Down Inside: Thirty Years in Canada's Prison Service

A nonfiction book by Robert Clark.

Robert Clark

In his 30 years in the Canadian prison system, Robert Clark rose from student volunteer to deputy warden. He worked with some of Canada's most dangerous and notorious prisoners, including Paul Bernardo and Tyrone Conn. He dealt with escapes, lockdowns, prisoner murders, prisoner suicides and a riot. But he also arranged ice-hockey games in a maximum-security institution, sat in a darkened gym watching movies with 300 inmates, took parolees sightseeing and consoled victims of violent crimes. He has managed cellblocks, been a parole officer, and investigated staff corruption.

Clark takes readers down inside a range of prisons, from the minimum-security Pittsburgh Institution to the Kingston Regional Treatment Centre for mentally ill prisoners and the notorious (and now closed) maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary. In Down Inside, he challenges head-on the popular belief that a "tough-on-crime" approach makes prisons and communities safer, arguing instead for humane treatment and rehabilitation. Wading into the controversy about long-term solitary confinement, Clark draws from his own experience managing solitary-confinement units to continue the discussion begun by the headline-making Ashley Smith case and to join the chorus of voices calling for an end to the abuse of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. (From Goose Lane)

Excerpt | Author interview

From the book

One of my earliest memories of growing up in Toronto was my parents telling me, "Lock the door after we leave." As the eldest of three, this instruction became a mantra for personal safety. Locked doors gave our parents peace of mind when they left us alone. When we lock doors, we feel safer. That is what locks are for.

But locks can make things worse. Locked doors can prevent us from seeing what's on the other side. How do we know it's dangerous? What if we're mistaken? And locks can keep out the wrong things, like a chance to explain what really happened to someone who will truly listen. In prison, locks sometimes keep out the hope of being heard at all, of getting a message home, of seeing one's children, of life getting better. Locks can cause people to succumb to resignation over dreams, to rage over co-operation, to death over life. And locking doors is essentially what prison is all about.

From Down Inside by Robert Clark ©2017. Published by Goose Lane.

Author interview