On Sunday afternoon a caravan of about a dozen vehicles drove to Collins Bay Institution, a federal prison in Kingston, ON to hold a noisy demonstration in solidarity with prisoners demanding to be released in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Originally published by Northshore Info.
We stayed in our cars for the duration of the event and took care to maintain physical distancing among ourselves, as we felt it was important to avoid contributing to the spread of this deadly virus. This spirit of care is the same reason it felt important to take action to help free those imprisoned by the state in prisons, jails and migrant detention centres, where COVID-19 is a disaster waiting to happen.
Collins Bay is a large multi-level institution with a very high stone wall around the medium- and maximum-security facilities. However, it is possible to drive right up to the minimum-security institution, where prisoners inside recently sent a petition  demanding to be released for the safety of prisoners and staff alike. Despite claims by prison officials that they are taking precautions to keep prisoners safe, prisoners in many different institutions have been speaking out about conditions , telling us this is total bullshit and they remain at risk of deadly outbreaks of COVID-19.
We honked and waved signs all the way from our meetup point to the prison to make our presence known and create a spectacle for the other drivers and the few pedestrians on the road. We did have some difficulties staying together as one large group of vehicles – a handful of cars got separated by a series of red lights just before reaching the prison driveway. In the future, we should plan our approach to better account for this and stay together more easily.
As we arrived at the minimum unit, guards rushed to prevent us from driving further into the prison complex but a couple of vehicles made it to the access road that encircles the institution before the rest of our caravan was intercepted. We drove slowly around the prison, honking and banging on pots and waving signs with contact information and messages of solidarity. One prisoner who was outside started joyfully dancing and seemed extremely moved to see us, and we could hear others yelling back at us through their windows.
It’s not the first time I’ve gone and made a bunch of noise outside a prison to try to make people inside feel less alone, but this time I was aware of how much it was doing to help break through my own feelings of isolation (mild in comparison, probably) from these past several weeks. It felt especially powerful to be able to see and hear prisoners at this demo, which is mostly impossible at Kingston-area federal prisons which are surrounded by large walls.
Once we got back to the parking lot, we rejoined a chaotic scene – one person delivered a short speech to folks inside from their car using a portable loudspeaker, but this was not readily apparent to others in the caravan since it was not really possible to see or hear it if you were on the wrong side of the speaker. I’m not totally sure what happened next, to be honest – I think some people had already turned around and tried to leave, others were trying to stay and wait for some kind of signal to leave, and being split up multiple times had introduced a good amount of stress and confusion into the situation.
As we tried to leave, cops blocked the driveway for a little while but let us all go after identifying the drivers, photographing our faces, and informing most of us that we were banned from the property and that we would be charged with trespassing if we returned. Certainly not ideal, but it does feel good that they didn’t totally prevent us from doing what we went there to do.
Car demos are a new thing for me in my context, and COVID-19 is creating a new context for everyone right now. Communicating with each other in vehicles without gathering beforehand to speak in a group was a real challenge, but it gave me a lot to consider about how to do it better next time. Can we use coloured flags or simple hand signs to communicate in a situation where everyone is using their car horns as noisemakers? Since driving a car is, for most of us, like walking around with a large name tag on your back – is there a safe way we might be able to use phones to stay in voice contact with each other? How can we more effectively take up space and control access points so that we are more able to reach our destination and leave when we need to? That evening, participants debriefed the action over videoconference and we came up with some tactical ideas about driving demonstrations that will hopefully prove useful in the future.
I’m very grateful to everyone who showed up, especially since it feels like most everyone I know is a bit closer to the end of their rope these days. I hope people don’t feel too discouraged. It was far from perfect, but I hope that people’s actions in Kingston and across Canada today and in recent weeks contribute towards ratcheting up the pressure, towards creating a situation where the Canadian state finds it increasingly difficult to keep people in cages waiting to die from COVID-19, that we won’t stand for it, that something’s gotta give. #FreeThemAll
A report on this action from End The Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) with additional photos and audio can be found here: https://epic.noblogs.org/report-from-freethemallcaravan-in-kingston/
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