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.