Dear Jodie: What a wonderful day-after-our-4th anniversary visit! After we kissed goodbye, I went into the anteroom where I get stripped down and take all my clothes off, I’m asked to riffle my fingers through my hair, open my mouth, move my head from side-to-side and bend my ears, show my underarms, lift up my “sac”, turn around and show the bottoms of my feet and – there’s no other way to say it – spread my ass cheeks, to make sure I have not taken any contraband from you (though it would be impossible). My clothes and shoes are checked, and then I’m clear to get dressed and I’m brought back to my unit, Delta Bravo as it’s called, or DB.
It was a wonderful two-hour visit. I had all my freshly ironed clothes on, my brown visitation t-shirt under my khaki smock, my khaki trousers pressed so sharply, just for this visit. I always save my best clothes for when you come, and I hang them in my locker so they keep all the fresh sharp creases from the ironing they got on Wednesday. I love the passionate 30-second kiss we’re allowed to have when we first meet, and I love lifting you up and holding you with my arms while we kiss. You always look so attractive in your beautiful dresses. After our kiss, which is so electric to me, we sit opposite each other and our eyes are usually only 6 inches away while we talk up a storm, pretty well non-stop for two hours. It’s amazing how we get all the politics, social, reminiscing, your business, the people you work with, your challenges and difficulties, as well as many amusing vignettes and anecdotes covered, all in that two hours. Holding your hands and rubbing your arms as we do is so satisfying, you almost purr when I rub your arms. And then the lovely goodbye kiss at the end and your beatific smile that is so reassuring to me. Unlike so many other prisoners here, I have the committed devotion of a completely loving, faithful wife who once vowed when she was 16 that “One day I’m going to work for Marc Emery, or marry him, or both!” Oh, my sweet wife, what a brilliant prediction that was 9 years ago. So glad I made such a good impression. When we fell in love three years later, I had hopes, but little could I predict that we would become the dynamic couple we have been since – and you, such a brilliant public speaker, compassionate and remarkably intelligent leader of people, the perfect loving wife, and a truly liberating voice of the oppressed and marginalized.
Knowing these things about you makes my time here more bearable. My 5-year expected sentence is officially pronounced on September 10 in the Seattle federal court. That means, with 135 days served on my sentence already (65 days here at SEA-TAC FDC and 70 days at North Fraser in Canada awaiting extradition), and in anticipation of 270 days of time off my sentence for good behaviour (54 days off each year), my expected released date if I spend every day of my sentence in the US penal system is June 16, 2014. I have 3 years, 10 months, 21 days to go. The only way I could endure such an ordeal as it already is, is with the kindness, sincerity, devotion, sweetness and competence of your love and your skills. You are my saviour, Mrs. Emery; you are the greatest person to ever come into my life. I often think it’s because of your clearly sincere devotion to both me and my life’s cause in your blogs, videos, and public statements, that people, especially women, have taken to admiring my work and what I represent and who I am. They trust your judgment, Jodie, and they know that a woman who believes in me like you do after over six years together with me, almost 24 hours a day 7 days a week, cannot be fooled. They see your total devotion and they see a love like few others, like out of a romance novel, like out of a epic tale like Tristan and Isolde, or like Robert & Elizabeth Browning, a love for the ages, a love uncorrupted, a love based of principles of noble idealism. Your unmistakable sincerity in your love for me makes people believe in and want to help me, because they want to assist in that kind of pure love. It’s their way to be part of a romance, part of noble cause, something the universe wants to be done. You are doing God’s work, my sweet beautiful Jodie, and people can see that. They tell me so in the letters I get daily. “Your wife loves you so much,” “Jodie’s blog about visiting you made me cry,” messages of that nature are in those heartfelt letters I receive here in my cell every day.
My daily routine begins at 5:40 am when the C.O. (Corrections Officer) unlocks my cell door. I share a 12′ x 7′ space with a “cellie”, as my cellmate is called. Our cell has a bunk bed; I have the top bunk. It is narrow, about 28 inches wide, and six and half feet long. I bound out of bed and head to the inmate “computer room”. I am always the first one there at 5:45 am, but the computers begin to operate at 6 am. The only function of the keyboard is to type; the control and alt functions do not have any purpose on the keyboard. As the Bureau of Prisons screens all emails, they have to hire an army of censors and reviewers to review all emails inbound and outbound. Therefore they charge me $3.50 an hour to use the Corrlinks Inmate email service. I use the email 3 to 4 hours a day! I am allowed 30 contacts maximum. I have my lawyers, my dear wife, most of my close friends like Dana, Jeremiah and Jacob, your mom, my sister, Tommy Chong, and more activist friends among my 30 email contacts.
Each night you send me a lovely note describing what you did that day, and I see it first thing at 6:00 am as the email program kicks into gear. I love reading about your previous wonderful, challenging busy day. It used to be my life too, before my principles and activism got me put in this grim place. The way you write in detail of your decisions, your worries, your interviews, our supporters, the political situation, the sit-ins and MP office occupations, and, of course, your deep abiding love for me, both relieves me and saddens me. Last week was the most challenging week for me so far. I cried many, many times uncontrollably when I read your notes and wrote to you. Tears streamed down my face on probably six occasions, and then once the tears rolled out, my nose runs too… Normally I can cope with this estrangement, this terrible ache in my heart, always missing you in this alien place where I am the “criminal alien” (more about that term later), but sometimes it becomes emotionally difficult.
On Friday night (July 23rd) five inmates came over to my cell and asked what the matter was. I said, “it’s my 4th wedding anniversary and I’m so missing my wife. She’s everything to me,” I told them, “and the thought of years without her is just too much to bear”. I then started to cry again – I couldn’t help it – right in front of them. Then the unexpected happened. Each one added, “I’ve certainly been there, it’s okay to cry.” My cellie said, “I was crying last night, didn’t you notice?” I said, no, I hadn’t. “I pulled my hat over my eyes and turned up the radio,” he said. “I was just sobbing.” A big fellow named Kodiak (after the big bear), whose job before here was “collections”, let’s say, added, “I’ve cried many nights here, we all have”. All of them chimed in with their stories of many times crying. An African-American inmate came by and spoke to me at length in a most profound way, saying, “I wish I had someone who cared for me as much as your wife cares for you, I’d be so grateful to cry because I miss her. If you can cry, if you can keep your humanity, then when you get out of here, you’ll still be a human being. If you get hardened, and you lose that humanity, and lose that part of yourself that is real, that is of the real world, then prison has defeated you. When we get hardened by this awful place, we lose as human beings. I sure wish I had someone to cry over. Be grateful you aren’t on the phone screaming, ‘You dirty bitch!’ after you find she’s had sex with your brother or best friend, like my woman did”. It’s true, Jodie would never be unfaithful. And indeed, all of my fellow inmates were in more sad situations than I, and I was grateful they all took some moments to reassure that all is normal and I’ll get through it. No one held it against me that I cried, and I was thankful for such kindness in unexpected places.
After the email program comes on, I am on that until 6:40 am when it’s morning lock-up. Normally breakfast is at 6:00 am, usually milk, an orange, and cereal (like corn flakes) or porridge. I pass on breakfast so I can read emails from Jodie and my friends from 6 am to 6:40 am. Then we are locked in our cells from 6:40 am to 8:00 am. I got back to sleep in this period, and when our cell door is unlocked at 8 am, I go out to the showers that are available from 8 am to 10 am (and also 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm, and 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm). By 8:30 am, I’m showered and shaved, in clean clothes. We get all our kit of clothes washed on Tuesdays: 7 pairs of underwear, 7 pairs of socks, 6 t-shirts, 3 smocks, and 3 trousers. The socks and t-shirt are pale pink/salmon coloured, the trousers and smock are khaki. I have one pair of white socks and a brown t-shirt, which I wear as my dress clothes for your visits, as I did today! I hope the 5 photographs we took when you visited me on the 4th of July come back in the next week, and I will send them to you so you can remember what I look like when I am in my “Sunday best” clothes. I am looking forward to seeing those photos myself; they should be back any day now!
For the rest of the day I read and write. I get 3 newspapers daily – the NY Times, The Seattle Times and USA Today – so I read them and stay well informed. I have 9 magazine subscriptions: Reason, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Harper’s, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, The Economist, and MacLean’s. I enjoy MacLean’s because even though they can be jingoistic police-loving Conservative-Party fascist sympathizers, it’s nice to get a round up of all things Canadian. When my MacLean’s subscription started, I was in solitary confinement, and I was so desperate for reading material, I was grateful the subscription had started. I got to page 12 of the June 24 edition and was reading about Alanis Morrisette’s wedding, the new prime Minister of Japan, and lo & behold, I was the next item. Yes, indeed, I was in solitary reading about me being put in solitary. A nice little moment that put a smile on me in that grueling 21-day punishment (June 4 to 24). In fact, today is a special day because I got my phone access restored! Along with being put in solitary for 21 days, I lost all email, phone, and commissary privileges – in fact, all privileges. You can’t even get a visitor or a phone call to your lawyer while you are in solitary. You get indifference and 24 hour lock-up. Thank goodness I had a radio and earphones to make it bearable, but barely so (listening to music and radio ads takes up some time, but I had 24 hours of isolation every day to get through). But after 52 days without phone privileges, my phone access is on again, starting today. I called Jodie right away and woke her up! You get 300 minutes each month maximum. Calling a Vancouver number is 35 cents a minute. Normally that’s 10 minutes a day, but the days when Jodie visits (8 times a month), I don’t call her, so its just about 15 minutes each of the other 22 days a month. Today is an exception, as it’s the day after our anniversary and I haven’t used the phone for 52 days, so I’m excited. I’m going to splurge and call her for 15 minutes tonight!
Along with my newspapers and magazine subscriptions, I get letters from supporters. When Jodie’s evocative blogs spoke about my struggles dealing with solitary confinement, I received up to 30 letters a day, peaking on June 28 (I got out by then) at 45 letters that one day. Now it’s about 7 letters a day. But I wrote back to each and every serious thought-out letter of support. In the last 30 days I have written 165 thorough handwritten substantive letters to correspondents, and I still have about 85 to catch up on. A University class of 40 students has even written me 40 individual letters with each having attached a photograph of themselves to it, sent from the Critical Thinking project at Sannasastra University in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. I’m trying to get to one student every day and explain to them what I am doing here, why my cause is just, and what I believe. They all write in charming English, as my language is their second language, after Khmer.
I write 5-7 letters daily and sent out. Then I have books to read. I have enough books so I don’t require any more for now! I’m at page 300 of Christopher Hitchens’ Memoir “Hitch-22”, a very erudite and delightful book from the contrarian current events commentator, formerly of England, now an American based in Washington DC. It’s very good and charmingly written. I’m halfway through “The Armageddon Factor” by Marci McDonald. This is a book about the Christian fundamentalists and their very successful attempt to co-opt and takeover the Conservative Party of Canada. Even Stephen Harper, Canada’s bloodless and ice-cold Prime Minister –whose 2009 press secretary Kory Teneycke implied he hoped I got raped in the showers while in prison in the USA – is claimed to be “born-again”. If you are known by the company you keep, the Prime Minister and the former press secretary are opportunistic sanctimonious religious scumbags of the worst sort. I know Christopher Hitchens (also author of “God Is Not Great”, which I also have here and must start soon) would approve of that assessment. Speaking of our Prime Minister, how come his wife has an affair with an RCMP officer assigned to her security detail, and no one in the press reports it? If the Prime Minister is getting “high with a little helps from his friends” like cocaine party-boy Rahim Jaffer, and the 37-years-married Minister of the Public Safety Vic Toews impregnated his 18-year old assistant, and Mrs. Harper is boinking an RCMP officer and not living with her husband, what is all this talk of Conservative party family values? Go figure!
I’m also reading “To Kill A Mockingbird”, and although it’s nicely written, it’s slow to get going. I still don’t know what it’s about yet, after 50 pages, other than people of Alabama in the ‘30s were poor and often ignorant, but sometimes not. So far, no conflicts have been introduced, and having long ago seen the movie with Gregory Peck, I know that eventually some innocent person gets accused of something heinous at some point. Boo Radley has to figure in with the heinous crime because these kids stalk him for the first 50 pages. Still to read is Robert Crumb’s “Illustrated Book of Genesis”, Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” and Top 10 graphic novels, along with “Tom Gordon Volume 2”. I am at page 300 of Taylor Branch’s excellent history of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the struggle for civil rights from 1954-1968; the first volume, at 1,000 pages, called “Parting The Waters”. So I am in the midst of 4 books with many others in the on-deck circle.
This keeps me busy all day until we are locked in our cells at 9:40 pm. From that time on my cellie and I have some serious discussions about life, our wives, our dreams (of getting the hell out of here), our families, and our thoughts, and I often write letters and he reads. At 11 pm, he has usually fallen sound asleep and I read one of my books with a little battery-powered book light bought from the commissary.
Occasionally I play dominoes with my friend Robert, a 62-year-old African-American Vietnam veteran. I am also part way through writing a biography of Robert’s time in Vietnam and his youth from age 14-18 in West Philadelphia. I have taken many notes about his year in Nha-Trang in South Vietnam and his teenage years from 14-18 leading up to it. He lived a few blocks from where American Bandstand was broadcast, and even went there and danced. The Philly group The Delfonics used to practice on the streets of West Philly when Robert was 15, 16, 17, just before he shipped out in 1967, the same year The Delfonics got big on the R&B charts. The Delfonics were used extensively in the Quentin Tarantino film soundtrack for Jackie Brown. I’m hoping to get seriously to work on his story this week; all my background interviews and research are done. I have drawn a detailed map of his immediate neighbourhood he grew up in with every store, newsstand, pool hall, EL Train station, and building represented. I want to see if I can bring his childhood ghetto to life in my writing, and convey the drama and chaos and fear in a young 18-year-old soldier in the throes of the Vietnam War. This era of 1966 West Philadelphia is also the setting for a four-season-run half-hour NBC drama series, now re-run in syndication, called American Dreams. (2002-2005)
Typically though, I don’t take much time for amusements, I never watch TV and since out of solitary, don’t listen to the radio, although there is an excellent World News Report station here, 91.7 FM, that features hour long blocks of programming from CBC Canada, BBC, Radio Australia, National Public Radio (NPR), Radio Russia and other world radio services. The last time I listened to CBC was two weeks ago to hear anthropologist Wade Davis deliver his one-hour 2009 Massey Lecture called “The Wayfinders: What Ancient Wisdom Holds For Modern Society.” Davis is brilliant, and while he spoke, I said to myself, “I’ve heard this before,” and indeed I had – both Wade Davis and I spoke at IDEA CITY in Toronto in 2003, and he was a featured speaker a few hours after I was. That day his speech was the same subject, but only 20 minutes long, so by 2009 he had fleshed it out to an hour for the Massey Lectures. It was a nice moment when I realized I was granted similar status as the great Wade Davis for one afternoon in 2003, as well as the many great individuals who attend IDEA CITY every year. Davis originally hails from Vancouver, and may still call it home, but teaches at Harvard.
So my day stretches from 5:45 am to 1 am when I turn off my book light, and by then my eyes are weary and I’m exhausted, so I fall easily to sleep.
Next letter: Challenges with Food, Sunshine (the lack of it), Boredom, Loneliness, My Upcoming Sentencing, and my (hope for) Transfer Back To Canada.