Past and current employees from Kent Institution are invited to an anniversary gathering this October in Chilliwack. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

Kent prison employees invited to anniversary gathering

The event will take place in Chilliwack on Oct. 5

Have you worked at Kent Institution since it opened 40 years ago? Harrison resident, author and former correctional manager Neil MacLean is hoping you’ll come to an anniversary gathering this October.

“My experiences were everybody’s experiences,” MacLean said. Now a retired correctional officer, MacLean has written the book Serving Life 25: One Guard’s Story about his experiences working in B.C.’s prison system.

“We’ve all gone through the murders and the violence … We’ve all been through it and it was just sort of our common thread.”

RELATED: Prison book promises insider’s look

On Oct. 5, MacLean is hoping that both current and past employees from Kent Institution will come to reminisce.

“Just bringing people together, telling old stories,” is the goal of the event, he said. “A bunch of guards talking about days gone by.”

The October gathering, which will be taking place in Chilliwack, is set to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Kent Institution.

Built in 1979 for $19 million to replace the B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster, Agassiz’s Kent Institution was designed to be the vanguard of change for prisons across the country.

“Luxurious isn’t the word — I’m groping for an alternative to that — but these are pretty fancy surroundings and I don’t think we’ll build another one like this under the present conditions,” 1979 solicitor-general Allan Lawrence said in a Vancouver Sun article from the gala opening.

“This is not to say we want to go back to the grey walls and iron bars and nothing else, by any means — those days are long gone. But this one is pretty fancy, in my book anyway.”

The article went on to say that the maximum security prison resembled a country club “with its bright yellow and russet interior trimmings, its brick exterior and carefully landscaped courtyard, (and) its spacious exercise yard.” But you couldn’t get away from its true purpose as a prison.

RELATED: Kent Institution prison guard assaulted by inmate

According to MacLean, the first riot happened that year, with subsequent ones in 1981, 1991 and a 2003 riot which caused over half a million in damage.

The institution has also been host to a number of ingenious escapes by inmates, including Canada’s first helicopter escape in 1990 and another where an inmate packed himself in a box to be shipped out.

“The helicopter escape was the biggest one,” MacLean said. “That made international headlines.”

Though the correctional officers had to deal with this and much more in their day to day jobs, MacLean said the staff were also what made his time working at the prison enjoyable. And on Oct. 5, he’s hoping some of those staff will be joining him for the anniversary celebration.

In the first week MacLean had released the invitation to the event, he had around 50 people say they were interested in attending. Current and past employees who are interested in attending should contact MacLean at oc4you@shaw.ca for details.



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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