Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The P4W Memorial Collective requests your endorsement of our campaign to create a memorial garden to honour the women who died in the Kingston Prison for Women (P4W) on a small plot of land (12’ x 12’) adjacent to the front administration building.
Our Collective is composed of women from many different walks of life, but we have especially welcomed women with lived experience in prison or with connections to prisoners through community groups like E. Fry Kingston, the Native Sisterhood and Native Brotherhood, local religious ministries, and prisoner justice activism. Our main purpose is to honour the memory of women who died inside P4W, but we also want to raise awareness that, long after the closure of P4W, women are still dying in custody and suffering inhumane treatment in prisons across Canada.
The Federal Prison for Women in Kingston is one of the most notorious prisons in Canadian history. Just four years after it opened in 1934, the Archambault Report recommended its closure due to “disgraceful” conditions. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, experiments with LSD and electroconvulsive therapy were conducted on women at P4W, leading to a 1998 lawsuit against Dr. Mark Eveson (a Queen’s graduate). In 1964, a Queen’s M.A. student, Judith Martin, successfully defended a thesis on “Pain Tolerance and Narcotic Addiction” based on research on prisoners at P4W; she co-published the results of her research with Queen’s professor, James Inglis in 1965. In 1977, the MacGuigan Report called for the closure of P4W once again, declaring the prison “unfit for bears, much less for women.” Still, the prison remained open. Between December 1988 and February 1991, seven women at the P4W committed suicide; six of these women were Indigenous. It was not until after Madam Justice Arbour’s 1996 condemnation of the disconnect between human rights, the rule of law and operational reality in P4W, that the process of transferring prisoners across the country to the six newly built institutions began in earnest. The prison finally closed in 2000.
Seven years later, Queen’s University purchased the P4W site for a reported $2.8 million. The site is currently for sale, and we are concerned that it may be developed for commercial purposes that erase or trivialize its history. In 2016, Elizabeth Fry Kingston asked Queen’s if we could create a memorial garden at P4W, but the request was not honoured. In 2018, after ten years as the site’s owner, Queen’s University is uniquely situated to recognize the history of P4W and set aside land on site for a memorial garden. Given the University’s history of research on prisoners and its commitment to critical education and community engagement, and considering that the University has not paid taxes on this property—eight acres of prime real estate acquired at less than market value—Queen’s is well placed to fulfill its educational mandate and role as a good citizen.
The current silence of P4W’s abandoned architectural carcass is a betrayal of the histories it housed. The age and emptiness of the buildings can easily mislead passers by to think that the painful facts of women's incarceration in Canada and the painful facts of colonization are things of the past. Indigenous people are the most marginalized, least secure, and the most incarcerated in Canada. The links between these facts were made clear in the Truth and Reconciliation Report. Recommendation 30 of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action says: “We call on federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so.” This overrepresentation is especially acute for Indigenous women. Since P4W closed, more Indigenous women have been imprisoned than any other segment of the population (increasing by 109% between 2001-2012). A memorial garden with art and educational panels acknowledging the connections between colonization, residential schools, violence against Indigenous women, and the lives and deaths of women incarcerated at P4W represents a unique opportunity for community engagement and public education. Moreover, it would contribute to Queen’s efforts to uphold its commitment to new nation-wide Principles on Indigenous Education.
Please join us in asking Queen’s University to create a memorial garden on the former site of the Prison for Women. Add your name and/or organization to the signatories below, or send a letter of support to P4Wmemorialcollective@gmail.com by March 30, 2018, if possible (but later endorsements will also be accepted). A simple affirmation of support is more than welcome, but we would love to hear more about why you think this project is important. What have we learned since the prison closed in 2000? What do women learn doing federal time? What is learned off their backs? How do we share the responsibility of honouring their memory? As the twentieth anniversary of the prison’s closure approaches, we are planning a nation-wide gathering to reflect on these and many other questions.
The P4W Memorial CollectiveP4wmemorialcollective@gmail.com
Yessica Rivera BelshamFounder and Executive Director, Circle of Wellness
Fran ChaissonFormerly Incarcerated at P4W
Jacqueline DaviesAssociate Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University
Lisa GuentherQueen’s National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies
Ann HansenFormerly Incarcerated at P4W
Linda MussellPhD Candidate in Political Studies, Queen’s University
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