April 16, 2019
It's always a good feeling when others see what you're doing and want to become a part of it. That's the story of how we had the chance to speak to Robyn. He walked up to us after finishing our conversation with Tadeusz and asked us about our project. The question seemed redundant because in no time he was telling us about his dog, his opinion about the provincial election, his time in federal prison, and more. We had to sit down to get the rest in.
Usually, we like to ask people what the happiest moment of their life is.
The birth of my girls. That was the highest point of my life. And the lowest? Federal prison.
Alright so let’s debrief on those two experiences so, talk about your girls.
Oh well one is a receptionist for a Heart and Lung specialist and the other one is studying to become a psychiatrist, my oldest boy owns his own roofing company… yeah, I did okay. Yeah, they’re pretty smart.
So, the psychiatrist, is she in med school?
No, she’s not but she’s about to give birth.
So you’re about to become a grandfather?
Again! That will be three grandchildren. Sophie will be three. I’m kind of looking forward to it because me and my youngest daughter are kind of, we never really connected when we were younger because I was always working, but now with her becoming a woman we’re finally starting to connect. I’m discovering that oh my God she’s got a lot of my environmental and political views and she is very outspoken on Facebook, and stuff. I go all my God girl!
When is she due?
26th of this month. It’s going to be great but she’s in Fort McMurray so I don’t think I’ll be able to be there. I’ve discovered that in my own wisdom that it’s better to leave my kids to do what they want to do and then if they need me, I’m a phone call away, right?
Honestly, that’s pretty good,
Yeah well, my buddy said it to me best he said, “When you were 25, did you want to talk to your mom and dad?” Well, no. I was busy being in love with somebody else, right? I didn’t want to talk to my mom and dad. I didn’t realize that I was kind of intruding. All I wanted was to be part of it, but.
It’s a fine line. For me, family is really important. As much as I can appreciate wanting to have my own life I think it’s important to really respect my parents and make sure they feel they’re being respected because I know they just want to connect.
The younger generation was not taught respect like we were. I would have never spoken to my father or mother the way kids have spoken to me. Because back in those days you would have gotten a cuff right away.
It’s cultural too.
You got to respect your parents, right or wrong.
They really are the reason you’re here, hahaha. So then you said you got into federal prison because of living in the bush?
Well, no it was because you go down down and they you get hooked up with the motorcycle boys, then you start dealing cocaine, then it gets deeper and deeper and sooner or later you hit bottom. Well no, that’s not really bottom because you end up in prison and you’re still afloat but, ah, when you get OUT of prison- that’s rock bottom. Because they don’t help you. They turn your back on you.
So the rehabilitation and reintegration is not there?
It’s not there, no. You got to do it on your own. That’s why we have failures in our society. Because the support is not there; when you come out of a place like that, you’re changed as an individual. A man, a person, a human being. You’re totally different from what you were when you went in there.
I won’t talk too much about it but in one of my courses I had a guest lecture that completely opened my eyes to the incarceration system. There’s so much fucked up shit that goes on in there. And so, I think we should really double check before sending somebody to prison because it will honestly make them worse. Not that they’re a bad person but when you’re put in such tough circumstances, what do you expect? Someone to become a better person? Especially in the men’s prisons.
I come out with more connections with the dark side than I had when I got in. Then you get out, you go to your government looking for support, looking to rebuild my life, they turn around and say, “Well you go ahead and do it but we’re not gunna help you.
So when you were in prison, how long did you stay in there for?
And then so tell me about it. Anything you wanna say.
Well, the general public’s view of the Canadian Prison System is so far from the truth. It’s pathetic. There’s more dope, there’s more everything. The guards are crooked, there’s manipulation that goes on, everything. It’s a very nasty place.
For you was there a specific memory you remember?
R: Oh yeah, a guy get raped from a cell across from me. Uh, guys get beat up just a bit from me. Uh, huh. Guys get stabbed in the food line.
Stabbed?! How do they get that?
They sharpen stuff and then a guy who owes money or whatever in prison they have an underground drug system. The whole prison itself is underground. Like all the illegal stuff. And the prison guards bring it in and they get profit on top of that. Does everybody think the prison system is to rehabilitate you? No! It’s to get you out of the public eye. That’s all it is. And then they wonder why we got problems in our society, I tell my girls: “Be careful who you talk to because you could be talking to a killer and not even know it.” They let them out every day. Child molesters, killers, our whole society is fucked. That’s why us older guys that’s why we want to bring the death penalty back. Right, because there are certain individuals in our society that are so sick that they just need to be shot.
I remember having a big debate about that. When I was younger, I would be like, “Well, there has got to be a way to do it without killing people and who are we to take away people’s lives…” but, it does get to a point you know as you mature that you start to think, if someone is such a risk to society, and honestly you’re spending a lot more funds on police funds, healthcare funds, security funds, prison funds, trying to keep them away. It sounds so mortifying that you’re okay with killing somebody but it could be that the means justify the ends. So, when you were in prison, what was one of the biggest lessons you learned? Other than how fucked up it is?
Let’s see. No matter what I say or do it’s not my position. Right? You’re just there to do your time- mind your own business. The guard tells you to shit on the floor, you shit on the floor. He tells you to clean it up, you clean it up. You don’t even question it. Or else you go into 30 days in darkness and when you’re fighting on a rage that’s more solitary time. You don’t want to go there, because it gets worse! The general population is bad enough as it is you go off into solitary confinement, it gets worse.
What was it like being in prison with people that committed worse crimes?
They’re normal people. As long as you don’t ask what they did. There’re always the morons in the group, the troublemaker. I was fortunate that I- well, I used to wear a vest at one time.
What does that mean? Like a bulletproof vest?
No like a motorcycle vest. I had a position of authority when I went in there so they left me alone they knew I was a big cocaine dealer on the outside.
And they let you keep wearing that when you were in prison?
No, no. But everybody knows. That’s another thing. They knew exactly what I was in for before I was even in my prison cell.
How do they know that? Word of mouth?
Well, you pay the guard and ask, “What’s that guy in for? Is he a child molester what is he in for? You go on that range that’s thirteen cells, everybody knows everybody and what they’re in for. But you don’t ask, it’s not brought up at the table but, you know that the guy sittin’ across from you killed his wife and two kids. So we never bring that up.
So in your cell, were you alone?
And how was that?
Lonely. (laughs). Lonely!
But was it better than having another person with you?
It gives you a lot of time to think about what you did and why you’re there. What you’re going to do when you get out and what are your dreams and aspirations. And that’s what keeps you going like it was my kids that kept me going. They know that their dad is a fuck-up, blah blah blah, but we still love ya. That’s all it took to keep me going, right?
So they would visit you?
No. Yeah, they disowned me for three years. Oh, they still disown me kind of but I don’t really care. If you’re not big enough to fucking get over it well- I don’t care.
So then when you got out- that was what year?
Oh, eight years ago now so 2011.
So what was it like? What did you feel? What did you feel when you stepped out?
I was mad. Mad. So mad. Eight years have gone by and I will never forgive this country for what they did to me.
Expand on that.
Well, I’m going to start an army and fucking overthrow Alberta. There you go. I’ll be the President. I’ll be the dictator of Alberta just like Hitler. Because the public has had it with all these high prices and rent… in a country like this, you know who’s - it’s the greedy mother-bleepers that run this province. Like oh, you got to go out and vote? Well, we’re voting for what! For what? We’re paying you $250,000 a year to lead us and you can’t even do it?
Since then, it’s been eight years. Anything new? Other than the grandkids?
Oh! I learned a lot about myself, as a man. I have a lot of good qualities as a man. I have been a great provider, I’ve owned houses, motorcycles, cars, boats. I can make money, but I can’t buy love. Love is earned. Respect, loyalty, all earned. And then for me to find a woman like that at my age is like fucking impossible!
To me, you find love through the experiences you set up to have and then I really like them being my friend first.
Well, that’s my priority first like for example, you and I let’s say, I’d try to get to know you as a woman first before I slept with ya. Hey? Because, me, well I hate to say this but I’m a real slut. Well, my problem is that the women I end up with are half my age most the time. My buddies are patting me on the back, “Oh good for you Rob! Hey! Hohoho!” But for me it’s like, you don’t understand what I’m thinking. There is a difference and now I’ve discovered that I need to find a woman that’s 35 and older, hey? Because she’s already set in her ways, set in that. Okay fine I can adjust to her but, these younger ladies holy… slow down!
Well the younger you are the more you’re trying to find your path, right? But it is still very taxing for you because you know yourself, you’ve been through some pretty unique experiences. So to be with someone who is still figuring it out it can be, you need a lot of patience for that. Maybe you don’t have that.
No, I don’t. I know exactly what I want in a woman and I have a hard time finding it.
Keeping your standards high is more important to me than letting myself fall for myself shorter than what I want because I want to actually be happy.
Keep my standards high, never get laid. Lower my standards, get laid all the time. You’d be surprised where you do find love, hey. It’s when you’re not looking. Like this one girl, she’s 38. I thought, “Okay, she smokes meth, fine. That’s her business.” But, I fancy on her and I invite her in my home and I introduce her to my friends but yet she did a couple of things, then I didn’t say nothing to her, but then she asks, “Well why don’t you want to be with me no more?”. It’s 'cause of who you are! And she couldn’t understand that.
That’s hard. I feel a lot of young people are afraid to say that: “Honestly, I think that you as a person and me as a person we just don’t fit!” Cause it seems like such a personal attack but, you gotta be real if you are going to let yourself be so vulnerable with another person.
That’s my problem, I’m too honest. After what I’ve been through, I don’t sugarcoat nothing. I tell you straight up if you do something I don’t like. I’ll tell you straight up. And if you don’t want to correct that then I’ll just walk away from you I don’t got the time. I’m about to be 60 in a couple of months but I still feel like I’m 25.
Bangin’! What is it? Bitchin’. (laughs)
Bitchin’ yeah. I can go down to Whyte Avenue, me and my boys, and nobody messes with us all timers because they know they’re going to get a man’s licking, not a boy’s hit. You fight with us, you’re going to get hurt.
Where do you like to go to on Whyte Ave?
We go to Commercial a lot for Blues Night. It’s beside Hudson’s. We go down to Whyte, all the university boys say, “What you doing messing with our women??” Oh, yeah! They’re jealous! And when we go out the women will group around us because I mean if I was a woman I would hang out with us. We got money, they’re laughing, they’re having fun. We’re not boring!
So when was the last time you went out?
Oh, last night I went over to my buddy’s place. We used to right together; he was position thirteen I was position twelve in our motorcycle club.
Can you tell me about this motorcycle club you were a part of?
Oh, well I shouldn’t. You go up the ladder. As you go up the ladder you go up ahead in the positions in the gang. As you get up to the front, there’s President, Vice President, Treasurer, Road King, they all ride upfront. Then us subordinates ride behind them.
Are you still in your motorcycle club?
You’re asking the wrong question!
It’s okay, you don’t need to answer that.
No, I won’t.
So then, what’s it like? Being part of a motorcycle club?
Oh, it’s the greatest feeling on Earth. To have 65 brothers like that? It’s like a pack of wolves right behind you all the time, it’s power. Those are the friends I was talking about. We all used to ride together at one time but it faded away. You can only have so much fun in your life before your body catches up to you then you realize, “Oh, I partied my life away!”
Is that the worst thing?
(Laughing) True! Look at that guy (points to another man who I was speaking to before).
Oh yes, that guy wouldn’t stop talking when I was talking to Tad.
He’ll sit on the corner and make $150 bumming change. Yeah well, he holds up a sign at an intersection, “I want to go back home to Ontario…” or something. You’re from Alberta, ya fucker! Everybody is so gullible, giving him money. He goes after and buys a beer. Like, jeez.
That’s funny from the perspective of the people who know him, you’re all probably thinking like, “You’re not even from Ontario! What are you saying?” However, it just makes it that much harder for the people who actually need that help. That’s a big reason why we collect and share these stories- to share the diversity of people in this community. Or to share a conversation with someone who went to federal prison. Thank you so much for opening up to me about that experience.
No problem, thank you for sitting down and talking with me. It also doesn’t ruin my image to sit and talk to a beautiful woman, now is it? I have alternative motives here, it makes me look good. So when the other girls come around, the boys don’t bother me so much.
That’s interesting to think about… We’re pretty good talkers too.
Oh yeah, like I’m Scottish. We’ll stick up for injustice, it’s bred into me.
For the motorcycle club, are there a lot of people in there that are also the same background.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I hate to say it but we’re kind of White Supremacist. Not in a racist way, but more like we, as a group, try to stick to the White theme, right?
So, why is that?
Well, it’s because it’s the only ones we can honor. The rest that - from what we’ve gathered… uh, I mean I’ve got nothing against immigrants. My father was an immigrant. Some of the immigrants coming into our country are just making our country look real bad. It’s hard to accept it. When stuff happens in the community that motorcycle gang-related- a guy gets killed because he didn’t pay his debts, he’s a Somalian let’s say- to us, just another foreigner fuckin’ up in our country. Which is very hard and it’s very cruel. But for us that’s the reality of the world, that’s the reality of Alberta. That’s the reality of this block. Racism and bigotry run rampant down here.
So why do you think it’s so strong?
Once a dog has been kicked or whipped a bunch of times it gets numb to it and then you become hardened to it and then you become part of it.
So you’re saying it’s social.
It’s a social thing. Mind you though, all these people down here we’re all low-income earners so we know our path is set for us. Like for me, I can get out of here. But for many others, this is it. This is the end. This is where you’re gunna end up. And after 45 years of working? And you have a hard time getting a cup of coffee at a senior’s house? What did I work for? What did I put all that effort into? Life, family, kids? To have it all thrown out. And then this year, we already know who is going to win the election. We all know. It’s going to be the UCP cause you know why? The money and the power is going to flex today again. We know this just like since 1982. You watch- it’ll be UCP in power by the end of the day. The younger generation with the money, they want to make more money. Because wants you start making money your greed kicks in. Then you got the bigger house, the bigger truck, the bigger this, the wife, the kids. But in reality, you don’t any of that. That’s what the federal prison taught me. I don’t need any of it. I don’t need your government, I don’t need your public anything. You people aren’t worth my time. Federal prison straightened me out real quick about what is what.
How do you feel those lessons affect your day-to-day?
I walk around cautious. Don’t trust the cops, I hate the government. Fellow man, I don’t respect.
Do you feel like if you lived somewhere else you might be different?
No, it’s all across Canada now. We, Canada, like the rest of the world, come to Canada. Now we have the rest of the world’s problems in Canada. Sure I agree, yeah, we need immigrants. Do you know that when you hit retirement age, your Canadian Pension Plan will be non-existent?
You think so? Related to that I recently learned that the Canadian population has more people that are old than people that are young. So we need to find people who can pay taxes to support this older population.
That’s why we bring immigrants in because we build our population base up so the older generation like us gets taken care of. But, girls like your age and my daughter’s age- I feel sorry for them. Because that isn’t going to be there.
Politics. Politics. That money has to go somewhere else… but still, they’ll spend millions on a hockey fucking arena. Are you kidding me, eh? Right across from the inner-city. And then oh, we need to build a tall skyscraper. What the fuck’s with that, Alberta? You tell me you care about the elderly, the homeless, this, that. Does the government care? You’re nothing but a bunch of liars. Blowing sunshine up your ass. But they’re good at it, that’s why they’re politicians. But the problem is us, our generation, we see right through that. This is why half of the older generation won’t vote today- because of that very fact.
If it seems hopeless to do so…
You’re not going to listen to us anyway when we tell you what we think. You’ll come up with an excuse.
I hear you. So then, what’s your day-to-day like right now? Do you come to OFSS often?
Oh, all the time, all the time. The folks around here are good, you know? We’re all on the same kind of boat, really. We’ve seen a lot in our lives and we know to mind each others’ space and manners. That was taught to us when we were kids. The generation behind us has no clue what that’s about. You see people nodding their heads? I’m not the only one. But then, there are people like you that keep our optimism high! Like my daughters, they’re very well mannered and very polite. Very respectful to elders.
You have to respect others. Just like right now: you sharing with me- I felt you were uncomfortable sharing how you and your biker gang feel you identify as White Supremacist and I feel many others would immediately become offended or triggered. But, I’ve learned that it’s important to explore views rather than define a person by the label they’ve offered.
I worked two years for a Shia stonemason on the Southside. I worked with Dave Jahal at Wildrose Masonry for two years. I went down and actually integrated myself with the Muslim community to understand what all this fighting is about. Why is everybody fighting? And then you realize, “Oh! Jeez! He takes care of grandma, he paints houses, kids go to school… they do nothing different from what we do! What is this battle about!” But, once again, we’re back to politics and money and religion. I never used to look at a Muslim woman as a potential partner but now, in the new generation, I’m opening up to the Muslim nation. These women are loyal, good looking, knows how to treat a man, and that’s taught as young ladies in the Muslim nation.
If you look at people with their labels, you won’t get too far. But if you look at people’s values, there is more that is revealed and more that can open up. You told me that from prison you learned to be cautious, to not trust people around you. But, you will have to trust people eventually. Right now, you’re trusting me in this conversation. The best way to relate to someone is to let someone feel respected when they interact with you. You see the eye-contact happening here? I feel valued. Then, I feel like “boom” I can connect with you.
I know an interesting moment when I meet one. I don’t speak to many people who can’t keep up their end of the conversation. You know, I used to be one of those guys who used to drive by and yell, “Why don’t you go get a job, you bum!” But now I’m one of those guys and I realize that oh, I was totally wrong in assuming that these people are lazy. That’s the problem with our society, we assume too much.
My mom, she’s a funny lady. She loves quotes and the other day she shared a quote with me that said, “It’s too hard for most people to think, so they assume.”
I get lots of that. A lot of people assume I’m still in the motorcycle club but I’ve been retired for 25 years. So last night I was looking at my vest with my buddy. We were drinking beer, laughing about the old days. We were looking through old photo albums from 79’. We rode together lots and I would be like, “Oh I remember that wife of yours!!” We were laughing. Then you look at a picture of yourself from 25 years ago and you think oh my god, I was really good looking! (laughs).
I have one more question to ask. What’s your experience with OFSS?
Oh, here? I like the place. It’s like any family- you become part of the family and you have your ups and down. But people are very well-mannered here. I’d rather come here than anywhere else- I don’t eat at the Hope. I barely go to the Bissell. I never go to Boyle Street.
I have to get away from the drugs and alcohol and there is where they all have it. Then the government says we have to go there to eat well- I have nothing against Christians but when three of your Black folks are ganging up on one Native and I come up to tell you to get off him and you don’t so I punch you in the face then you call the cops- go ahead.
So it seems like a sink for conflict. A lot of people we spoke to here at OFSS say it’s much calmer so it’s nice to catch a break and to let down your guard a bit.
Oh, yeah. Definitely. I went to three NDP bar meetings, you know that? I was advocating for the homeless because I’ve been in both worlds: the rich world and the poor world.
But you’re not homeless right now? From what I gather? You said you could step out of this if you wanted to?
So why don’t you? What keeps you here?
It’s the government and the walls they put up. I was making $120,000 a year working in Suncor then they took $47,000 out my bank out, made me sell my truck, took my driver’s license away all in about 48 hours.
Retroactive Child Support Order. Power of Canadian government. They come into your bank account. You go look in my bank account, right now I got $20 in it but I got $1000 in a tobacco can over at my buddy’s place. I don’t trust the bank, I don’t trust the government, and I don’t trust the politicians.
That’s a reason I haven’t heard yet but, that makes sense. Do you come here every day?
Pretty much, yeah. You discover in your old age that unless you have a driver’s license, truck, tickets- you’re not working. And it’s hard to get work right now in Alberta because of the pipeline bullshit. I don’t feel sorry for Alberta because I watched them milk Alberta for all its money for years. I worked in the oil patch, right? And the big players with the money- they just milk milk more and more the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Do you trust him? Jason Kenny? I don’t! I don’t even know the man and I can tell!
Did you know that there are four RCMP investigations going on about the UCP party candidates?
I believe that. I believe that. Any smart man knows to put the woman in control.