His home is a cramped cubicle in a grim sandstone building on a forlorn New Brunswick hillside. His neighbors are murderers and other violent criminals—many of them serving life sentences. But Randy (not his real name), 27, a lifer convicted of murder, asked to be transferred to Dorchester Penitentiary, a multilevel security federal prison in Dorchester, N.B. “This is known as a good place to do your time,” explained the tall curly-haired Nova Scotia native, who spoke to Maclean’s on the understanding that he would not be identified. His main reason for prefering Dorchester: the institution’s hardline efforts to stamp out drug and alcohol abuse within its walls. Explained Randy: “The institutions which have the most problems are the ones which do not come down on drugs and booze.”
And he should know: in oth-
er prisons he has been in, he said, drug use—and drug-inspired violence—have been commonplace. They are problems that the prisoners bring into the system with them. Almost seventy per cent of inmates in any federal prison have problems with drugs and alcohol, notes Claudette Shea, who runs a substance abuse program at Dorchester. Inmates routinely smuggle marijuana, Valium, LSD and cocaine past sometimes complacent guards. Equally popular are stills hidden in toilet bowls and air ducts that transform a mixture of vegetables, sugar, yeast and water into a mixture of 90-proof homebrew. “It makes street alcohol look like crap,” says Randy, who claims to have tried it only once. “You get 10 or 15 guys that are doing six or seven glasses apiece, the next thing you know there’s anger coming out and it’s
turned into a full-scale riot.” In a way, the need for an outlet is understandable. Alcohol and drugs help relieve, if only briefly, the boredom and hopelessness of prison life. As well, for most of the inmates substance abuse has long been a way of life. “I turned to alcohol and drugs to forget my problems,” explained one 27-yearold inmate who is serving a life sentence for murder and has been using drugs and alcohol since he was 13. “But that only fuelled the fire that was inside and after a while the fire got so big that it let go.” He said that Dorchester’s guards occasionally find “some home-made stuff [alcohol], but as far as drugs go the place is clean.” Dorchester’s strict policy of keeping its 236 inmates as clean as possible is a far cry from a few years back, when drugs and alcohol were as big a problem there as in any other institution, at times leading to violence among inmates. Its substance abuse programs
treat at least 40 inmates a year. It also houses a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, although Shea acknowledges that most inmates attend because they think that it will lead to quicker parole—not because they sincerely want to control their addiction. The authorities have also stemmed the supply of illicit drugs. Brenda Hastie, Dorchester’s chief administrator, says that information supplied by the RCMP from outside sources has virtually halted the flow of narcotics into the prison. Randy, meanwhile, has another explanation for the disappearance of the problem in Dorchester: “Everyone knows that if they are caught with the stuff they’re out of here”—possibly to a prison where violence related to drinking and drugs is commonplace. That is a prospect that even some of the most hardened criminals don’t want to contemplate.
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