“It would be nice to see a farm system based on Loving Kindness and not exploitation & slaughter. I personally could not be present in any area where animals are being killed. I have suffered a trauma so profound because of the offense I committed that just the thought of seeing any living thing die is unthinkable to me.”
“It was a delight to read that your enterprise is looking for alternatives to the standard models of agriculture, while creating an allegory for justice. As a vegetarian, I find your case not only compelling but forward thinking. Keep resilient.”
PRISONER SURVEY RESULTS
“What would the prisoners prefer?”
Evolve Our Prison Farms has conducted an informal survey of prisoners at federal penitentiaries across Canada. In January and February 2018, a total of 143 prisoners returned feedback forms by lettermail, with overwhelming preference for sanctuary and/or plant-based agriculture.
JOYCEVILLE ABATTOIR TOUR
Have you ever visited a prison slaughterhouse?
The abattoir at Joyceville Institution is a dismal place of death and dismemberment, located immediately beside the gardens and greenhouses where prisoners nurture life.
Evolve Our Prison Farms has obtained these photographs offering an inside look at the hidden operations of this draconian prison program.
The curving corral that funnels the animals into this slaughterhouse is brand new. We have learned that this is due to a cow who escaped from the slaughter ramp last year.
For six weeks the cow escaped capture until she was spotted near the prison tennis court. Inmates captured the cow in the fenced-in area but it took another two days to rope the cow, who would charge at them in self-defence.
When the cow was finally captured, after surviving those six weeks and showing such determination to live, the decision was made that it would be wrong to send the cow to slaughter. The farmer who owned the cow brought her back to his farm.
This demonstrates the transformative power of seeing an individual rather than a unit of “livestock.”
Every cow – or goat – shares that same desire to live, and that same terror of slaughter.
Imagine, if the animals could see prisoners as trusted caregivers, rather than as a source of fear and death against which they must defend themselves.
The following are reminiscences from former prison farm worker Ricky Atkinson from his memoir The Life Crimes and Hard Times of Ricky Atkinson (2017). As a young man, Atkinson worked at the Frontenac Institution prison cow dairy:
I had never been this close to a cow in my life. All of my assumptions about how soft and cuddly cows were went right out the window when I stepped up behind one, grabbed its shitty tail and got a hard kick in the shins.
I made my way down the line, hating every minute. They kicked me. They crushed me against the stall railings. They shit all over. If you weren’t quick to grab them, they slapped you in the face with their shitty tails.
It wasn’t easy to adjust to being around cows. I’d been on milking duty a couple of weeks when one of the cows stepped on my foot. I began to hit it with punches like a professional boxer. I don’t know why I did it but for some reason I needed to let off some steam. The next day, another cow crushed me against a railing and I rolled a series of punches on its side and on its head.
After a few days of this, the cows would moo and prance around nervously when I came into the barn, making it harder to milk them.
One day, a cow coughed when I was behind it. Green shit flew out of her ass and all over my face. I tore into that cow with my fists. Next thing I knew, the camp boss, Mr Kirby, was standing beside me.
“Atkinson, I knew something was up. Milk production is down. You hit a cow again, I’ll kick your ass.”
Later, Atkinson worked at the Joyceville abattoir:
My immediate job, however, was preparing cows for slaughter. It was my job to decide which seven cows would end up on death row on any given day. It was also my habit, while they waited to head down that ramp to their fate, to read the Bible aloud to them. ….Hearing a voice calmed them and helped me hone my speaking skills. I’d grown up a lot since the days when I was hitting the poor beasts with my fists.
In late December 2017, Out of Bounds received a presser from Calvin Neufeld of Evolve Our Prison Farms (EOPF), a Kingston-based coalition of citizens united by concerns about animal agriculture’s profound ethical, ecological and health costs. The possible renewal of Canada’s prison farms represents a unique opportunity to transition from animal agriculture to an “evolved” model centered in ethical and environmentally responsible plant based farming.
In 2009, the Conservative government elected to shutter all six prison farms. They based their decision upon evaluations that the farms were too costly to operate, ill prepared to provide modern job skills, and fit well with its “tough on crime agenda”, as they considered the farms “soft” on prisoners. Inmate advocacy groups criticized the move suggesting that the program offered both rehabilitation programming and life skills training as well as producing food for prisons.
The Liberal government has recently shown interest in restoring prison farms to the former model of animal agriculture, specifically dairy and meat production. This form of agriculture is in clear and direct conflict with rehabilitative and therapeutic goals. It is also an inefficient and environmentally unsustainable form of food production. EOPF has persuasively put forward an alternative model of innovative plant-based prison agriculture, which could be enhanced by farmed animal sanctuary as human-animal therapy. This has advantages environmentally, ethically and financially (costing less for the government to implement and operate, while being better aligned with current job market realities).
Over the past year, EOPF has been meeting with government representatives and we have succeeded in getting our proposal officially on the table under consideration at the highest level. This is a critical time, as a decision is anticipated in the coming months. Mr. Neufeld stated, “We believe that prison farms can form the foundation of a better, healthier, more sustainable and more compassionate future.”
In the meantime, EOPF is working hard to raise public awareness of the issues. Animal agriculture is neither ideal nor necessary to prison farms. It fundamentally undermines the rehabilitative process as it involves prisoners in the manipulation of sexuality (forced insemination), the breaking of familial bonds (separating infants from their mothers), and, of course, slaughter. In Kingston, where the government’s initial focus is, there is still an on-site slaughterhouse where prisoners continue to be trained.
Animal agriculture has been flagged by the United Nations as one of the most significant global contributors to climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, pollution, deforestation and soil degradation, where the consumption of animal products is directly linked to a wide range of illnesses including cancer and heart diseases – the leading causes of death in Canada.
Evolve Our Prison Farms is proposing an alternative to the old prison farm model: innovative plant based agriculture (mixed crops, vegetables, fruit and nut tree plantations, greenhouses, permaculture) and farmed animal sanctuary (permanent, non-exploitive care) for any animals brought onto the farms. This has all the benefits (and more) of the old operations, without the drawbacks and conflicts of animal agriculture. As the government deliberates on which model to adopt, the example Mr. Neufeld and his team have proposed creates an allegory for justice. Environmental justice, animal justice, prisoner justice. These farms can do more than just produce food for prisoners. They can form a symbolic as well as practical foundation for a healthier more sustainable and more compassionate future for us all. Prisoners can lead the way to our better future. There is something truly touching and inspiring about that, and the way prison sanctuary exemplifies the crossroads between incarceration and freedom, in both metaphor and literal application.
Evolve Our Prison Farms sees the benefits of “evolved farming” as:
– Rehabilitation and reintegration
– Ecological sustainability
– Secure and healthy food
– Caring and connected communities
– Fiscal responsibility
Regarding the coalition, Franceen Neufeld and her son Calvin, in collaboration with writer and researcher Sue Donaldson of Queen’s University, started Evolve Our Prison Farms. The coalition has grown to include a wide range of supporters across Canada and internationally: farmers, philosophers, environmentalists, animal advocates, social workers, academics, lawyers, former prisoners and more. Even prison abolitionists and Corrections staff find common ground in recognizing the merits of the Evolve proposal. It unifies across personal, professional and political spectrums.
In building a strong evidence based case for the government, EOPF have recruited a number of statements from experts, whose independent research supports our proposal, including criminologists, psychologists, climate change scientists, sanctuary operators and agricultural innovators.
We at OBM firmly support this move and trust that adoption of this model happens quickly. We understand that this is far from a done deal but it is a good news story that we will watch very closely. It is our sincere hope that the Liberal leadership will see to correcting some of the missteps of the previous government, opting for rehabilitative rather than punitive measures.
PRISON SLAUGHTERHOUSE WORKER ACCOUNT
The following statement was sent to us from a prison slaughterhouse worker at Joyceville Institution. It was originally written for an institutional elder, and reveals the Correctional mindset that humane-washes the “rehabilitation” of prisoners through the exploitation and slaughter of animals. Click here to read our response.
To: Whom It May Concern
During my incarceration, I have worked with, or within, most of the CORCAN farming operations that functioned in the Kingston region. Many of the responsibilities of the farm were not limited to simple maintenance, but also had heavy involvement in preparing the fields, planting, harvesting, milking assistance, birthing calves, removal of carcasses, egg collection, chicken collection, pest/vermin control.
I began working at the abattoir in late November of 2017.
As a man, and even more so, as an aboriginal man, I was brought up with the understanding of the importance of being able to provide for your family and community, in a positive way. While working at the abattoir, I can at least provide for someone’s table. All human-consumable meat is sent along for further processing, the hides are picked up by a tanner, entrails, hooves, heads and such are processed by a local mink and raw dog food producer.
Working at the abattoir provides a position of trust, with daily off perimeter clearance. I’m not just a number, following people around with a bloody mop bucket and a sweat towel.
This position shows the importance of team work in accomplishing a task, in a safe work environment, demonstrating safe knife handling work and proper knife sharpening.
I am more fully able to understand the full cycle of life. Recognizing and realizing the moment when the spirit returns to the spirit world, leaving the physical body behind to fulfill its purpose. Knowing the importance of acknowledging its life and not bringing fear into an animal before harvesting it.
Watching the raven appear, like clock-work, after the render truck has left, and collect its tithe. It gives me a better sense of purpose, with real responsibilities, and removes me, even for a short period of time, from the very mundane, thought numbing, brain killing, drone producing, negative surroundings and attitudes that exist in prison life.