Gasp! Tim thinks Good Friday is a “bogus holiday?” Where are you from, Tim, America?
To be serious for a moment, Easter always makes me think of my mother. My mother grew up in Trinidad with a mystic Catholic father and a staunchly Methodist mother. The ritual of Carnival and the season of Lent were serious. This spilled over into our upbringing, where, if we didn’t get to go into the hills and beat an effigy of Judas to death, we still did the whole week of palms, pancakes, ashes and foot washing, the stripping of the church, hot cross buns, Easter vigil, stations of the cross, etc. On Easter morning, she crashed into our rooms singing hymns at the top of her lungs. She is still guaranteed to call me up and yell triumphantly into the phone, “The Lord is Risen!” and insist that you say back, “The Lord is Risen indeed!” And then she’ll prompt, “Alleluia!”
As the only not-white family around our neighbourhood, looking back, Holy Week was kind of an empowering way to feel different. You always get to feel virtuous when you are going to church all week. I still feel vicariously holy even though I totally did not go to church at all. After an upbringing where Good Friday was legitimately sad for my mother — and I think she actually mourned Jesus’ death (she would say things like “Oh, Jesus is dead now” at 3pm “And the light went out of the world”) — I secretly do take Good Friday kind of seriously. I mean, not seriously like I did anything about it, but seriously in the sense that people say oh I’m going for a hamburger and inside I’m like, “but, Jesus!” (Friend: “Jesus won’t mind!” Me secretly, internally: YES HE WILL.)
I’m not actually going anywhere with this thought. My mother loves Easter is all. Also, this is my sneaky way of saying that Saturday Morning File will be shorter today.
1. Direction 180 and Canada’s Crack Smoking Mayor
On Thursday, Tim covered the funding deficit for Direction 180.
There has been an explosion in heroin use, heroin addiction, and heroin-related deaths in western countries in recent years, a perhaps inevitable result of the military adventure in Afghanistan. There’s no reason to expect Halifax to be immune from the trend. Combined with a substantial increase in oxycodone addiction, we’ve got a real need for methadone treatment.
There’s also another factor in the increase of heroin use. The explosion has been among white, suburban, drug users. Observers of similar trends in the United States have argued that the shift in viewing heroin use as criminal to viewing it as a public health crisis has to do with the similar shift in the race of users. As this article in The Atlantic argues:
Some experts and researchers see, in the different responses to these drug epidemics, further proof of America’s racial divide. Are policymakers going easier today on heroin users (white and often affluent) than their elected predecessors did a generation ago when confronted with crack addicts who were largely black, disenfranchised, and economically bereft? Can we explain the disparate response to the “black” heroin epidemic of the 1960s, in which its use and violent crime were commingled in the public consciousness, and the white heroin “epidemic” today, in which its use is considered a disease to be treated or cured, without using race as part of our explanation?
The race and class trends in heroin use are similar in Canada. This series from the Vancouver Sun in 2014 opens with a description of Callum, who “doesn’t fit the stereotype of a heroin addict, but his pathway to serious addiction is a textbook case of a trend that is alarming experts: the trajectory from prescription opiate abuse to heroin addiction.”
The article goes on to give statistics on trends in drug use:
Studies show similar patterns of use in Canada. In every city studied across the country except Vancouver and Montreal, prescription opioid use was more prevalent than heroin. From 2002 to 2005, according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, use of prescription opiates among street drug users jumped 24 per cent.
In Ontario high schools, 20.6 per cent of students admitted using prescription opioids, according to a 2010 study published in Canadian Family Physician, up from 15 per cent in 2008. In that province, prescription opioid-attributed deaths doubled between 1991 and 2004, and rose another 30 per cent between 2005 and 2009…
…“In Canada, consumption of prescription opioids has tripled over the past decade, and we are now the second-largest consumer in the world,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-director of the Urban Health Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDs.
“We are documenting a very large increase in prescription opiate use, and we are interested in looking at how people initiate into heroin. Heroin addiction can start with opiate addiction,” he added.
To return to the article in The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen writes:
By contrast to those earlier drug crises, the heroin epidemic of the 21st century is largely a white person’s scourge. The Center for Disease Control says the cheap, easily accessible drug is attracting affluent suburbanites and women. Nearly 90 per cent of the people who tried heroin for the first time in the past decade are white, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in July 2014, and there is no reason to believe the trend has eased since then. Said the researchers:
Heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas.
The cause for this may be simple. White people addicted to prescription opiates, the sorts of drugs they could conveniently get from a friendly doctor or pharmacist, are finding heroin an obvious (and cheap) substitute now that law-enforcement officials have cracked down on those opiates. The hottest fronts in this war now can be seen in rural states like Vermont and in suburban areas that largely missed the ravages of the crack craze.
The reaction to Rob Ford, “Toronto’s crack smoking mayor,” showed the different racialized approach to drug use. When Rob Ford smoked crack, it was taken largely as a hilarious joke. Precisely because crack is coded as Black, a white man smoking crack was seen as incongruent and therefore entertaining, just like his adoption of Jamaican.
Rob Ford smoking crack was embarrassing, sure, but it was also celebrated as boss. He was seen as “either the worst or the greatest mayor ever,” as I read in a comments section. Compared to the rhetoric around Black crack users as “super predators,” the embrace of Rob Ford by late night television and the representation of him as a good time party guy is starkly different.
The treatment of Rob Ford upon his death where his “mistakes” were conceded, but his populism celebrated, also stands in stark contrast to the way Black victims of police violence, for example, are treated by the media. As writer Lasha pointed out in Salon,
The media’s role as the gatekeeper of whiteness cannot be overstated. There is no greater tool in constantly shaping and reinforcing the association of whiteness and white people with integrity, benevolence and superiority. This perpetual humanization of whiteness has the obvious, and perhaps deliberate, effect of dehumanizing blackness.
That’s the difference in black and white in America. When white people commit unspeakable acts, journalists spend years — decades even — on tireless expeditions digging through the killer’s life, talking to investigators, schoolmates and co-workers, trying to find some redeeming quality in the accused. Apologetic, tearful loved ones tell Diane Sawyer or Matt Lauer how the devil everyone knows is not the son they raised, the brother they grew up with or the husband they married.
No attempt is made to redeem black killers. That’s the obvious takeaway. The truest display of the purification of whiteness at the expense of blackness, though, is not found in how black killers are treated in contrast to white ones, but how the media tries black victims while bolstering the defense of white killers.
While Rob Ford can beat his wife, drive drunk, assault people, smoke crack, and still be represented as “beloved” if “troubled,” victims like Andrew Loku are put on trial in the media. While Rob Ford is granted the benefit of ambivalence and the respect due to the dead, similar prohibitions about “not speaking ill of the dead” and “thinking of the family” are not extended to Black victims.
The memes that went around of Rob Ford were funny, until you realize that the Somali men in the photo were either all dead or in prison. As commentary pointed out at the time, “that’s what white privilege looks like.”
To bring this back to Direction 180, the support for funding the program by the government is important. While comments on the story complain about “throwing money at addicts” while “we can’t pay for hospitals,” prevention and treatment for addictions saves money and reduces crime (besides also saving lives, keeping people out of prison, restoring families, helping people return to employment, etc.)
As Tim observes, the growing heroin epidemic requires a health response. Addiction knows no race and class, but the way we respond to addiction, and how we criminalize it versus treating it certainly is. When we call Oxycontin, for example, “Hillbilly heroin,” we are stigmatizing rural drug use (for example, addiction in Cape Breton) differently than when a suburban woman has a “problem” with “prescription drugs.” Indigenous and Black addicts find themselves cycling in and out of prison for addiction issues, while addicts like Callum depicted in the Vancouver Sun article are seen as sympathetic and are able to access treatment.
People in the comments complain about how they don’t want the methadone bus or clinics “in their neighbourhood,” conjuring up an image of addicts as dangerous “others” who live on the streets, are probably violent, and who do not belong in society (and are definitely not taxpayers), as if drug use of all kinds doesn’t already exist in these neighbourhoods, and by tax-paying people too. People complain about the small cost of a methadone bus, as if it doesn’t cost far more to put an addict into prison — the same prisons where people also complain about the existence of treatment programs as “hug a thug” and “coddling” prisoners, leading to cuts in services and counselling that stop people from continuing to cycle back inside.
The debate around Trudeau’s pledge to legalize weed raises similar points about race. When pot becomes a business, white “entrepreneurs” will largely benefit from the same acts that get young Black and Indigenous men put in jail for dealing. When upper class white addicts overdose, solutions like Vivitrol will be seen as urgent. As long as it’s low income, raced, or people with records suffering, locking people up or running centres on shoestring budgets will remain our policy.
2. On the Ghomeshi verdict and prison rape
The acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi led to protests in Halifax yesterday and a continued National conversation about sexual assault, the assumptions made about rape victims and survivors, and the inadequacy of the court system in dealing with rape and assault.
I wrote during the trial about the ways Black and Indigenous women in particular are treated in court, and how our discussion of sexual assault and survivors also has to include incarcerated women, and the ways racialized women are criminalized not only on the stand, but in their homes, communities and even relationships:
And part of me wants to ask, did this country just notice the justice system is broken now? When the numbers of African-Canadian women incarcerated are rapidly increasing, and Black incarceration has increased by 80 per cent since 2003/4, and 23 per cent of the prison system is Indigenous people, did people just think we always did it? According to an Elizabeth Fry report, “82 per cent of all women and 90 per cent of Aboriginal women serving federal prison sentences had histories of physical and/or sexual abuse.” Do these women not count when we talk about a national crisis around sexual assault and how these cases are treated by the courts?…
…Do we think Indigenous and Black women aren’t repeatedly dismissed by the court system, that our stories aren’t doubted, that histories of sexual abuse, and foster care, and addiction, aren’t used all the time to discredit and discount those testimonies? Does everyone think that all those women doing time because their boyfriend kept drugs in the house, or stored weapons, and now they’re charged as an accessory, aren’t experiencing violence and abuse and trauma that leads them to be confused, or scared in their testimony?
Something I didn’t talk about in that column was the sexual assault of prisoners while in custody. One thing that I think is very important to understand is that for many, if not most, people in the system, there isn’t a binary between victim and criminal. Somebody in prison for a crime can also be a victim of sexual assault, and in fact, is often likely to be. This is a more complicated view of how we think of the ways victims are treated in the system, and it also makes our view of prison as the solution to sexual assault more complex.
I have had men disclose to me about sexual assault in jail. These men are not disclosing to anyone else both because of the immense shame around male sexual assault, but also because there simply are not services or policies that help men in prison report assault.
I was told of one case where a victim was raped on the range and did report it. He was still in the same institution as the man who raped him, so when the disclosure came (as every defendant is entitled to), all the details of his report were available, and were made available to everyone in the institution. People would read out details of his rape to him on the range, and wherever he went people would taunt him with graphic descriptions of his own rape. Because he reported, he was seen as a “rat” and he was the one who was in danger of being beaten up.
He tried to kill himself, and then he ended up in health segregation, where he was under 24-hour watch, not able to get any gym or yard time, without any contact — policies which if they are for the safety of the prisoner feel more like punishment. There are supposed to be policies around “incompatibles,” but whether it broke down in this case in an overcrowded provincial jail system, whether the victim who already had been through enough reporting didn’t also want to be labeled further by blocking another inmate, or whether the policy was not designed for sexual assault or rape, I don’t know.
This is a common experience of men assaulted in prison. Being a victim of sexual assault does not get you out of your sentence. Reporting rape makes you a rat. If you stay in the prison and you report, everyone will know. If you move prisons, everyone will probably still know, and you also are now moving further from family if you leave your “home” prison, making things like support and visits much harder.
That’s if you are raped by a fellow inmate. If you are raped by a guard, then you are in the position of reporting your assault to the guard’s friends and colleagues. Again, even if you move prison, other guards will have access to your records, and you will be open to harassment and intimidation.
It actually shocked me when I first realized there were male guards in women’s prisons. I had naively thought that obviously in a situation where women are so vulnerable, and where women are so overwhelmingly victims of assault, and where intrusive searches are so common, that it made sense to have women staff. That is not the case.
I am not saying that “all male guards are rapists” here, although rape of female inmates by male guards definitely occurs. But beyond that, for women who have already experienced high levels of sexual trauma from men, being watched or searched by male guards, or being held down or restrained by male guards can also be incredibly re-traumatizing.
I have also heard of inmates “voluntarily” having sexual contact with guards or prison staff. Particularly if the inmate is male and the official is female, this is not seen as coercion, and is treated as fulfilling a fantasy, but of course the power any official has over an imprisoned body can never make this activity consensual. Inmates may see sex as an opportunity to get favourable treatment, or they may truly feel in love — but even if they don’t recognize the act as assault, is is clearly exploitive.
It’s also true that guards, particularly female guards, deal with high rates of sexual harassment, and that female guards are also expected to “just deal with it.” This in turn can create high rates of hostility between guards and inmates — particularly if female guards have to deal with harassment by “looking tough” — which in turn can affect the way incidents are dealt with on the range, and the level of violence used by guards.
For all inmates who are victims of assault in prison, they will remain in a place where they are strip-searched, where they have no bodily privacy and where they cannot control or “own” their own bodies. Even for prisoners who have never been victims of sexual violence, getting used to having your body routinely violated — bending over to expose your anus, being strip-searched after visits, etc. — is often humiliating and a source of shame.
Young male inmates, in particular, will report anxiety about being seen naked by both male and female guards. Being in prison already makes any kind of healthy relationship with your body and with your sexuality difficult — the lack of sexual contact with partners, the lack of privacy for masturbation, etc. — which also impact how prisoners recover from and view their bodies and sexuality after assault.
Female-on-female sexual assault in prison is made the object of pornographic fantasy, and women are popularly assumed to be less at risk from other female inmates, but these assaults also occur, and again, accessing services or counselling specific to this assault is difficult.
How does a prisoner access services for assault? Sexual assault centres rarely have mandates that extend to prisons, and certainly not male prisons. Numbers have to be on a prisoners’ PIN to call (at federal prisons) or the centre would have to pick up a collect call (from provincial prisons), so access to these services even over the phone is limited. To get a number on the PIN, the inmate would have to submit the number, and then prison officials call the number to check, which would result in them becoming aware that the prisoner is seeking these services. Plus, of course, that would also require money on phone cards, which not all prisoners have.
Prisoners can speak with the chaplain, but confidential services for rape effectively do not exist inside. There are counselling groups for sexual violence that may be available depending on the prison and depending on programming and depending on funding, but again, this would require the prisoner to disclose publicly.
A prisoner could call the Correctional Investigator or the Ombudsman, and theoretically, these calls would be confidential, but most prisoners fear that any investigation would result in exposure. Some prisons have hotlines, but they go to officials.
And if a prisoner does not already know what services are available, they are hardly going to ask.
Then there are issues like literacy, and the fact that many prisoners cannot read or write to file a report.
When people get out, there is still little support for reporting sexual assault or getting help. It is already difficult for male victims to access services. People from remote communities, communities without sexual assault services, or many reserves will also face barriers in getting services.
Victims may also fear that disclosing could affect their parole. If they report and are not believed, for example, they may be seen as unstable in the community and vulnerable to being sent back inside.
Male victims of male sexual violence fear the stigma of being labeled “gay” and the huge stigma around masculinity and weakness. Without services specifically directed to people victimized while incarcerated, they also face the barriers and stigmas that come with having been imprisoned, and the feeling that even if they attend counselling, their experiences will not be understood by counsellors or group members who do not understand prison.
Prisoners are already stigmatized, and who wants to add victim of assault to that? Who wants to admit to being a victim of assault when as a society we joke about “not dropping the soap” or “watch out for your cellmate Bubba?” When prison rape is seen as something you deserve, especially if you are convicted of sexual assault. When advertisements show prison rape as a joke, as I remember from an advertising campaign a couple of years ago for Halifax apartments. When women’s prison is the subject of fantasy, and where male prison rape is the object of lurid TV shows, and Scared Straight-type representations where all men in prison are seen as animals.
And then you add in the barriers faced by racialized people in getting services, and the fact that it is Black and Indigenous men and women who are the most over-represented in the prison population, and the particular narratives around Black masculinity that make reporting rape even more difficult. And that’s not even addressing the violence faced by Trans women of colour both in society and inside prisons, and how the criminalization of Trans women of colour on the streets directly leads to endangering them inside prisons.
When we talk about justice for survivors in the court system, we are picturing the survivors who testify on the stand. That is so important. But we also should remember the many survivors who fit our picture of “criminal” and who are being victimized inside the system, with no remedy to report, or go to trial, or even to tell anyone.
And when we talk about court as a solution to sexual assault, we also have to remember that for many people going to court has resulted in sexual victimization, and court is not the site of justice for assault but the doorway to injustice.
When we think about how victims are criminalized, we also can think about how “criminals” are victimized, and how when we invest in the criminal justice system as a solution there are also going to be those caught up in the system who become more vulnerable, more victimized, and more subject to violence. And the more overburdened the system becomes, the more assault occurs.
When we picture survivors of sexual assault, we must also picture prisoners, and we must fight for justice and a voice for them too.