Member Spotlight- Patrick Keating

To start, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you think about the criminal justice system in Canada?

My name is Patrick Keating I was born in Montreal, grew up there, into my twenties. I was a young kid in the 70s. At that time, heroin was very expensive. So,  I ended up doing some armed robberies to keep my habit going and ended up in the penitentiary… three times. The second time was when the referendum was happening in Quebec. I came back to the range one day and there was a bulletin saying that “any anglophone wanting to transfer out of the province say where you want to go and when.” I was writing to someone who lived out here, so I put in for it and within in a short time I was on a plane and transferred out here. The Referendum was Quebec wanted to separate from Canada. Since it was a federal penitentiary no one was sure what would happen to federal inmates if the Province did separate. So, they wanted as many inmates as possible out of their hair, especially Anglophones. 

When I came out to B.C., the University of Victoria was giving courses [inside]. It was with Education that I started to get my mind open with curiosity. I’d left school in grade 9 so Education was all fairly new to me. I was taking all these courses about subjects I didn’t know about; a lot of different subjects. One of the courses was a theatre course. Every year or couple of years, inmates would do a play at Matsqui. That’s how I got interested in theatre. So, six months after I got out, I phoned a Theatre company  'Tamahnous’ and just  became like a sponge. Then, enrolled in Simon Fraser University and ended up getting my BA in Theatre. 

What you think about the criminal justice system in Canada?

I don’t know what I think.  People are put in prisons but nobody knows what to do with them. It seems it’s just a waste of time. There’s nothing to do, and there could be more things put in place for people to get education, do creative things, learn work skills, you know? Because people get out, and there’s not really any support. It’s the first few months that are crucial. That’s when you'll get back into what you’re familiar with; what you’re comfortable with . A lot of inmates have addiction problems and with addictions sometimes, even if you tell yourself “I don’t want to do this anymore”, you dial the phone, you take the bus… it’s easy to fall back into the life. It’s also difficult to get work when you get out because you need to be bonded, or employers don’t want people who have a criminal record.

I remember there was a Professor at SFU Humanities and he did a research study doing interviews with inmates who’d been through the education program at Matsqui.  What they found out was that the recidivism rate among inmates who were in the University program–  dropped ridiculously. Education... getting curiosity open again. It makes you want to look at things and learn more.

I know those university courses are not there anymore. They’ve been cut. There’s more that needs to be done; for me it was education. It also has to come from the top. I went to the Correctional Centre in Labrador to speak to the guys and do bits from my play. As soon as you walk in , you feel that … it’s just rotten, stagnant, just wrong. Seems like the attitude was that the men were “ throwaways”. If that attitude is what you get, it’s very easy to go “oh, well…, they’re the ones that know. They tell me  I’m useless, I guess I am!” . There has to be something to give a positive push – something that makes us feel that we do have worth; that we are contributing something. That’s all people want, really:  a community to be a part of, to contribute to. People want to get off the merry-go-round of the system that takes your power away. 

I’m  sure there’s so much more that could be done that’s not being done. I don’t know if that’s lack of political will or if it’s laziness. There’s a lot of different personalities that go into the mix, a lot of different ideologies. Like, when I was at Matsqui, they were some very angry guards. They didn’t like inmates or anyone who associated with them. They believed it’s their job to make it as tough as possible for inmates. It all trickles down. 

Do you think that health and justice are related concepts? If yes, please explain.

I didn’t see them as related before the workshop at the Peter Wall institute. I didn’t realize there are so many people working towards changing the system. I don’t think people inside know that. 

I guess I equate good health with being free in a way. It’s not a very healthy atmosphere inside. Things can be very tense. Inmates need an outlet. The main one now is the weight room. But if there were creative things… I don’t know but I would think guys would love to learn to play guitar, or piano. I’m sure there are people that are more than willing to help out, it’s just getting that permission from the administration. Healthy outlets that use people’s minds, curiosity, you know.

Can you share a specific story about how health and justice have impacted your life?

I remember one of the first times I went inside, I had quite a large habit and into the second day  my bones were aching from withdrawl. T he nurse walked by my cell and I reached out and grabbed his hair. I had to do that for the nurse to believe I was serious…that I really was going through withdrawal. Who knows what other people did to be taken seriously.

I didn’t use heroin inside because I didn’t want to be in debt to anybody so I never really talked about or dealt with the reasons for my addiction. I was very reluctant to talk to anybody. I had serious issues around trust with anyone tied to the system. If those issues could be dealt with in some way then you could start to deal with  the things that move you through addiction. There must be a reason why I started using at twelve years old.  I’ll always wonder“how come I took that step, and not a different step”. To find out those things can only make you more healthy. Unfortunately, everybody’s tied to the system, so there’s no trust. You don’t even talk to the person living next to you, you don’t say things, so many things stay locked away. So it would be really good if it came out creatively , because it’s going to come out one way or another.

What do you know about the Cluster? 

I didn’t really know anything about the Cluster other than the information sent in the [initial invitation] email. I think it’s a really interesting idea to try and get questions or areas of research from people that have experience in the system. How you get those questions is the hard part, I would think. Like, for me, personally, I’ve never been asked like: “if you were to research something…??” I wouldn’t know where to come up with an answer for that because I’ve never been given the opportunity. So, to exercise that area of the brain that’s never been exercised before, you’re creating a new muscle. It’s like “I don’t know how the world looks from that angle” ; looking at it from a different perspective, once you see it you can never go back and unsee it.

Why have you decided to be part of the Cluster?

Because I wanted to try and give back; try and do something useful. I liked what was happening and the people who were involved in the workshop at UBC. I wanted to be part of it in some way. I found the people very genuine and sincerely trying and it’s always nice to be around that energy. The energy of trying to do something that’s right. It’s huge to do something with a system that’s that old and stagnant. It’s so entrenched in itself, but yet people are trying to change it because that’s what needs to be done. That gives me hope. I think it would be pretty cool to come up with questions that researchers would find useful to help  budge this monstrosity off its entrenched base. 

The system makes people that are unhealthy to begin with even more sick and so to have any little part of undoing that would be pretty cool and …I like the people in the Cluster!

In your opinion, what is necessary to transform health and justice?

Listen to the inmates. It’s their house. Their ideas should be taken into account; they know what’s best! They know something’s coming down the pike way before the administration. They have to be listened to more.

It would be good to have houses that aren’t tied to the system or something… to be able to be given a place where the released can go to get back on their feet and  be able to get back into the world. Also to be able to line up companies that will take people, train them, go through an apprenticeship program or something. Something useful, not just for optics sake. And If an idea doesn’t work, get rid of it!

When you haven’t had free will for a number of years and you’re told “ok, now go!” you can freeze. So, to have free will before you get out would help you slide into real life. You can only hope to get to a place where everybody wins.

What is something you wish everybody knew about the criminal justice system and/or people engaged with it?

That almost everybody in the criminal justice system eventually gets out. So, society really has to look at how they want the incarcerated to be treated because that treatment in return is how we will treat people  when we’re released. So, the more skills we have the better.

Also there are so many myths! People don’t correct the information because it’s easier for them not to. It makes prisoners/ prisons seem more dangerous than they really are because if we're dangerous, nobody wants to go near us. But if they do, they might find out what we're really like, and the powers don’t want that. I remember an assistant warden telling me “the walls are there to keep people out just as much as they are there to keep  people in.” 

First Nations land acknowledegement

We acknowledge that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

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