Solidarity with the P4W Memorial Collective

Mayor Bryan Paterson, Kingston, Ontario

P4w_memorial_collective_open_letter_pt1

The Prison for Women (P4W) was the first and only federal prison for women in Canada from 1934-2000. Any redevelopment of the site must involve the active collaboration of former prisoners. The P4W Memorial Collective is a diverse group of ex-prisoners, activists, scholars, and artists who share a common goal of honouring and memorializing women who have died in prison.

To: Mayor Bryan Paterson, Kingston, Ontario
From: [Your Name]

We join in solidarity with the P4W Memorial Collective.*

We will not remain silent as ABNA Investments develops the former Prison for Women (P4W) in Kingston, Ontario into a seniors residence without consultation or collaboration with former P4W prisoners.

P4W was the only federal prison for women in Canada from 1934-2000. The history of this institution is too important to be left in the hands of a private developer.

We grow with the P4W Memorial Collective.

We join the call to create a memorial garden for prisoners who died at P4W, and who continue to live and die in prisons for women across Canada.

A garden is a living memorial that welcomes and supports many diverse forms of life. The P4W Memorial Collective is working with Indigenous gardeners to design a garden that honours ancestors, nourishes the living, and creates a legacy for future generations.

We remember with the P4W Memorial Collective.

The closure of the P4W followed recommendations by the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women in 1990 (link) and the Arbour Report in 1996 (link). Between December 1988 and February 1991, seven women died by suicide in P4W. Six of these women were Indigenous (link).

In April 1994, a conflict between prisoners and guards was suppressed by an all-male Institutional Emergency Response Team (IERT) who stripped the women naked and left them shackled on the floor for six hours (link). Security footage of the event was leaked to the media and broadcast on a national news program, The Fifth Estate (link).

It will take more than a bench and an historical plaque to remember this history and to mourn collectively for the women who died in the prison. In addition to the memorial garden, we call for a gallery space in the former prison to share artwork and stories from former prisoners who engaged in what Gayle Horii calls “the ART in survival” (link).

P4W is already a monument to violence. Painting the walls and removing the prison bars will not change this violent history. But if we work together with former prisoners, we can create a living memorial and gallery for both the beauty of survival and the pain of loss.

We grieve with the P4W Memorial Collective.

Every year on Prisoners’ Justice Day (August 10), the P4W Memorial Collective organizes a healing circle on P4W grounds to mourn the dead and support the healing of the living (link). But the future of this ceremony is at risk without meaningful collaboration with the P4W Memorial Collective.

We dwell with the P4W Memorial Collective.

Prisons and prisoners are a part of our community in Kingston. Imprisoned workers cleared the land from King Street to Bath Road; they quarried limestone and paved roads; they were used as subjects for research and experimentation (link). For too long, our city has profited from local prisons without reciprocity. We owe it to our neighbours, past and present, to remember the women who lived and died at P4W.

We resist with the P4W Memorial Collective.

Today, Indigenous people make up 5% of the Canadian population, but over 30% of the total federal prison population and 42% of the people in federal prisons for women (Office of the Correctional Investigator).

Black women are also hyper-incarcerated in Canada (link), and close to 70% of people in women’s prisons have experienced sexual abuse (link).

The racist, colonial, heteropatriarchal violence of imprisonment is an outrage. To pretend that P4W is just another limestone building on prime real estate is to deny this violence, and denial is complicity.

We support the demands and commitments of the P4W Memorial Collective.

The P4W Memorial Collective is a diverse group of ex-prisoners, activists, scholars, and artists who share a common goal of honouring and memorializing women who have died in prison.

The Collective believes the memorial garden and gallery must be conceived, designed and maintained by the people who are most intimately connected to the lives it memorializes: women who have spent time in prison.

The Collective has made the following demands and commitments:

1. Our number one concern is that we have creative control over the concept, design, and location of the garden. We understand we will need to work in collaboration with both the City and the developer’s landscape architect and design team. We want to confirm that we will designate the artist(s) or architect(s) who will coordinate the production of the garden and who will ultimately represent the project in negotiations with the development and the City.

2. The ideal location for the garden is on the southwest side of the main entrance to the Prison for Women. We want to incorporate the mature Black Spruce that is located 12’ from the prison wall because it is part of the living history of the building and was an important fixture when P4W operated as a prison.

3. The proposed size of the Memorial Garden is roughly 34’x50’ (1,702 sq ft). The garden would start approximately 5- 6’ from the foundation which would allow for general maintenance. The plants being selected for this garden will be native to this region and therefore easy to cultivate, but many will also be plants that are meaningful to the Indigenous people of the Boreal area of Canada.

4. We would like to have access to an interior gallery space on the ground floor of the building which could house both the tangible archives and the intangible resources (stories, experiences, art) of the Prison for Women and the Memorial Collective. This space would be an exhibition space for artists with prison experience, displaying both permanent sculpture and temporary exhibitions and occasionally act as a screening room for archival and artistic works.

5. Our intention is to negotiate with a community partner to manage maintenance (in perpetuity) of both the garden and the gallery space. In this way, women with prison experience will continue to care regularly for these spaces, maintaining an ongoing relationship with and investment in the communities these spaces are designed to support.

6. We want assurance that the garden will be accessible to the public, and will be a permanent fixture of the property.

Signed, members of the P4W Memorial Collective:

Ann Hansen, lived experience in both P4W, Quinte and Grand Valley Institution for Women, partner in Concept Cabinets, presently retired on small self-sufficient farm

Fran Chaisson, lived experience in P4W, volunteer and organizer with the Two Feather Drum Group, Martha’s Table, Kingston Waterwalkers, Ontario Native Women’s Association, HARS (HIV/AIDS Regional Services), Pow Wow Yoga, and the Kingston National Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Dr. Lisa Guenther, Queen’s National Scholar in Critical Prison Studies and Political Philosophy, Queen’s University

Dr. Jacqueline Davies, Queen's faculty member, frequent E.Fry & Queen's University visitor/teacher at P4W in the latter years of its operation

Hadley Howes, Public Artist & PhD Student, Cultural Studies, Queen’s University

Linda Mussell, PhD Candidate, Political Studies, Queen’s University

Olivia Naphtali, Artist & PhD Student, Cultural Studies, Queen’s University

Alisha Sharma, PhD Student, Philosophy, Queen’s University

Mariah Horner, Theatre Maker & PhD Student, Cultural Studies, Queen’s University

* The title, image, and opening lines of this petition were altered on February 3-4, 2021 to address ableist language in the initial version.