Memory Lane

SHAWBRIDGE is the screenplay adaptation of SLAVE TO THE FARM and I’m thrilled to announce: 

The adventure continues in the quest to bring it to a feature film. 

This August 2016, the SHAWBRIDGE crew meets in Montreal to visit some of the old haunts and take a stroll down memory lane. I’m crossing off the days until I fly. 

In October, I flew to New York and met my director, Cathy Scorsese, for the first time. When I was writing SLAVE TO THE FARM, just  meeting Cathy would have been the apex of achievement for me.  Having someone of that caliber reading my book seemed completely out of reach. 

Turns out it was only the beginning. Also turns out we still have far to go. 

This trip is one more step towards our goal. Stay tuned and thanks for taking this ride with me. 

Voluntarily Missing

My life has this funny way of circling around behind me and biting me in the arse. It offers up old topics I thought long gone from my sleepless nights, and it challenges me to learn a new level of acceptance for what just is.
My newest challenge is the topic of missing people, and it has me staring deep into the back of a mirror. I’ve never had to see it from this angle before.

Have you seen Colleen Smith?

As a teenager I was a chronic runaway, http://www.slavetothefarm.ca and I admit it, I caused my family and many other people to twist and turn in their beds worrying that I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere.
Thirty years later, I find myself twisting and turning in my own bed worried about Colleen. She may very well be voluntarily missing, or at least that’s what everyone is saying about her, but my gut tells me different. Could she actually be doing this on purpose? I have trouble believing that and so I twist and turn.

I scour the internet for information about her and other missing people in British Columbia. I’m particularly interested in people who go missing voluntarily, but I’m finding depressingly little about them. What I do find is disjointed and confusing. I’m frustrated when I can’t answer questions that seem, at least to me, obvious to ask. Anyway here’s what I’ve found as I understand it. If you have different information please share.

The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) provides law enforcement, medical examiners and chief coroners with specialized investigative services. They support missing persons and unidentified remains investigations.
According to their most recent fact sheet, in 2014, 7701 adults in British Columbia were reported missing. 67% of those missing adult reports were removed within 24 hours, while 85% were removed within the first week. How many of the remaining 15% are still unsolved is unclear. http://www.canadasmissing.ca/pubs/2014/index-eng.htm
The RCMP do not maintain a total number of current ongoing missing persons cases or a total number of unidentified remains cases currently ongoing and/or solved.

I for one wonder why not with the wonders of today’s technology, but so much about our modern policing and policies makes me question who and what it serves. Moving on.

Quick facts about reporting an adult missing… 1) Anyone can report someone missing if there is no reasonable explanation for a disappearance 2) There is no waiting period before you can make a report, in fact the sooner the better. And 3) It’s not illegal to go missing.
http://missingpersonsinformation.ca/links/

WHO IS MISSING?
A STUDY OF MISSING PERSONS IN B.C. written by Marla Patterson of Simon Fraser University states

The total number of persons that go missing each year is unknown. There are several reasons for this, first, many disappearances are not reported to police; second, there is no standard definition of what is a “missing person” and third, there is no single
or central source of general statistical information (Swanton & Wilson, 1989).

Very little general information exists on missing adults. Most of the information available is made up of case histories of well-known disappearances. One of the major
reasons for this lack of research is the legal right of adults to move about freely. With adults, the absence of an accompanying crime or suspected illegality leaves family members with little grounds for contacting police (Hirschel & Lab, 1988).

Information on missing adults:
-Males in their late 20’s are more likely to disappear than any other group of adults.
-Among those aged over 60 years, the most common reason for going missing is dementia or other mental problems.
-Adults are more likely to go missing if they are going through a crisis or
difficult transition, or if they are vulnerable due to chronic health or
mental difficulties (NMPH, 2004).
-Most adults that go missing do so because of a breakdown in their relationships with partners or parents. For example, some women fleeing domestic violence situations will break off all contact out of fear of being traced. Others leave to escape an
accumulation of personal, financial, or mental health problems, while many disappear after a breakdown in their mental health in order to commit suicide (NMPH, 2004).

In the report entitled POLICIES AND PRACTICES IN THE INVESTIGATION OF MISSING PERSONS AND SUSPECTED MULTIPLE HOMICIDES written for the Missing Women Inquiry, I  read:

One of the most difficult tasks for police in missing person cases is to determine which cases are urgent and require immediate action and which cases are less critical. The Kaufman Report on the Wrongful Conviction of Guy Paul Morin made it clear that missing person searches should be conducted according to a standardized operating procedure and that officers conducting missing person investigations must be mindful of the possibility that the case could develop into a major crime investigation. Canadian and international studies and reports have identified numerous gaps in the justice system’s response to reports of missing women, particularly vulnerable and marginalized women, including Aboriginal women. These systemic deficiencies and inadequacies include:

-Failure by police to take reports of missing women seriously;
-Delays in investigations;
-Lack of effort put into searches and public appeals;
-Poor adherence to established policies and protocols;
-Concern over lack of public information about the current missing persons policies for police services;
-Frustration with issues related to communication between families and the police services;
-Challenges with attempting to implement cooperative programs with police services (e.g. Safely Home Program);
-Frustration with the number of missing persons reported each year;
-Concerns regarding the level of input from community regarding missing persons cases;
-Confusion over the role of search and rescue in missing persons cases;
-Confusion over the actual number of missing persons cases in Saskatchewan;
-and concern over gender and racial trends with regard to missing persons cases.

The last three points above don’t really apply to Colleen’s case, but every other one does. I have experienced the frustration they speak to acutely.

Through my research I’ve learned that from 1950 to 2004 in BC there were 2418 people who remained missing. 1771 of those people were men, with the majority of them going missing some time in their late 20’s. 519 women went missing in that 54 year period but there is little information about why they went missing.

I think women and men go missing for very different reasons, and isn’t it about time we improve our social safety nets for finding missing people and especially the marginalized? When will police recognize this fact and investigate missing people accordingly?
We need a more comprehensive definition of what Missing Persons means, and a broader understanding of what it means to be voluntarily missing. While it may not be illegal to go missing, if you’re voluntarily missing from financial responsibility and stress, that’s one thing. If you’re running from an abusive situation that’s something else entirely.

My question is when will law enforcement recognize the difference?

Slave To The Farm Update

I’m excited to announce that the second edition of Slave is being finished up, and will be on sale this summer season.
Next month is Slave To The Farm’s second anniversary and so many wonderful things have transpired in that time. I want to thank you all for the incredible support I’ve received. I love all the emails. Keep them coming.
I rely heavily on word of mouth advertising, so thank you for sharing my website with your friends and family.  For those who took the time to leave postive reviews online, I am eternally grateful.
I’m looking towards the future. I continue to move forward with my many other projects, including building our underground home, and of course writing my second book, Going Underground.
Thanks again for all the encouragement and stay tuned for more to come.
http://www.slavetothefarm.ca

Love & Music II

ch2

 

I chose Hotel California as the title for my second chapter in Slave To The Farm, because I learned to play the song at The Farm. There was an old beaten-up Yamaha guitar, and a book of songs with the tabs to show you how to play the cords. Music saved my sanity inside those walls. I could sing out the lyrics, strum the cords, and escape the crushing feelings of being trapped. I thought the song was about being in jail. I use to joke that I was staying at the Hotel California, and I could never leave.

The girls loved to hear me sing. Everyone would join in at the chorus, and…boom…we’d be out on a dark desert highway.

It makes me smile to dust off those photogenic memories and look at them. Short grainy video clips saved in my brain. The Farm was certainly a source of many, and I can’t help myself, if the clip doesn’t have a sound track, I add one.

Love & Music

image

When I finally  finished  the first draft of Slave To The Farm, I didn’t have any names for my chapters. I really just considered calling them chapter one, two, three, etc but my good friend and neighbor talked me our of that flat decision. So, I set my mind to coming  up with good chapter titles, and then sat staring at the computer screen for a long time with no inspinspiration.
I had thought of Pink Floyd’s, We Don’t Need No Education, for the first chapter weeks earlier, but it was the only chapter title I had. I had decided not to use it because the acual title of the song is, Another Brick In The Wall, but then I remembered,
“Oh ya, this is my circus. I can call the chapters anything I want.”
The idea of naming the chapers afer the songs that I had cried my heart out to and sang along with for years seemed perfect.  As I said in my book, music is a universal language that we all understand.
Any one of my chapters could have been named any one of a dozen songs. There were just so many to choose from, and sometimes I used a song that wasn’t or still isn’t my favorite but the titles I ended up using are all meaningful to me.
What does your life sound track look like?

http://www.slavetothefarm.ca

Pushing Up Daisies

http://www.slavetothefarm.ca

The seeds I planted when I published my book, Slave To The Farm; True Tales of Truancy and Incarceration, have taken root and the harvest continues to amaze me. I didn’t realize the diversity of seeds I was sowing, but somehow my little story is the shit that has fertilized so much potential. I keep hearing from ex-Shawbridge clients and the story of The Farm grows deeper.

My book only scratched the surface, but a nerve has been brushed up against and Pandora’s box thrown open. One by one the dots are being traced, and a sketchy outline of one hundred years of personal histories is taking shape. When talking about one of Quebec’s oldest juvenile detentions, certain topics continue to surface. Topics like, being a ward of the court, solitary confinement, no formal education, and long prison sentences for trouble home lives. And anger, lots of anger. For me, these are the threads that tie all our stories together.

There were some little criminals on the The Farm, of that you can be sure, but they really make up the minority of the interviews I’ve done so far. Most often the children deposited in Shawbridge were there under youth protection. The solitary confinement came almost immediately, and with it a list of life-long mental health issues. Lengthy sentences for the misfortune of being neglected and abused at home, all but guaranteed no formal education. The criminalization would come eventually like a moth to the flame. And the anger, it’s still there threatening. Amazingly, despite it, life marched on for us .

Right before the holidays I received email from the Two Dons. I found it ironic that both these Donalds would contact me within days of each other, and the coincidences didn’t stop there. By fate or chance, both these gentlemen were placed in Shawbridge in 1962. Both started our conversations with apologies for their lack of education. Both dreamed of writing a book about the life they led following their stints on The Farm. Neither of them had read my book yet, but both said they were compelled to contact me. I’ve spent hours in conversation with both of them. Easy, comfortable conversation. Deep, personal conversation.

I differentiate them by calling one, Shawbridge Don, and the other, Kingston Pen Don. One major difference between them is that Shawbridge rejected Kingston Pen Don, so as his nickname suggests, they found him a new home. He was fifteen when he started his bit in the pen. Shawbridge Don on the other hand, had the luxury of a full decade of farm life. He was placed when he was barely six years old. He holds the record for the longest incarceration in Shawbridge of anyone I’ve interviewed so far, and the saddest solitary story I’ve been told to date.

After taking the bait of ice cream to tell a social worker what his parents were really doing to him, he was taken and locked in with twenty or thirty young kids close to his age, somewhere downtown Montreal. He said he was scared, confused, and completely alone, despite being a kid in a twelve child family. He knew no one there. He said he started to cry and just couldn’t stop. The other kids were merciless and taunted him calling him names, but he just cried harder. The staff ordered him to stop, but when he wouldn’t or couldn’t, they isolated him. He remained segregated for a number of days before they dropped him off on The Farm. He apologized for being a cry baby when he became emotional retelling the story. Through my own tears I told him it was another thing we had in common. I’m a big cry baby too.

All I can say is that I feel blessed that my story has offered some comfort to others and keep the emails and comments coming.

The Long Awaited Return

A Short Story

 

The Long Awaited Return

She felt her lungs explode as blood pooled in the capillaries of her wind-burnt face. Her legs smoldered with fire and brimstone, while her knees dangerously considered total revolt. She kept her eyes riveted to the path in front of her.
“Just keep walking,” she repeating silently to herself over and over like a mantra.
She concentrated on following her goat-like guide up the steep mountain terrain. They had been hiking for hours, but she couldn’t even pronounce the name of the peak they sought, nor speak her guide’s language had she any words of complaint for him. Her physical discomforts mercifully pushed the logistics of why and how she found herself here aside. Just one foot in front of the other was all she could think about.
Finally, the trail leveled out and the hiking became easier, but still she craved relief from the relentless uphill grind. Minutes later her prayers were answered. Reaching the crest of yet another rise, she saw the footpath ribbon down into a green valley. There, on the far side was a spike camp. Tents were scattered among the trees. They would spend the night before pushing on in the morning.
The sun sat low behind a neighboring outcrop, undoubtedly obstructing a stunning sunset, and the shadowy dusk settled quickly around the freshly lit campfire. She thankfully relaxed, listening to the crackling songs of the dancing fire while her guide prepared a simple meal. Later, on a worn and weathered guitar, he played traditional folk songs impressing her with his extensive repertoire. She was grateful once more when she climbed into the bedroll he had laid out for her in one of the tents.
Within minutes she teetered on the precipice of deep sleep, but a chorus of coyotes sang out loud and lively mere feet from her door. Thankfully some other errands soon had them forgetting about moon songs and off on other pursuits, so she quieted down once again but no sleep came courting. She tossed and turned struggling to relax. She was physically exhausted, but couldn’t quell the internal banter that kept the shutters of her soul from closing up shop for the day. Finally, her mind relented and she fell into a dream-filled slumber.
She dreamed she was climbing down into a dark cave. She was scared and anxious. The walls felt slimy and wet on her cold hands, but she dare not pull them away from the edges. Her dripping-wet hair clung to the sides of her face and she became aware she was naked.
She suddenly noticed a pin-prick of light she hadn’t seen before and headed for it. The harder she tried for that dot of salvation, the more an unseen pressure wrapped around her, squeezing. She stopped stabilizing the pressure, relieving it slightly and convincing her to keep going. Focusing on her goal, she found that all her efforts so far had been in vain. She was no closer to the light. Panic set in and her breath came in short unsatisfying gasps. She felt like she was suffocating. She thought she might be crushed. With all the strength she could muster, she reached out to the light and in a blinding flash broke its surface.
Filling her lungs with a gulp of air, she cracked open her eyes only to find herself safe in her own bed. The dawning morning sun, much welcomed after the depths of darkness that only moments earlier had encompassed her.Crawling out of the tent she found her guide already up, packed, and cooking breakfast over a small fire. With every bite of food, she felt herself calming until the dream seemed miles behind her. She had all but forgotten about it by the time they started the last leg of their climb.
It was a grueling job picking the right footholds up the thin rocky trail, but as the sun reached the zenith of its path across the sky, they crested the summit.
The view was everything she’d hoped for. The green leafy jungle fell away on all sides and she felt as if she, and she alone, inhabited the earth. The guide called to her pulling her from her daydream, and pointed down over the craggy southern slope drawing her attention to a city visible from their precarious perch.
It was almost a disappointment to be able to see the evidence of civilization far below them. She was able to make out skyscrapers and office buildings. Smog rose into the sky from the working factories and she could see the ant like cars snaking along the interconnected roadways. She felt robbed of her ‘only person on the planet’ feeling.
Her guide again got her attention and pointed out a small capsule wedged into a crack in the granite summit. Extracting it, she found it was a collection of the signatures. All the people who made it to the top were listed. Excitedly she added her name to the assemblage. After exploring and taking endless pictures of the breathtaking vistas, they retreated to a smaller spike cramp located at the trailhead which led up to the alpine crown they just vacated.
The guide lit a fire and together they ate a celebratory dinner. The day’s curtain began to fall signaling the on coming night, and again her guide played his guitar for her. She sat listening filled with a sense of satisfaction unlike any she had ever felt before. For the first time, she had a sense she could do anything. She was invincible. The warm feeling of accomplishment stayed with her as she nestled into her bedroll, and without any trouble closed her eyes descending into the inky blackness of sleep.
She became aware of herself floating in a dark cavern. She felt safe and warm supported by the water surrounding her. Her face was immersed, but she found she could easily breath under the water. She plunged down to the bottom of the pool and pressed off the bottom with both feet. Although solid, the bottom had a giving quality about it. She decided she must be inside a ballon. She tested all sides of her watery cocoon, pushing into them and bouncing off.
Suddenly there was a loud rushing sound and all the water began flowing out of a small breach in the rubbery wall pulling her along with it. Before she knew where she was, she became aware of the same all encompassing pressure she had felt the previous night. Echoes of the panic were audible in her, but this pressure had a feeling of determined purpose peppering it. She remained calm. She set her resolve and pushed on. Her perseverance was met with a burst of light and a feeling of being expelled into space.
She awoke with a start and found herself sitting upright in her bed. The light inside the tent was dim, but there was something about it that set her on edge. Unzipping the flap, her eyes fell on her guide standing just outside, his neck craned back looking intently at the morning sky. She came to stand beside him, looking up into the heavens. The sight that met her fledgling eyes left her without the ability to blink. Speechless as a new born babe, she watched unable to describe what she saw. What she didn’t see was the sky. Every inch of the canopy that, until now, all living thing on earth believed a universal constant, was filled with… The Return Of The Gods? Armadas of hovering ships hung silent, creating a halo around earth. There were numbers upon numbers of them. Intricacies never seen before, displayed in the finer details of those alien crafts. She could see symbols displayed and knew instinctively what they meant but was unable to articulate their meanings into words. Just gazing upon them she felt her mind flooding with new ideas and indescribable images, colors never dreamed of, smells never smelt, tastes never tasted before. She thought of her dreams. Was she being reborn?
She dragged her eyes away to look where just hours before she had seen a city. It was ablaze, yet dark, foreboding. Even from that distance the bedlam was obvious. A frenzy of fear and unknown consequences causing the unstable masses to self-destruct. Through her feet she felt the trembling of the whole planet. She could smell the fear expressed worldwide at this, the realization of the prophecies.
She swung her eyes again towards the celestial fleet. A feeling of tranquility and peace misted down from them. With gratitude generated from within every cell of her body she thanked the gods for meeting her here, where the womb of the universe surrounds the body of the earth. Her eyes filled with the sight of god, and she wept tears of joy heralding in the second coming.