I’m in Winnipeg! It’s still morning here… and Tim is off looking for Stan of Green Stables, so who knows when he’ll publish this.

1. If the news wrote about the Sandeson case the way they write about Black people…

Accused shooter and drug dealer William Sandeson is back in court as his trial continues on the gang and drug related shooting of rival gang member Taylor Samson that shocked the city in August, 2015 and led to calls by politicians and the public for a crackdown on university crime.

The alleged killer Sandeson appeared to be stone-faced and unremorseful as he observed testimony on Friday.

Police released a number of pictures to the public showing both Sandeson and Samson in gang-related Dalhousie university clothing. Police testimony recounted that the two kingpins were involved in a high-level drug deal intended to flood the city with street drugs worth nearly $100,000.

Image from cbc.ca

Related story: Operation Science Society yields major gang bust.

Watch: Snow’s September, 2015 press conference

Constable Snow, head of the national unit responsible for tracking crime on university campuses, spoke with reporters at a press conference where the blood-soaked cash, drug paraphernalia and guns seized from Sandeson’s apartment and the apartment of his associates were prominently displayed. The unit made 50 arrests in the course of this investigation, taking all the residents in the building into custody. Forty-eight of them were subsequently released.

“Operation Science Society has successfully concluded with a major bust this morning. Our officers worked incredibly hard on surveillance during this case, and we were able to move in with our heavily armed teams and make a number of arrests, subduing suspects who resisted. This bust will significantly reduce the number of gang members roaming the streets endangering public safety.”

Sandeson’s criminal associates — who are alleged to be members of the far-reaching gang with ties on campuses across the country — shocked the court this week with their testimony, which revealed wide knowledge of criminal activities and alleged connections to organized crime.

Sandeson’s associates were attending a drug and alcohol fuelled party where they were listening to violent hip hop music when the shooting allegedly took place across the hall in the notorious South End building known for drug dealing and for a number of noise complaints made to the police by terrified residents.

Image from vice.com

Sandeson’s associates Blade and McCabe, who face charges of obstruction, trafficking, and being an accessory after the fact, both testified that they heard a loud bang and looked into Sandeson’s apartment, where they saw a body seated upright surrounded by pints of blood.

However, neither man reported the crime to the police. Having observed the shooting, they went downtown to meet up with other criminal associates where they engaged in further alcohol and hip hop consumption.

Sociologist Blanc White, contacted for comment, explains:

These criminal university cultures are dominated by a code of silence known as the “no snitching code” which develops in response to plagiarism accusations. These young men grow up in a culture where there is high debt and few jobs. The young boys see the older men in the university community driving nice cars and showing off titles like Dr. and they want an easy path to that wealth and power.

Their behaviour is enabled by a culture around them that promotes and glorifies criminal activity — many of the role models in this community are criminals themselves and young children in the community are taught to look up to the wealthy bankers, business frauds, and corporate environmental polluters that are held up among them as successful and even given honorary degrees. The media they consume frequently represents these criminals as living desirable lifestyles that they are taught to emulate. 

The families of these young men are often aware of their criminal activities as we saw develop in court testimony. However, they frequently remain silent or enable this behaviour due to the powerful emphasis in their culture on a “boys will be boys” ideology. These young men see dentistry students in their community given “slap on the wrist” sentencing and come to believe they are invincible.

Image from alternate.com

The shooting in 2015 renewed calls among the public for more severe laws governing fraternities, science societies, and track teams. Minimum sentences of 15 years have been proposed for anyone committing a crime while wearing athletic gear or khaki shorts.

The justice minister spoke with the media, reassuring the public that police will continue to crack down on criminal activity in the South End. Surveillance cameras have currently been proposed for the area, and the police are working on forming a new unit responsible for profiling and gathering intelligence on gang activity in the area. Police have requested further resources, as well as body armour, improved weapons, and armoured vehicles to facilitate this effort.

Ninety-four per cent of the police street checks in the six months following the shooting were revealed in a recent investigation to have been performed on people with student IDs.

The minister also called upon the South End community to speak out about violence and white-on-white crime. Ministers from the leading white churches met with government leaders to discuss strategies for reducing violence in the white community. White city council members were approached for comment on what can be done to reduce violence in their communities.

The case is being heard by a jury of all-Black members. Testimony will continue on Monday.

2. Post Traumatic Slammer Disorder

CBC reports on the high rates of PTSD among guards in provincial jails.

Most likely, the way this story is going to be received is that prisoners are violent animals, that prison violence is inevitable because prisoners are bad people, and that it’s outrageous that prisoners get mental health care while staff do not, and that the solution is removing those resources from prisoners.

It’s my hope, however, that we can think about how the PTSD that affects jail staff reveals the problem with communities investing in punishment. Burnside is currently undergoing a $4.3 million dollar renovation, while a new $42.3 million facility opened in Pictou in 2015. Beyond the construction contracts and the contracts for technology, food, and the number of other costs of running prisons, incarceration generates jobs, from lawyers to guards to sheriffs, to police and policing resources, social workers, parole officers, halfway house staff, program workers, administration, etc. etc.

Image of North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility from correctional news.com

Profit is also exploited from prisoners and their families, through the phone system, and from labour inside the prison (in provincial jails this is reported to amount to $10 every two weeks for limited jobs such as range cleaner, and the money must be used immediately or it is confiscated).

Prisons located in rural towns generate profit for the community by visitors spending money for gas and food. While the official rhetoric is that prisons exist for public safety and to rehabilitate offenders, the reality is that the prison industrial complex generates profits for communities, and so communities become dependent on the economy of the prison.

Investing in incarceration means that prison is increasingly used as the “solution” for social problems such as mental health and addictions. Tough-on-crime rhetoric is used to convince the public of the necessity of expanded incarceration, even as crime rates in Canada are at their lowest since 1969.

The police are invested in promoting this rhetoric as it leads to increased budgets for police forces.

The media is invested in crime news to fill the news cycle, and with the rise of cable news and 24 hour news networks, crime coverage vastly increased — and Canadian news is influenced by trends in news reporting in the U.S. This causes people to believe that prisons are our only barricade against social anarchy and hordes of criminals invading our neighbourhoods and attacking our homes.

Image from cbc.ca

The number of prisoners on remand in Nova Scotia awaiting trial increased 192 per cent in the last decade, the largest increase in Canada. As people are denied bail, and trial wait times increase, prisons become more overcrowded. While Burnside has a bed capacity of 322 men and 48 women, the actual number of prisoners far exceeds that (more than double). Overcrowding leads to tensions as people are double-bunked, in close confinement with each other, unable to get even the mandated minimum recreational time or fresh air (a violation of their rights), and without access to adequate programming.

This in turn leads to increased violent incidents against both staff and other prisoners. Segregation is increasingly used to control prisoners and to attempt to manage the overcrowded and understaffed ranges, which only feeds further into the toxic environment of the institution and exacerbates mental health and emotional problems.

Add into that reports of medication being denied or arbitrarily changed, difficulty in accessing phones and contacting families, inadequate mental health care, strip searches in order to get methadone leading to some prisoners choosing not to get their medication and going into withdrawal, and the impossibility of keeping drugs out of this crowded environment, and you have a jail that isn’t violent because prisoners are just savage animals, but institutions that create violence by the conditions people are forced to endure.

It is no surprise that guards have PTSD in this environment, that they witness suicides and violent attacks, that they experience violent incidents, that they enter into a stressful environment every day which is virtually uncontrolled and where they are the front line for policies and laws they didn’t create.

And what this reveals is that when communities invest in incarceration, it actually has a high cost. The benefits we think we get from prisons in reality do not help communities, and are not sustainable.

Image from cbc.ca

Prisons are not treatment centres. Guards cannot be social workers, doctors, psychiatrists, teachers, parents, and trauma counsellors all at once. And the more toxic the jail environment becomes, the more likely us-against-them mentalities are to develop between prisoners and staff. Staff starts to see the prisoners as less human, and interactions between staff and prisoners become mistrusting. There stops being communication between staff and prisoners which leads to further alienation, more violence, and retaliation by staff members. Prisoners in turn lash out at staff. Prisoners report staff refusing to help them, or encouraging or ignoring violence and conflict, as the prisoners are seen as a lost cause. And in its turn that creates more resentment to staff, more incidents, more tension, more stress, and on and on and on.

All of this should show us that prisons are not only not the solution to social issues, they are not an economic solution. Building new prisons does not fix the problem — and when we build more prisons, we find the people to fill them. The damage done by prisons affects everyone who comes in contact with them. It is not only prisoners who are punished, it is their families, the staff of the prison, and the families and communities of the staff who bring those issues home with them. The more we imprison people, the more this damage spreads into communities.

The solution is not to see people in prison as uncontrollable vicious people, and therefore to incarcerate people longer and in harsher conditions to “discipline” them. We should recognize that jails fail in rehabilitating people and that people do not “get help” inside them (or that any help they do get should be accessible on the outside and would be more effective), that jails do not solve addiction or mental health issues or poverty, and that they harm communities.

Investing in prisons does not bring us healthy careers, a strong economy, or a safe society. Putting more and more people in prison only traumatizes people, damages families, and brings us more violence.

If we want to help guards, we need to begin by not sending so many people to prison, by investing in treatment, and by recognizing that punishment does not solve our social issues or keep people safe. Guards will be kept safer by facilities that are not overcrowded and that can provide at minimum adequate care and programming.

Or to sum this all up in a paraphrase from Biggie, Mo Prisons, Mo Problems.

YouTube video

Editor’s note: El Jones is an important and strong voice in the community, and we at the Examiner are proud to host her work every Saturday. To help us continue to provide Jones with this platform, please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!

A smiling young Black woman with long wavy hair

El Jones

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. Hey don’t knock the CCTV cameras. I live in that hood and have em. Even the killer had em. All I’ve captured so far are car thieves, non pooper scoopers and piss drunk ‘Dal gang members’ but like a dash cam or deer whistles better have em before something bad happens than after.

  2. El, this was a well written and clever piece. As a law and order and one set of rules for everyone type, I don’t appreciate your apologies for human traffickers like NPF etc but the extent that Sanderson’s money, and perhaps, skin color has gotten him a pass is disgusting. How about cooling it with the postmodernism and sticking with pieces like this?

  3. El’s piece on the Sandeson case is a brilliant depiction of what “white privilege” means. I found it to be respectful to the parties involved. If the accused and victim were not white university students, coverage would have language similar to El’s article. In following this case, I found it startling that two university friends saw the aftermath and did not call 911 to get medical assistance for the victim. For many months, they said that they saw and heard nothing.

  4. El is saying what we are all thinking. You have to be some white and some rich to get tangled up with drug trafficking and a homicide for the cops to leave all your family and friends hidden in the shadows.

  5. El Jones and Conrad Black agree on the disgusting state of jails.
    I think the jails are disgusting places for employees and the inmates and I see no point in an inmate being confined to ‘the hole’, an inhumane punishment that harkens back to the 1500’s.
    I’ll wager a Justice Minister has never visited a jail and has no intention of visiting a jail.

    1. If El Jones and Conrad Black agree on something, it must be true. There are three fundamental choices (in my mind) when it comes to criminals:

      1) Kill them, incarcerate them for life or send them to Space Australia. By removing them for the rest of their lives from society, they will not cause any further harm, protecting the law-abiding majority.

      2) Rehabilitate them, reducing their rate of recidivism to an acceptably low level. One might argue about what acceptably low is, considering that releasing someone who is likely to reoffend is a violation of an innocent person’s (the future victim’s) rights.

      3) Send them to con college, exposing them to more hardened criminals, psychologically abusing them and generally making them into worse and more capable criminals. In Europe, radical Islam is part of the mix here.

      Right now we’ve ditched option one for option three. Lets go to option two.

  6. Thank you for the obviously thoughtful piece on the state of our correctional facilities.

  7. El, I see the point you are trying to make with this bitter humour , but please think about this… there is a dead boy here, for whom his mother grieves, Like all the other dead boys we grieve for., lost to violence. let’s remember these losses and show the kindness to suffering families that we all need.