entrance to inner compound

WHERE PAUL BERNARDO USED TO LIVE – PART II

James_KP-24_Mural in double sized cell

Taking a sip of white wine, Geoffrey James told me about meeting the prison librarian while in the prison shooting photographs for his new book “Inside”. A very pleasant woman close to retirement, the topic of Paul Bernardo came up.

I asked why? “Because,” Geoffrey said, “the media somehow got a hold of the idea that Bernardo was working in the library and created a mild regional and institutional disturbance. She was astonished because nothing could have been further from the truth.”

She explained that Bernardo spent a good deal of his time writing “grievances,” not a particularly unusual activity for longer-term residents.

Those incarcerated in Canadian prisons have rights (so to speak) and one of those rights is to formally complain about anything that may be amiss or awry (in the prisoner’s judgment) to do with their treatment by the prison. “It’s a Canadian thing.”

For instance, if a prisoner is well-behaved and orderly it is that prisoner’s “right” to have a job. Prison jobs pay a pittance – the Harper government recently changed the daily wage from $7 to $5 – but, of course, it’s not about the money.

On the inside, having something to do, anything, is better than nothing. Inside or out, idle hands do the Devil’s work. Bernardo had not been assigned a job in the long years since he was incarcerated – for life – in 1995. And he wanted one. It was his right.

Prisoners’ grievances can, and occasionally do end up in a federal court if the correctional bureaucracy is particularly recalcitrant and unreceptive. Grievances get lost.

As is often the case in bureaucracies that set up systems for communication and petition, his first two or three attempts were rebuffed. He appealed.

Just before the matter was going to be elevated to an outside court, the prison gave him a job. The gate keepers had no appetite for airing such dirty laundry and bring Bernardo’s name back into the press which it would have done had some intrepid ink-stained wretch found Bernardo’s name on some federal court’s docket.

Regardless, the fact that Bernardo was given a job got out. There are gremlins everywhere; completely skewed, it got out.

On August 13, 2013, CHCH-TV a local Hamilton-based station, finally gave Paul Bernardo what he’s always wanted: a taste of the kind of hysterical attention that has followed his ex-wife Karla. Since Karla left Paul nothing has gone right and now he’s doing life in the big house in a 6′ x 8′ closet-sized cell 24/7 365 per, on the seg row in whatever federal prison he’s put in.

The 2:51 second CHCH-TV item went like this:

Nick the News anchor: “Sadistic killer Paul Bernardo may be staying in a maximum security prison. But according to what Donna French has been told, the man who tortured and killed her daughter Kristen, is living a cushy life behind bars.”

Then, over a series of fast cuts of the killer and his then wife Karla in the back of police cars, being escorted by police hither and yon, stills of the young victims, a clip or two from Paul and Karla’s voluminous home videos, the usual visual accoutrement and bric-a-brac of the psychopathic sex killer programming unfolds for 15 – 20 seconds to reporter Lauran Sobouran’s breathless voice-over:

“Bernardo is one of the most despicable criminals in Canada he drugged and sexually assaulted his sister-in-law Tammy Lyn Homolka and with the help of his wife Karla he tortured and strangled Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. The heinous crime spree would have continued if Karla hadn’t started talking when he nearly beat her to death. Bernardo was declared a dangerous offender the public led to believe he would be locked up for life.”

Cut to (CT) a close up (CU) of Donna French, Kristen French’s mother with a police car (inexplicably) in the shot:

“I was sure that he would be in solitary confinement forever. They wrote us a few months ago… it hadn’t just happened it had been a couple of years I believe… ”

(While Mrs. French speaks the camera closes in first on her right profile and then switches to the left. An old television technique to maximize the viewer’s sympathy and accentuate empathy.)

V.O. (Voice Over)

“Donna French was shocked to learn that Bernardo is now out of solitary confinement working in the prison library… Donna French is upset, people in St. Catharines infuriated”

CT medium shot of a person in a St. Catharines mall identified as “Catherine Pickenuck” “infuriated”:

“He should be locked up for 23 hours a day, what he did to those girls (her voice-breaking…)”

CT a younger, attractive, animated woman with sunglasses probably in the same mall identified as “Jody Curry” “Bernardo should be locked up”:

“What he did to those girls was horrendous… There’s no way he should be sitting in a library or restocking shelves. It’s awful I even get choked up (fanning herself with her right hand like an actress who has just received an cherished award,) I grew up in Scarborough so I remember, it’s awful” (breaks down in tears).

Because she is attractive and animated and cries on cue Jody gets the lion’s share of the airtime in this two minute and fifty-one second piece.)

VO: “20 years after the Bernardo/Homolka crime spree people react like it happened yesterday…”

Cuts to a couple of other woman in the mall parking lot who have very similar opinions to Catherine and Jody.

CT medium shot of reporter Lauran Sobouran standing in the Grace Lutheran Church parking lot. The church sign behind here says “May Jesus Bless Richly Lyne and Craig.”

Lauran Sobouran holding the microphone: “Now, the anger and raw emotion is still so intense for many in this community that they can’t even drive by the Grace Lutheran Church parking lot where Kristen was abducted without all those nightmarish memories coming back to them.”

CT a still visibly upset Jody Curry: “If you remember (pause) it was an absolutely horrific thing, (pause) you know we weren’t even allowed to walk in the street…Why should he get anything?”

In direct contrast to this remarkable bit of fetishistic television, Paul Bernardo’s status as a completely isolated segregated prisoner had not changed and it never will.

Unlike many prisons in the United States, no prison in Canada has ever lost a “skin beefer” (con-speak for convicted child rapists and killers. Cons don’t make the fine distinction between teens and children the FBI Behavioral Unit does.) Since the 1972 riots in Kingston Penitentiary, described so graphically by ex-con Roger (Mad Dog) Caron’s influential 1978 memoir Go Boy! Memories of a Life Behind Bars no one has been killed while incarcerated in a federal penitentiary.

Because their mandate is to isolate these offenders and keep them alive, in the true British tradition to bureaucratic fidelity, our Correctional Service has been exceptionally good at keeping prisoners such as Paul Bernardo, The Shoeshine Boy killer Saul David Betesh and most recently the cross-dressing murderer, ex-Colonel Russell Williams alive.

Bernardo, like the rest of his sort, spends at least 23 hours a day locked in a 6′ x 8′ closet, isolated in a special unit Mrs. French called “solitary confinement” with the few other segregated or isolated prisoners they have in the system.

After all these sorts of criminal are the rarest of the rare and Canada only has a total of around 10,000 people held in federal penitentiaries at any given time so there might be ten to a dozen lifers such as these. They were not all housed at the Kingston facility but probably the majority was.

Just to clarify another media myth while I’m at it, no prisoner in Canada has access to email or the Internet and especially those held in a Segregation Unit. A television, sure. Of course the toilet is en suite as is the mounted steel slab that functions as both couch and bed, a table and a chest of drawers, all firmly fixed to the floor. But that’s it. If the individual can afford a computer then they will have one. There’s no wireless in the Big House, at least not in Canada. But be assured with the bare necessities of life in that cell there is barely room for the prisoner, let alone one 6 feet tall with a computer.

I reiterate, Paul Bernardo and the few others held in segregation are completely isolated at all times from all other inmates; they see no one except the correctional service officers assigned to the segregation unit.

If anyone at CHCH-TV had bothered to check they would have discovered the “job” Paul Bernardo was given was that of prison “book reviewer.”-The task of “evaluating all of the books in the prison library fell to him. Hence the librarian’s detailed knowledge of situation.

But Mr. Bernardo did not get to go the library to do his job. The library is accessible to the general population so it is completely inaccessible to any “seg” prisoners. It took them a while to come up with but in the end the correctional services bureaucrats were quite pleased with themselves. They had devised a job for Paul Bernardo for which he did not have to leave his chair let alone his cell.

The books, a few at a time, were brought to Bernardo by a guard. When he finished reviewing those, a few more were delivered. And so began another lonely enterprise in absolute futility that ostensibly would go on forever, like his incarceration in virtually total isolation, until he died.

Except it didn’t.

When they closed the prison, Bernardo lost his job. And there is no guarantee that his new stewards will be as innovative as the former. Or, perhaps they have already given that job to one of the other seg boys moved to the maximum facility at Millhaven with Bernardo. I don’t know. Nor do I care.

The librarian pointed out the almost inconceivable tedium of Bernardo’s claustrophobic existence to Geoffrey.

She explained that sometimes the guards forgot, or were too “busy”, to facilitate the hour-a-day that Bernardo, and his confreres, were each supposed to get, alone in the exercise yard.

It’s hard to contemplate, she said; living in a closet-sized cell. Seeing only the same few guards day-in and day-out. Reviewing stacks of old used books for a few dollars a day. If you asked her, a person would be better off dead.

Bernardo probably agrees. Betesh did, way back when and yet he’s still around lost somewhere in the catacombs of dim institutional memory and bureaucratic efficiency.
Bernardo and his plight really have absolutely nothing to do with Geoffrey’s project and had the media not made such a ridiculous spectacle of itself Bernardo’s name might never have come up. But the librarian was clearly struck by the strange incongruity of it all and what seemed an infinite capacity on the part of the media to get it wrong, damn the consequences or cost.

In spite of the fact that my biography of Paul Bernardo in Invisible Darkness is the most comprehensive and complete in existence, Geoffrey well knows I have never had any interest in Bernardo. To me he was never more than the Ken on Barbie’s arm. Geoffrey told this anecdote because it illustrated an increasingly dysfunctional legacy media that he knows is something in which I have an abiding interest.

My pitch to the publishers for a contract and advance to write Invisible Darkness ” was very short.

In one paragraph it posed only two questions: “What was the pretty young wife doing all the while her husband was out raping and pillaging? That and how they eluded discovery for such an extended period of time.

When I sent the my “pitch” out on a quiet Sunday afternoon to half-a-dozen publishers – by fax – in early 1993, email was the purview of academia and the military. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, and no texting.

After reading a long front-page story of Bernardo’s arrest in a newspaper in which the fact that he had a young wife who was from St. Catharines was buried deep in the copy, I had absolutely no idea how far-ranging and truly bizarre the answer would be. (To be continued)

flamingos

LIFE ON NUT ISLAND AND SOCIAL AMNESIA – PT. I

flamingos

Life on Nut Island

The Boston Marathon bombing: Now there’s a crime that speaks directly to us about the dangerous times in which we live, the inherent growing isolation of the individual in “society,” our perpetual pathological unawareness and psychic blindness, the helplessness of entire law enforcement bureaucracies in the face of one or two renegade lunatics – heavy stuff not the squalid, sordid tragic mess with which I became so entwined, the salacious Bernardo/Homolka saga that consumed ten years of my life and from which I will probably never fully recover.

As usual I’m on about unlearned lessons from Nut Island. My two arrests in 1998 and 2003 and subsequent decade-long prosecutions had nothing to do with “free speech” or “free expression” as many journalists and media-types and writers’ groups conceived – nothing so lofty.

(I was, of course, thankful for the Writer’s Union, PEN’s and CJFE’s and the Human Rights Watch support which was hung on that hook. Any writer in trouble with the police and/or government deserves that support providing they have not robbed a bank or killed their partner.)

Even though my arrests and prosecutions were “personal,” the consequence of a perceived offence that I had, unwittingly or not, levied upon a couple of politically powerful men, still none of it would ever have happened except for a quirk in the space – time continuum, a small “c” classic case of two or three people being in the wrong place at the right time for the wrong reasons.

Neither can anyone draw any survival lessons for the young and innocent from the story I was somehow destined to chronicle in “Invisible Darkness” and “Karla“. What lessons can we teach our daughters from the Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French abduction, rape and murder?

What is to be garnered from already street-wise and aware teenagers who approached, in Kristen’s case, a late model car with an attractive young couple in a church parking lot in the middle of a sunny afternoon in response to an ask for directions in a city in which people perpetually get lost and constantly ask for directions?

Is the lesson that you never ever talk to a stranger (or stangers) Susie, under any circumstances, regardless how innocent they appear. If some one asks you for directions you must immediately tell them to “fuck off” and run into the nearest house and phone the police?

Or in Leslie Mahaffy’s case: Is the lesson never practice “tough love”; never lock your teenager daughters out of the house in an attempt to teach them lessons? Maybe, but when mothers’ are at their wits’ end, tactics can get weird.

Does a “mistake” like that (if that’s what it is) deserve such an horrific and final restitution? Of course not.

But that would be the sum total of any lessons this reality show the Bernardo’s created conveys: “Don’t lock your daughters out of the house at night.” But what about all the tens of thousands of sons and daughters who don’t care whether their parents’ doors are locked because they long ago decided not to go home at night anyway? It’s a hopeless tautology, and hardly one from which lessons can be drawn.

And are we any closer to understanding psycopaths or sociopaths or whatever term is au current for this fictious character than we were when the figure was first coagulated in that unreadable book “Mask of Sanity” by Hervey Cleckley published 1941? Even if you buy into psychopathy, how does it explain or deter murderous creatures such as Paul and Karla?

There is however a lesson that can be taken from all extreme cases such as the Boston Marathon bombing, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, Amanda Knox and her incarceration in Italy and the arrest and “successful” prosecution and wrongful conviction of the five young men who were convicted of a rape in Central Park ten years ago: The lesson is as unattainable as solid explanations for “Why Hitler“? We must scrap our institutions of law and disorder and start again because they are completely disfunctional and beseiged by a kind of organizational necrotizing fasciitis.

Read about it and watch: I wrote a piece published in Walrus Magazine in 2007 and soon to be released as an electronic long-read called “Life on Nut Island“. Amanda Knox has just published a memoir “Waiting to Be Heard“. And then there is the documentary called “The Central Park Five“?

PRISON OF ASSOCIATION – CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS

Anne Perry, the accomplished British mystery writer has written 60 books and sold over 26 million copies. She is also a convicted murderer who was sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of her best girl friend Pauline Parker’s mother in 1954. (Her fellow crime writer Ian Rankin interviewed her circa 2007. The interview was uploaded to YouTube .)

Unlike Karla, who has never managed to stay completely off the radar, Juliet Hulme, the name Anne Perry was born with, got out of jail in 1959, changed her name, moved to the Oakland area in California, became a devout Mormon and eventually the famous and wealthy writer she is today. In the process she variously lived in England, the United States and even Toronto, Canada, as the Globe and Mail proudly points out. She now lives in a stylish renovated piggery in the remote fishing village of Portmahomak, 50 miles north of Inverness, on the Scottish Highlands.

It was Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures that was Anne Perry’s undoing. The provincial media in New Zealand never completely forgot the sensational case and in the excitement over the movie redoubled their efforts to find out what became of her.

Even though as teenagers Juliet and Pauline had been so close the threat of separation drove them to commit matricide, they never spoke again after their early release from prison in 1959. Ironically, in 1994 Pauline Parker was also found to be living under an assumed name on a horse farm about five miles down the road from Perry’s piggery.

As reported in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail on Saturday, October 6, 2012, Joanne Drayton, an academic and literary biographer currently living in Christchurch, New Zealand has recently written a book entitled “The Search for Anne Perry” and is on a geographically small “tour” of Canada with Ms. Perry herself.

She said “I felt compelled in a way to challenge the way that she [Anne Perry/Juliet Hulme] was perceived. It just seemed to me you can’t leave someone in a prison of association forever. You have to acknowledge that someone has moved on and changed and evolved and developed a useful contributing life apart from the thing they got horribly wrong.”

Parker and Hulme hatched a plot to murder Parker’s mother because she would not allow Pauline to accompany Juliet to South Africa in the wake of Juliet’s parent’s divorce. This enraged the two teenage girls and they devised a plan to override Mrs. Parker’s decision.

Juliet brought a half-brick in an old stocking on a walk with Pauline and her mother in a remote park just outside Christchurch and the two girls battered Mrs. Parker to death with it.

The matricide shocked and reviled New Zealand, as did Karla’s horrific crimes committed 37 years later with her then husband, Paul Bernardo. Similar to the sensational media coverage in southwestern Ontario the Kiwi media speculated that the perpetrators were insane, the Devil’s servants, sexual deviates who deserved to hang. Although sentenced to life the New Zealand government arranged for Juliet and Pauline to be quietly released after only five years.

As I pointed out in “Karla: A Pact with the Devil” Juliet and Pauline were able to disappear as were the very few other women convicted of horrific crimes throughout history who eventually get out of prison one way or the other. Winnie Ruth Judd is a good example.

When Anne Perry’s true identity was revealed in the wake of Jackson’s movie, she had just published her 19th book. Her oeuvre includes the critically acclaimed Thomas Pitt and William Monk series set during the First World War, and her annual Christmas novellas.

Joanne Drayton told the Globe reporter “Because it (the movie and the revelation of her true identity) happened to her we’ve become so, I think, fixated with…that part of her story. But it is only a very small part of her story.”

Very reluctantly Perry invited Drayton to the Scottish Highlands and they spent nine days talking about her life.

“The book is crafted around what Drayton calls a conversation between the adult Anne and the child Juliet, a journey as opposed to an interrogation. While Perry, now 73, participated, this is not an authorized biography. Apparently Perry has not read it.

Recently in what Joanne Drayton described as “a surprise move” Perry decided to appear with Drayton at two upcoming Canadian festivals, Wordfest in Calgary and Banff, October 9 -14and at the Vancouver Writers Fest, October 16 -21.).

“When people can’t allow you to be something better than the murderer ever, then it’s a permanent sentence.”

I don’t know about that. Since I did the research and wrote Karla I haven’t given Anne Perry a second thought – until now. Frankly, I don’t know what the fuss is about. She is whoever she is and it is what ever it is. It seems to me that all anyone is up to in these mysteries that become connundrums wrapped in mental confusion is selling books.

FINDING KARLA: FRAUD, FICTION OR BOTH – PT. III

It’s my blog and I can cry if I want to… and blow my own horn. In my first post I pointed out that 2/3’s of Paula Todd’s “Finding Karla” e-essay was an error riddled rehash of Karla’s crimes.

In various media reports breathlessly lauding the Finkle/Todd excercise as the advent of a new form of personalized digital publishing (previously known as “vanity publishing”) – a story that was current about three years ago but news to Canadian media types such as Simon Houpt at the Globe and Mail and Greg Quill from the Toronto Star.

They must have missed all that reportage in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian and virtually every other major organ in the United States, Great Britain and Europe about start ups like Byliner and the evolution of long-form journalism. But that’s another topic.

The problem with vanity publishing is exactly Finkle and Todd’s problem – you are your own fact checker and editor. Because they did not made the effort necessary to command the facts, they published a small essay that is severely fact challenged. If it were a dissertation Todd would be denied her degree.

According to Derek Finkle’s well-placed wink-wink-and nod to suggestible scribblers, their little digital vanity publishing experiment took about 75,000 people for $2.99 plus tax. Not a bad sleight of mind.

On the subject of Karla’s crimes, almost everyone alive with any knowledge of the case believes they have been retold too often. It is also somewhat ironic that the best and most succinct account can be had for free.

If I’m not mistaken, you can sample the first two or three chapters of any book you download (I know this to be true for iBooks) to decide if it’s worth putting out $9.99 or $12.95 or whatever. Thomas Pynchon’s recently digitally re-issued “Mason & Dixon” cost almost $14.00 including tax, but I was able to remind myself why it was worth every penny before I shelled out.

Apparently this was not the case with the Todd/Finkle offering but then again it was published as the short stuff i.e. as a Kindle Short. However, this sampling facility certainly applies to my last book on the case, “Karla: A Pact with the Devil”

I’ve included the link to the American Kindle edition below. In first three pages of the first chapter entitled “In the Beginning” is the best and most succinct summation of Karla’s crimes in existence. You can also read the first chapter on my website www.stephenwilliamsbooks.com by clicking the “Books” navigation button and then clicking the “Karla” button.

Given that we are approaching the 20th Anniversary of Karla’s conviction and the 10th Anniversary of her release from prison, it really should have been the last word on the subject.

Link to American Kindle edition. Karla: A Pact for the Devil is now available for the first time in the United States. Currently in Kobo and Kindle editions. Nook and iBooks and Sony reader shortly. Also internationally on Kobo and Kindle