It seems there is a general interest in lifestyles of those perpetrating criminal acts and those that society designates to respond to these acts. I have completed three articles on my experiences in the jails and Community Corrections. These articles received the most responses on my blog apart from a somewhat innocent article not so innocently entitled ‘Friends without Benefits”. For some reason that little composition received 6 times more interest than any other. But, since I have limited friends without benefits, it seems crime and punishment may hold your interest. So, how did it all begin? Why would a mild mannered guy like me choose to embark on a career in which most of us have limited knowledge or experience? Why would I choose to bang my head against a system and those finding themselves caught in its less than tender grasp.
It all began with a youthful exploit that saw me on the receiving end of that which I have spent a career implementing. Crimes are usually perpetrated for such motivation as passion, addiction, profit, greed, power, the influence of others, and stupidity. Unfortunately, my criminal motivation fell into the latter category.
At about 16 years of age, my friend Larry and I decided to take an ill-conceived trip to Vancouver and the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). Larry went on to participate in many subsequent adventures and the resulting lifestyle with this event being my inaugural, and only.
Failing to inform our parents, we embarked on a road trip with our thumbs as our vehicle and very limited resources. Coming from Vancouver Island, we arrived in Vancouver with a little less than $50.00 each, after having our funds depleted by BC Ferries. We found our way to the PNE and soon began embracing with gusto the circus-like atmosphere of this spectacle for the entirety of one day. We rejoiced in our freedom, gorged on greasy food, and climbed the rollercoaster mountain repeatedly, until we became as exhausted as the cash in our pockets. Just a couple of kids having fun.
As the sun began to descent upon the horizon, the reality of our situation began to ascend in our minds. I am not sure how we expected to return from our adventure as the Georgia Straight made a return trip very difficult without funds, not to mention our lack of food and accommodation. Were we planning to join the circus? I’m not sure.
So, there we were, two simple-minded 16 year olds with no life experience beyond comfy beds, Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, and meals magically before us on kitchen tables three times a day. We had not a penny between us, and the sun was setting over our rollercoaster dreams. With the PNE gates slammed in our faces, we ventured across Hastings Street to a school yard that we must have envisioned would offer sanctuary.
This was late summer and, in Vancouver even at the best of times, it is cool and wet once the sun’s warmth ventures to foreign lands. Larry and I, not ready to attempt a return journey, possibly because our reception at home was undetermined, decided to settle in for the night outside a dark and foreboding school. About midnight, sleepless and soggy, we were beginning to seek a little of the warmth and comfort that had characterized our lives to that point. Clever Larry began testing the school windows and, miraculously, found one to be ajar. It seems the teacher’s staff room was accessible and offered lounge chairs, warmth, and the potential for much sustenance. With little consideration for the consequences of our actions, we slipped into the darkness within and settled in for the night on a couple of comfy couches, quite happy with our ingenuity and ourselves in general.
Just as I was drifting off, no doubt in reverie of sunny days and comfy couches, I was most dramatically interrupted by the intense light of a flashlight and loud shouting sounding something like “who’s in there” and “come out immediately”.
We made a half-hearted attempt to avoid the consequences of our ill-conceived escapade. I managed to slither out a window and sprint across a field before a rather large and angry dog brought me to earth and my senses. I’m not sure where Larry went but, in about 5 minutes, we were both handcuffed and roughly trundled into the back of a police cruiser. It didn’t appear they were taking us to watch Hockey Night in Canada.
After a visit to the police station, a lot of questions, and another trip in the back of a police van, we found ourselves deposited inside the back door of a juvenile detention centre only a few blocks from our ne’er-do-well exploits at the PNE. Neither of us had experienced the long arm of the law and were feeling fairly intimidated by the whole process. Being affable young men, we cooperated to soon find ourselves in two comfy bunks while munching on a late-night snack. Crime didn’t seem so bad at that moment. After drifting off once again, I’m not sure how much sleep I achieved but, for the second time in one night, we were rudely awoken before sunup by a large gong and someone telling us to get dressed and report to the kitchen for breakfast.
We were soon in a room with about 20 other young men of a similar age and deportment. I recall spending about a day in this facility cleaning toilets and mopping floors. Luckily we were two of the larger boys and had little difficulty with nefarious transgressions against our person. I do remember quite enjoying a rather boisterous and, even violent, game of dodge ball. We gave as good as we received.
By about dinner time my extremely angry father appeared at the front desk to bail us out. His face seemed much redder than usual and the conversation was very limited throughout our journey home. I don’t think I was ever allowed to see Larry socially again.
As is, and was the Court’s inclination, it took about a year before we were finally brought before a judge where our stupidity was revealed to all the world. Thankfully our charges were reduced to simple trespassing as we had neither damaged nor stolen anything, and were caught red-handed….sleeping. My alienation from my co-conspirator was confirmed by the Court and I was placed on a few months of probation. No headlines in the paper and no lashings….just probation.
Not being sure what that meant, I attended my first appointment with trepidation. Was I, after all, to experience 20 lashes? To my eternal surprise, a handsome young man in his 20s named, Ian, greeted me with a warm handshake and ready smile. He was not in a uniform and no torture devices were apparent within his office. We sat down for a little chat and I soon became very comfortable in his company. Ian was a most personable individual who made one feel welcome and heard. He did not try to entice me to embark on a new path or condemn me for my nefarious actions. He listened to the stories in my life and offered his own. We were not so dissimilar. I visited him every couple of weeks for a few months and found myself looking forward to my visits. I recall, at one point, he asked me what I would like to do with my life. After a couple of 17-year-old seconds, a light must have illuminated in the vacuity of my mind and I thought “I want to be like you”, and I wasn’t trying to impress.
With Probation over and no more visits, I put thoughts of a career as a Probation Officer behind me and went on with life. There were to be no more ill-advised trips with Larry for me. After taking a somewhat circuitous route I ended up training as a Probation Officer and working with Ian some 20 years later. I am not sure if he remembered me because he never disclosed our former relationship or my checkered past to me or anyone else, and we never spoke of it. I am certain he was just too much of a gentleman to say anything but I do hope he enjoyed a glimmer of satisfaction in knowing the extent his influence had on my life. I continue to work in Corrections and have done so for over 30 years now, albeit very part-time now. Ian recently passed away but I was fortunate enough to attend his funeral and listened to many others express their respect and the influence he garnered among his peers, family and those within his care. I just hope my style and actions throughout my career have been half as successful as Ian’s and I, perhaps, have had some influence on those who similarly crossed my path.