Canadian man Dan Smith says he really didn’t have a bad time in jail, if you don’t count a pretty lousy sleep. And the 65-year-old got a bonus. He was released from the Gatineau detention centre after serving just one day of this three-day sentence for the dubious offence of refusing to pay a fine for an unlicensed cat that he says wasn’t even his. “Winnie,” insists Smith, is his estranged wife’s cat - a feral that first showed up 12 years ago at the home he and his wife still share. Officially, Smith got a day off for good behaviour and a day for a temporary absence, but says he was told on Thursday after he arrived that he was going to be released on Friday because the jail was overcrowded. Smith said he met some pretty decent inmates in his cellblock (“Half of them shouldn’t have been there”), was treated like a rock star because everyone there seemed to know his story and thought the food looked pretty good (though he didn’t eat any because his stomach was acting up).
He was even touched by the kindness of one cellmate. Smith was the third man in a two-bunk cell situated in what he described as the jail’s “minimum, minimum security” block (“No bad guys”) and was handed a slab of foam to sleep on. He says the cellmate, Yvan, a man of about 50 from Gatineau, told him: “No, no, you can’t sleep on that” and gave him his bunk. But sleep was still tough. He figures he managed “10 minutes or so, sitting up.”
He says his other cellmate, Eric, a Maniwaki resident, was a really good guy, too. Eric promised to keep in touch through Facebook, once he’s out.
“Both these guys were super nice. I couldn’t even open the (cell) door. They jumped up and opened the door for me.”
Soon after arriving, Smith says he received an enthusiastic welcome from many of the roughly 30 inmates in his cellblock. They recognised him from his picture in the papers and had read his story.
One inmate told him he was “the most important guy” there. Others offered him to treat him to coffee from the canteen.
Smith says he felt bad for some of the guys. There were a few who had been in since the summer, still wearing light clothing - prison garb isn’t issued, at least in his cellblock - in a chilly jail. One inmate’s shoes were falling apart.
“You understand what I’m saying? If they don’t have anybody on the outside (willing to bring any supplies they need), they got nothing.”
One prisoner, whom Smith says was only 24, was very distressed because he had just been handed a 18-month sentence. “I calmed him down … I said: ‘There’s not much I can tell you, except don’t talk too much to too many people … try not to get in anybody’s way.’
Anyway, he stayed close to me the whole time I was there.”
He says he was very impressed by the jail’s three square meals - even if he didn’t eat anything. “Lunch was beautiful - it came with a chicken burger, french fries, veggies, lemon pie and a half-pint of milk.”
The strip search when he first got there wasn’t fun. “Once you’re naked, they ask you to lift up our feet, open your mouth, move your tongue - I guess to make sure you’re not smuggling anything.”
As for going to jail again over the same issue, Smith says he would, because of the principle.
There have been many inquiries about Smith since his troubles were revealed last week. Some included offers to pay Smith’s fine, court costs and late fees - which had crept up to $326 from $276 when he turned himself into Gatineau police Thursday after a warrant for his arrest was issued.
Miguel Gauvin called the Gatineau municipal court office on Thursday afternoon and paid Smith’s bill with his credit card in the hope that “this man gets to sleep at home tonight.” But the message to release Smith apparently didn’t get through to the proper authorities. The court office phoned Gauvin on Friday morning, promising a refund.
Smith blames his saga on an overzealous Outaouais SPCA officer and a Gatineau bylaw that requires cats to be licensed but doesn’t make a distinction for a feral cat like Winnie. Smith is also upset with Gatineau municipal court, which didn’t believe his testimony when he tried to have the $100 ticket thrown out last summer.
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