LIFE IN CUSTODY
At the Jail
General information from BC Corrections here.
- Prison terms: Your CS number or inmate number or ID is the number that is assigned to you on arrival at jail. Example: 13.651.092. A C.O. is a corrections officer (guard) and Seg is the Segregation unit that is used typically for difficult prisoners, but also for COVID isolation.
- Each day in prison counts towards 1.5 days of your sentence. Thus, a 21 day sentence means 14 days in prison. The arrival and departure days count as full days. In the case of a 21 day sentence, only 12 full days will be in prison. You can confirm the length of your custody with the counsellor.
- You will be asked if you have a religion. Choose one and you will be assigned a chaplain (the same for all religions) who can get you books, and perhaps help get you other things you need.
- Those susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will find that there is very little direct sunlight in jail. The lack of direct natural light is often compounded by sleep deprivation. Exercise and song are some possible compensations, but it is important to alert the counsellor to your condition on entry.
- A jail tradition is that there is no whistling; You will be reminded if you whistle. Singing is fine.
- There is no 'orientation'. You are expected to find your way to the forms in racks on the wall or request them from the C.O.. Different Correctional Officers treat you differently - much like outside. Some C.O.'s may be snarky or unpleasant, but generally speaking, most were pleasant and congenial and the other inmates were friendly and helpful.
All letters sent to North Fraser Pretrial Centre and Alouette Correctional Centre will be opened and read by the prison administration. Any letters that violate a restriction will be put into a dead letter pile or returned to the sender. (See Appendix (PDF) for a more complete list of restrictions.) These are the rules on the BC Corrections website relating to mail:
- Only letters and appropriate photographs are accepted
- Don't send personal or homemade items
- Don't use wax crayon, glitter pens, gel pens or lipstick
- Don't mail any personal or homemade items
- Don't spray mail with any scents
- Don't decorate with glitter or stickers, or by gluing items to mail
- All mail is searched. Mail that does not meet security guidelines will be returned or put in a dead letter file.
Dead letters and returned letters
- Letters rejected by the prison will be returned to sender if there is a return address on the envelope. The returned mail will include a form letter that indicates why it was returned.
- Letters without a proper return address (which includes the full name of sender) will be put into a dead letter file. You are not given those letters on leaving prison, but you are allowed to return to prison to pick them up at specific times (see information number above: 604 468 3500, press 3). During COVID they will be mailed to you if you call the information line (press 0) with your CS ID number. You have 30 days from release to pick-up your letters and other effects.
- Activists have set up an email service for forwarding emailed letters to activist inmates. Letters to you will be collected at email@example.com and forwarded to a friend or support person who can read them to you over the phone. (Corrections rejects letters that are authored by someone other than the single sender indicated in the return address.)
- If you wish to receive letters of support directly from people you don't know, your name and sentence information can be listed on our prison support page.
- You are entitled to 7 free letters per week. They will provide postage, and loose sheets of lined paper, envelopes and lousy pens. Otherwise, there are writing materials through the canteen.
- Make sure you have at least one phone number you know by heart. You will not be able to bring anything into the prison so at least one number has to be in your memory. Alouette's policy is more relaxed: You may well be allowed to bring in a list of phone numbers, but should have a plan B in case that is not allowed.
- The only tip for the automated telephone service setup is to choose a short, repeatable voice password. After keying in your inmate number followed by #, the automated system will ask you to state the prison name and your name as the voice password. That "password" will be replayed to the person you are calling and therefore has the double duty of identification. Make it as short as possible. Example: "North Fraser Homer", or even "Fraser Homer". Some suggest that there are no constraints on the password. It could simply be "Homer". It is important that it be easily repeated in a way that mimics the setup model and is loud enough.
- After the setup, you can call. If you get through the password stage, you will have to wait (with music) while a long message is played to the person you called. It states that the call is coming from the prison and includes the warning that the call is monitored. Be patient. If you have reached an answering machine, the phone will hang up and no message will be left. If your call is accepted and you do connect, you will have a limited but sufficient time for the call -- perhaps 20 minutes.
- If someone has left you a voice message, when you try to call out you will be given the chance to listen to your messages. Callers can leave messages for you by using your CS number.
- Callers who want to leave you a voice message will need your CS number. That number is given when you call someone, but it is hard for the receiver of a call to write down that number in the flow of automated messages. Make sure you give your CS number to anyone who plans to leave you a voice message.
- There is normally a charge for phone calls, but under the COVID "no visitors" policy phone calls were free, even long distance.
- Inmates must submit a form listing those who will visit, including name, date of birth, address, relationship, phone #. It takes about 2-5 days for names on the visitors' list to be approved.
- Once approved, visitors can book their visit at least a day ahead by calling the institution. Visits happen Tuesday through Sunday. One visitor per visit.
- During COVID, there were no in-person visits allowed. Arrangements could be made for a video visit. The teleconferencing service was overbooked so it is best to schedule immediately on arrival. The C.O. will have the form for video conferencing.
- Any person who has been recently incarcerated cannot come for a visit for at least three months after they were in jail.
There is no particular time or warning about when you will be leaving the prison. A guard arrives and says "Get your things." Therefore, it is not possible to schedule a pickup hour.
- You will change into the street clothes you wore to prison.
- You will go through a check-out procedure where they return your unspent money and verify your identity.
- You get to keep your prison-issue shoes! (NFPTC: And boxer shorts too, if you wish!)
- Your sealed court belongings will be given to you at the door on your way out -- you will not have access to them in the prison.
- If you are not being picked up, the prison gives you a 3 zone bus ticket and pays for a taxi to the bus stop. Any bus from the stop goes to the Port Coquitlam skytrain.
- You can ask to call someone before leaving prison.
- Careful: If you are counting on your cell phone, the battery may not last to the end of your stay and you will not know whether it works until you are released.
These webpages are compiled into a single document, the Protester's Guide to Arrests, Court and Custody in BC (PDF). You can also find out more information at Protester's Resources.