not so much females) get very excited when they are murdering or being violent. We get off on it. Doesn’t matter if we are a judge, inmate, prison guard, extremist, cop or hangman!
    Why is it so hard for us to admit that there is an obvious, undiscovered pleasurable or addicting brain response which gets us off when we fly drones, shoot guns, cut heads, or punch each other in the face? Why do we wonder about cartel behavior, inmate behavior, or the Chicago youth murders?
    We’re gonna find that desireable and/or pleasurable brain response as soon as we get the idea that we are risen apes, not fallen angels. Caligula, Atilla, and Hitler can be explained away if we can just see the possibility that they self indulged for immediate pleasure.
    Ghandi and Martin Luther King got it right. They somehow recognized that they personally had to censor their tendancy to “enjoy” violence and murder.
    And by the way, I don’t wonder why there are so many people hasseling harmless pot heads. Those that hassle are getting off on their behavior (it is a kind of violence) and deriving a great deal of pleasure from their mindless, subjective and stupid convictions.
    We need to stop putting the blame on stuff we can never solve (like trying to analyse why a prison guard punches) and start concentrating on the stuff we can solve (like admitting that the prison guard got off on the punch).
    Research is now showing that pedophiles share the same brain areas of underdevelopment. Many habitual inmates have underdeveloped frontal lobes. And Buddhist monks have an overdeveloped brain area that contains compassion gained from years of meditation.

  14. Covey69 on

    Hi David, Thank you for sharing.
    I was once years ago in the Remand Centre Edmonton Downtown over night for a Unpaid Traffic Violation, No Insurance and a warrant put out for me, for not paying in time.
    While Their, The Guards were NO HELP whatsoever but the fellow prisoners bent over backwards helping me, If it wasn’t for one of them I wouldn’t have known of the paper needing filling out for Fine Options and my stay would have been much longer, Over Weekend.
    An even earlier incident in my twenties in Calgary Which I find Ironic that a freind whom had the same offense asked for time to pay for fine options and was given hundreds of hours, working all summer, while, I told the judge no time necessary, I walked out without paying they put Warrant out for me, I was met weeks later by a officer, spent 4-5 hours going downtown then Spyhill where I sat in the waiting, had dinner, watched T.V. and was let loose with only 16 hours of work.
    My freind was pissed that he did the honorable thing and got screwed doing over 200 hours of community service; while I wasted tax payers money, got a dinner and everything, while only working 2 days and done.
    We live in a backwards world and My Size and Looks garnered Respect from the other fishes as I heard called and at the same time did the opposite to the guards.
    Even though I am a simple man with NO Violence in my heart ,Married for 20 years and with 3 Children and soon to have a 5th and 6th grandchild, we are judged by only our appearances in most cases.
    It’s the serial killer looking dude who will die for you sacrificing himself becasue it’s right all the while the man in the suit, wouldn’t take the time to piss on you, if you were on fire.
    Thanks for the talk David and I really hope you decide to share more of the ins and outs so people who know nothing can get an idea what to expect.
    Thank dude 🙂

  15. Brian Kerr on

    Just thought of an idea. Get 5 people together and try to blow Olympic smoke rings.

    I would love to be there but I can’t.

    I wish you guys luck.

  16. neil on

    Whats wrong is that a bunch of financially elite bullies run the world and their way of running the world is a horrendous crime against our natural right not to be bullied.
    They use what should be only a last resort to prevent bullying, the criminal law provisions, to protect their money and power agendas and they thrive in a fear and violence based society.
    Prisons are not the breeding grounds for vionent anti-social behavior that they are by accident.
    We have been lied to, plotted against and manipulated for centuries by these criminals who own our government leaders and see us as sheeple.
    Unless most of us work hard and coperate with each other to expose and derail their agenda the future will be very painful for herb and freedomloving people in Canada as it is elsewhere.
    What is happening with David will be visited upon many more of us and even harsher if we let it.

    Join me at the art gallery every day during the games for the CANNALYMPICS let your voice not be silenced by fear. Together we can make a difference WE WILL BE HEARD.
    Bring your cameras and video recorders, we need all of us.

    Come and have your say about how you feel about the ciminalizing and caging of David and the rest of us.

    It is doubtful that there will be any interference or arressts but if there is it will make for historic video and will help us shine a light on the hypocracy of prohibition.

    More probably it will be an awesomely cool way (way cooler than the olympics themselves) to enjoy what for sure is a once in a lifetime event and opportunity.

    check out Cannalypics at the art gallery on facebook and in the forums.

  17. Brian Kerr on

    Because you were put in prison by Nazis and the prison system is inhumane and our legal system is a crock of shit.

  18. Anonymous on

    I wonder what that guard will say when he sees the TV monitor with the puppet head saying “I’d like to play a game”.

  19. Anonymous on

    The great thing about a 6 month sentence is that you’ll soon be in a position to observe that guard’s comings and goings from his job, with a pair of binoculars. Then once you identify his car you observe where he drives to when he leaves. Then he’s pretty much yours. Guards don’t think very far ahead, do they?

  20. andy on

    ive been reading this guys prison blogs or w.e they are lol, and ive really enjoyed them, such a horrible crime that he`s even in their, hope he gets out soon.