Former Prisoners Shut Out of Plans to Turn Prison for Women into a Seniors Residence

On January 22, 2021, a sign appeared on the grounds of the former Prison for Women (P4W) in Kingston: “COMING SOON: Another Future Vibrant Seniors Community by Signature Retirement Living” (link1, link2).

The news came as a surprise to members of the P4W Memorial Collective, a grassroots organization led by former prisoners at the Kingston Prison for Women. The Collective has been fighting since the prison closed in 2000 to create a memorial garden for women who died at P4W and in prisons across Canada (link).  

The Collective would also like to create a gallery space inside the former prison to share artwork and stories from former prisoners, and to ensure the history of the prison is not forgotten. 

P4W closed in 2000 following recommendations by the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women in 1990 (link) and the Arbour Report in 1996 (link). Between December 1988 and February 1991, seven women died by suicide in P4W.  Six of these women were Indigenous. (link).  

In April 1994, a conflict between prisoners and guards was suppressed by an all-male Institutional Emergency Response Team (IERT) who stripped the women naked and left them shackled on the floor for six hours (link).  Security footage of the event was leaked to the media and broadcast on a national news program, The Fifth Estate (link).

In 2018, ABNA Investment Ltd., owned and operated by the Doornekamp family, purchased the former prison from Queen’s University (link). The prison sits on 3.27 hectares of land near Queen’s University, with views of Lake Ontario.

The P4W Memorial Collective has repeatedly requested meetings with ABNA Investment Ltd., but apart from one meeting on August 8, 2018, these requests have been denied or postponed. While the developer has verbally agreed to the importance of respecting the heritage of the building, former prisoners are uniquely qualified to design a memorial garden that meets the needs of the community as a whole.

Fran Chaisson, a former prisoner at P4W and a founding member of the P4W Memorial Collective, says: 

“I feel like we have been kept in the dark throughout the whole development process. ABNA never brought us to the table to share any of our ideas about the memorial garden. So this is where we stand. We have been waiting for almost a year and a half for a meeting, and we still don’t have a say in what happens to P4W.

“We want to design a garden to remember the women, and we also want to create a room inside the building to explain the history of the prison. We’re not there to take over the 8 acres. We just want to be acknowledged.  You can’t take away what happened at P4W. That’s history.

“Now they have a sign up by the prison saying that it’s going to be a seniors residence, and we haven’t been told or involved in any of it.  Why did we have to find out about the developer’s plans this way? I feel like we’ve been disrespected. We were told we would be part of the process, but that hasn’t happened. When were they planning to involve us?”

Members of the P4W Memorial Collective state:

“It’s clear that we need to be closely involved in this redevelopment. We aren’t currently. Different uses like retirement housing, if done right, are things we can accept. But let’s not forget that it’s a prison, that thousands of people were confined in poor conditions for years, and many died there due to their suffering. We are asking for a memorial garden and for a room in the development to display information about the site as a shuttered prison. It needs to be addressed. Making the building and (literally toxic) grounds now fit for human habitation won’t change what it is.”

Media contact: 

Dr. Lisa Guenther, Queen’s National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies

(613) 453-5914

lisa.guenther@queensu.ca 

Follow the P4W Memorial Collective: 

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p4wmemorialcollective/?hl=en

Twitter https://twitter.com/@P4WMemorial 

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/P4W-Research-and-Action-658164001218073 

Website https://p4wmemorialcollective.com/ 

Email p4wmemorialcollective@gmail.com

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Three members of the P4W Memorial Collective critique the recent move from segregation to structured intervention, and reflect on ways that people in women’s prisons have helped each other to survive solitary confinement.

This recording includes descriptions of violence, including self-injury, that may be triggering to some listeners.

The main speakers are:

Joey Twins is a Cree Twin Spirit woman from Treaty 6 Territory whose spirit name is Redstone Woman Who Walks With Fire. She is a knowledge keeper, singer and hand drummer, prison advocate, Land Defender, Water Protector, advocate for the homeless, and motivational speaker. She is this year’s recipient of the Ed McIsaac Human Rights Award in Corrections.

Fran Chaisson is a founding member of the P4W Memorial Collective in Kingston, Ontario. She was born and raised in Toronto. She is a volunteer and organizer with the Two Feather Drum Group, Martha’s Table, Kingston Waterwalkers, Ontario Native Women’s Association, HARS (HIV/AIDS Regional Services), Pow Wow Yoga, and the Kingston National Indigenous Peoples’ Day. She was released from P4W in 1989 and has been clean and sober since 1991. She follows the Red Road and tries to live her life by the Seven Grandfathers Teachings. She is the keeper of the Two-Spirit big drum. For Fran, prison is a capitalist system that does violence against womyn every day. The whole system has to come down!

Bobbie Kidd was born and raised in Winnipeg, then moved to BC. She is a member of the P4W Memorial Collective, and she volunteers with EFry as a peer support worker for women coming out of prison. She is also a fundraiser for E Fry and the United Way. Bobbie is an inspirational speaker at Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College, in churches, and with Native students. She is Native, and she follows the Seven Grandfather Teachings. Bobbie has been clean for twenty years, and she received counselling for two years at SACK (Sexual Assault Centre Kingston). She was released from P4W in 1993, after being the first woman to keep her child in a federal prison. Her son has blessed her with three grandkids.

This is the 12th event in a 15 day spotlight on solitary confinement in Canada, organized by Prisoner Legal Services, Schulich School of Law – Dalhousie University, the John Howard Society of Canada, and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Prisoners’ Justice Day

This Prisoners’ Justice Day the P4W Memorial Collective is in conversation with three trans women, Cedar, Moka Dawkins, and Tami Starlight about prison experience, and trans femme decolonial and abolitionist dreams. Each speaker offers an acute analysis of state violence, including anti-Black racism, policing, anti-Indigenous self-determination, and violence against BIPOC trans and two-spirit folks and women and girls. Find our audio interview with Tami Starlight below, followed by our video interviews with Cedar and Moka Dawkins. A permanent link can be found at www.p4wmemorialcollective.com/pjd. All transcripts are as follows (the captions for Moka Dawkins forthcoming):

Tami Starlight transcript

Cedar transcript

Moka Dawkins transcript

Alongside these interviews, we are circulating a petition to counter the “Appeal to Repeal Bill C-16: A Canadian Women’s Declaration”, a recent initiative that aims to repeal transgender rights in prisons. While we recognize that appealing to the state for protection for prisoners is not a solution to the problem of prisons, we are advocating for harm reduction as part of prison abolition, to protect trans prisoners who are currently doing time. So that they may have the choice to self-identify their gender. For more detailed information about Bill C-16 and the growing transphobia in CSC, check our the longer letter and sign the petition here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/protect-bill-c-16/

In solidarity.

Prisoners’ Justice Day 2020

This PJD the P4W Memorial Collective is in conversation with Cedar, Moka Dawkins, and Tami Starlight about trans femme decolonial and abolitionist dreams. We will be broadcasting messages of care, love, rage, and analyses of the relationship between white supremacy, binary gender, and state violence.

Interviews will be posted on our website at 12am August 10, and will also be online and inside from 6-7pm on 101.9 FM in the Kingston region, and online at CFRC.ca.

Kingston Prison Radio reaching:

Millhaven Institution
Collins Bay Institution
Joyceville Instituion
Bath Institution
Frontenac Institution
Pittsburgh Institution
Quinte Institution
Cape Vincent Correctional Facility (Cape Vincent, NY)

This year on Prisoners’ Justice Day the P4W Memorial Collective is teaming up with EPIC and CFRC Prison Radio for a PJD broadcast, August 10th 4-10pm. P4W Memorial Collective will be featured from 6-7pm, in conversation with prison experienced trans women, covering topics from settler colonialism and Indigenous self-determination, to abolition and harm reduction.

Abolition Coalition Statement on Releasing Federal Prisoners

Don’t Kill, Bill: Advocates Call on Minister Blair to Act on Releasing Federal Prisoners

Don’t Kill, Bill:

Advocates Call on Minister Blair to Act on Releasing Federal Prisoners

14 April 2020 – Two weeks have passed since media outlets reported that Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair asked the heads of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to put together a plan to release federal prisoners for consideration. Today, people from across Canada are calling upon Minister Blair to release as many federally incarcerated people as possible in order to fight COVID-19.

Incarcerating people during a pandemic is a threat to public health and community safety. Doctors, public health experts, lawyers, prison scholars and the United Nations have all made clear that release is the best way to prevent spread of COVID-19 both behind and beyond prison walls. Beginning later this morning, tweets and images shared on social media with taglines such as “Don’t Kill, Bill” and “Don’t wash your hands of prisoners” (see above) will be used to draw attention to the dangers of incarceration during this pandemic.

Justin Piché from the Abolition Coalition, a collective of organizations working together to secure the release of prisoners during COVID-19 pandemic, is one of the organizers of Tuesday’s tweet storm. Piché states: “What’s Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Blair’s plan to flatten the curve in federal penitentiaries? If they continue to batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass – which is clearly failing in Port-Cartier, Joliette, Grand Valley and Mission institutions – the only depopulation of penitentiaries that’ll occur under their watch will be through hospitalizations and deaths in custody. If they’re in favour of retroactive death penalties, they should be up front with the public. If they want to save lives, they need to get on with the business of safely releasing human beings from prison”.

At this time, a robust health response requires releasing people from locked institutions such as prisons, immigration detention centres, psychiatric facilities and youth facilities to the extent possible. To support community transitions advocates are calling upon Minister Blair to put in place adequate supports including housing, access to medication, and other resources. The lack of action by Minister Blair, CSC, institutional heads, the PBC and the Trudeau government is not only a public health concern, but a human rights issue.

Souheil Benslimane, Coordinator of the Jail Accountability & Information Line and former federal prisoner, points to the role penitentiary staff can play in this crisis: “The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is opposing the release of prisoners during this pandemic. This is appalling, regressive, and harms the most marginalized members of our communities. The union needs to stop promoting prison policies that injure and kill people. COVID-19 presents them with the opportunity to break the cycle of violence against prisoners. We’re demanding that CSC staff, who could potentially be the main carriers of the virus into penitentiaries, live by their titles and make the correct choice”.

Following the tweet storm, advocates and people across Canada will continue to pressure Minister Blair to do his job. Poet, activist and scholar El Jones states: “Minister Blair says he’s asking prison authorities to consider release. He can and must do more than request consideration. He can, for example, use his authority to examine regulatory adjustments and provide resources to the parole board to undertake more hearings. There’s no death penalty in this country. Pandemic isn’t punishment. We fear if Bill Blair doesn’t act, and act immediately, he’ll have to wash his hands because they’ll have the blood of prisoners on them.

The Abolition Coalition’s message is, unlike Minister Blair’s approach to federal imprisonment during the pandemic, unambiguous – #DontKillBill, #ReleaseSavesLives, #CleanOutPrisons now!”

For more information contact:

Atlantic: El Jones

Poet, journalist and community activist / Department of Social Justice and Community Studies, Saint Mary’s University

el.jones@msvu.ca / (902) 401-6325 (calls only / no texts)

Quebec: Ted Thomas

Member, Anti-carceral Group

anticarceralgroup@riseup.net

Ontario: Justin Piché, Associate Professor – Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa / Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project

justin.piche@uottawa.ca / (613) 793-1093

Prairies: Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land

Assistant Professor – Department of Criminology Justice, University of Winnipeg / Member, Bar None

b.dobchuk-land@uwinnipeg.ca / (204) 998-1964

Pacific: Meenakshi Mannoe

Member, Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee

meenakshi.mannoe@gmail.com / (778) 929-4491