i have my moments. . .

today i went to a program: Anger Management.  it was my first and will probably be my last – a lot of programs are offered here but most of them don't apply to me or my current situation.  i told myself i would do one while i am here so i can tell you all about it, and Anger Management seemed like the most useful option.  it's one of four in the “Change is a Choice” Core Programming offered by Elizabeth Fry Peel-Halton.  Change is a Choice programs have five or six hour-and-a-half long sessions and the other topics are:

   -substance abuse

   -connections (i think this one's also known as “anti-criminal thinking!”)

   -taking control & making healthy relationship choices

according to a handout given to me by the social worker early on in my sentence all four are introductory, educational, programs which are designed to help each woman decide for herself if she has a problem in her life and to give her the tools to start making changes, should she decide that she needs and/or wants to make those changes.  the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services also offers core programming through “Skills for Better Living”, which are designed to allow participants to evaluate certain areas of their lives, to help them decide if they want to make any changes, and also to provide women with basic thinking and living tools to make those changes.  [It] is designed to help women:

   -Learn strategies to keep them grounded while in the institution, and when they leave

   -Recognize problems they may have that could be contributing to offending

   -Develop basic tools to aid in everyday living

 there are twenty one hour long stand-alone sessions:

1.        thoughts to actions (looks at how people's thinking effects their behaviour)

2.        introduction to self-care

3.        effective communication

4.        coping with the effects of trauma

5.        problem solving

6.        substance use

7.        goal setting

8.        planning for discharge

9.        supportive relationships (how to develop supportive relationships in life)

10.      anger management

11.      being an effective mother (focuses on healthy parenting skills)

12.      finding employment

13.      maintaining employment

14.      healthy body image

15.      understanding self harm

16.      understanding feelings

17.      recognizing abusive relationships

18.      changing habits

19.      setting up a budget

20.      it's a gamble

 

you can tell by the titles that the focus is on each individual's responsibility to change – as opposed to our collective responsibility to fight poverty, patriarchy and misogyny, the criminalization of marginalized communities and so on.

all programs are voluntary.  sometimes we sign up by writing our names on a list posted on the range, sometimes a guard opens the door and yells “open call for (insert program here)”.  there's usually a maximum number of participants and it's first come first served.  while no inmate is forced to attend - whether or not you've participated in programs weighs heavily into the Ontario Parole Board's decisions to grant you early parole or a temporary absence.  it's also possible that it plays into the jail's decision to move you from maximum to medium security and that it can effect discussions around housing, Children's Aid issues, probation, acceptance into treatment centres and so on – but i'm not sure about that, it's just something i've heard.  so while the programs are voluntary some people feel they need to take them in order to get the certificate to show for it.

i don't care about the certificate.  i'm missing five yard calls – three of them three days in a row – partly so i can share the experience with you and partly because i suck at managing anger.  many people don't know this about me.  as i was walking down the hall into the program room a guard looked at me quizzically

     -hiscocks?

     -yeah?

     -anger management?

     -yeah. What?

     -you don't seem like the type.

     -i have my moments. . .

i do indeed have my moments.  for example i have been known to scream quite viscously at my lawyer when we disagreed on legal matters, which during this case was most of the time.  i once prepared to take a swing at a riot cop who grabbed me by the throat. yep, my bare fist in his helmeted head, luckily someone behind me grabbed my arm and gave me a what-the-fuck look.  what the fuck indeed.  the thing is, i hate bullshit and power tripping but there are smart and not so smart ways of dealing with it. here are some stellar not so smart Vanier moments, in no particular order.

   -in my first month here, a guard refused to give me some mail (a printed out copy of the excellent book Deep Green Resistance) saying it was too much paper.

       -show me the rule that says you can deny me my mail.

   he shows me a stamp on the envelope that says “inmate to view then send to A & D” (A & D is where our property is kept).

       -that's not the rule.  show me the rule.

   he walks away from me.

       -SHOW ME THE FUCKING RULE!!!

   nice, mandy.  that should do the trick. . .

   -once during lockup i asked a guard for some reasonable thing that i can't remember now, and was snottily refused, so as she walked away i kicked the door as hard as i could.  no reason, just childish rage. and it really hurt my leg.  fail.

   -recently i was on the phone when the guard came in and called nighttime lockup ten minutes early.

       -it's not 7:30 yet.

   he responds with something along the lines of “bedtime is when i say it is”.

       -(into the phone) i gotta go.  this is bullshit.

       (to the guard) bedtime is 7:30.

       -not tonight.

       -yep, every night, in fact.  this is fucking bullshit.

 

-months ago there was an issue with me calling a white shirt “fucking ridiculous” over a dispute about the underwear elastic that i was wearing in my hair.  if you missed that fascinating tale you can read it here.  so i got locked down for the rest of the day and the whole next one – i was Pissed.  at dinner i expected my dinner to be handed through the cell door slot, which is what usually happens, but instead the door buzzed.  i stayed at my desk since i'd been told in no uncertain terms i wasn't leaving the cell, but someone came to get me to get my food.  as i approached the guard she starts talking shit:

       -what?  i'm not making a personal delivery.

   without knowing i was going to, i snatched the tray from the guard's hand and gave her a nasty look. she screams at me, something threatening about how i'll end up  in the hole.  i did get some cred on the range for that little episode but i also almost ended up in seg. . .smooth.

the last two incidents were the worst because i felt like shit after.  they are both really nice guards.  and i found out later that the one i snatched the tray from wasn't the one who'd actually placed me on lock down, she was just the messenger.  i apologized to them both for being an asshole, but ideally i wouldn't have been an asshole in the first place.  this place does not always bring out the best in us.

not that i don't want to be angry, mind you.  who was it that said “if you're not outraged you're not paying attention”?  here are a few random things about this place – aside from the obvious – that make me angry:

   -the number of people who just can't afford the time and/or money it would take to go to trial, or who don't have the right kinds of connections to get bail, who plead guilty just to get it over with

   -knowing that people's pets have been left without caregivers indefinitely, and that on two occasions (that i know of) people's dogs were left behind on the street when they were arrested.

   -the students who take tours through the units, gawk at us through the glass, and yet will never be allowed to ask our opinion on how this place is run.

   -the fact that apparently a few nights ago someone on another range on this unit died.  imagine dying in a place like this.

   -people getting woken up at five am for court, packing up all their stuff in case they come back to a new range, barely eating and sitting in cold court cells bored  and exhausted all day, only to return to say that there lawyer wasn’t there.

   -anything to do with Immigration Canada.

none of that will be fixed by me kicking doors and yelling at guards, however.  hence the Anger Management Program.  in which we talked today about what anger is, some responses to anger (passive, aggressive, assertive) and different anger styles (masked, explosive, chronic) and how to handle them more effectively.  my favourite part was when i expressed my scepticism that assertiveness (described as “direct communication of one's feelings, needs, wants, and opinions. . .addressing problems or issues, trying to resolve them openly, honestly and directly”) can really work in situations of extreme power imbalance such as, say, between inmates and guards or jail admin.  the facilitator assured me it was completely possible.  so i imagined a few possibilities:

   -”i feel angry when you don't respect your own rules”

   -”i feel hurt when you refuse to answer my questions about why i'm still on maximum security”

   -”let's talk about ways you can tell my cellie not to sleep in her bra that don't involve banging on the  cell door and waking us both up at 3am.

needless to say i remain sceptical.

today's session was a lot of listening to the facilitator, however we were told that future sessions would be more participatory.  upcoming topics include the cycle of learned anger, and breaking the cycle; physical responses to anger; warning signs to anger and ways to avoid being aggressive; balance of changing anger patterns; anger and substance use and the impact; ways to cope with anger; next steps and what's out there.  all in all i think that this program will be pretty representative of what's offered here at Vanier in terms of tone and content.  and i feel about it the way a lot of people feel about the Unit Two programs: at the very least it's something different and a chance to get off the range, and maybe i'll learn a thing or two.  but just in case, as a back-up, i'm learning and practicing some meditation techniques for when i lose my shit and get sent to the hole :) 

 

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