When he retired in 2014, local Neil D. Maclean had no idea he was going to write a book about his 25 years working in corrections. In fact, he only started writing his story down as a form of therapy, something his therapist had recommended to help him with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But Maclean’s homework assignment quickly became something more. As he looked back on his nearly 20 years at Kent Institution and time at Mountain, Mission and Matsqui, he realized he had enough content for an entire novel.
“After hostage taking, being stabbed with a hypodermic needle and all the riots I’ve been through, these little stories turn into bigger stories, into a manuscript and then into a book,” he says.
Serving Life 25: One Guard’s Story was published in November, after two years of writing and only three years after Maclean retired.
The book is a raw, firsthand account of the trials and tribulations Maclean faced in his career and contains story after story about the murders, riots, suicides and assaults that dot his 25 years within prison walls.
“Killers, drug dealers and sex offenders were my typical day at the office,” he writes. “Can you imagine a place where the entire population of those in residence were the worst ilk society could conjure up? To understand our prison system is to know we are the police of a small city.”
When Maclean began framing his story, he realized it wouldn’t be only his.
“I wanted to bring out the stories of the people that work in corrections,” he says. “I found that really the most exciting part, just going out and talking to people.”
Maclean interviewed 104 people for the book, somehow managing to fit about 99 stories within its 263 pages. He says many corrections officers suffer from PTSD, but don’t get the same recognition as first responders and ex-military.
“Sometimes I think we’re a dirty little secret,” he says. “People don’t want to know about us because we look after some pretty bad people in the community. It’s not a glamorous job and it’s not always looked upon in a positive light.”
Maclean’s mini-stories are surreal and action-packed, like the time he used his radio as a weapon to stop a violent inmate from killing another officer or the chaos of the 1990 helicopter escape at Kent Institution. Many are tragic first-hand accounts of violence and murder.
“A lot of people don’t realize just around the corner there, down Cemetery Road, is quite a lot of hell. We’ve seen a lot of people killed there… it’s very troubling.”
Over time, Maclean’s career led him to lose faith in the concept of rehabilitation.
“There’s a lot of violence in prison, a lot of really angry, broken people. And we can’t fix that,” he says.
In the book, he writes, “Prison was not a place to get better, rather a trial of survival at best. I found the corrections model, with few exceptions, neither protected the public, nor did it rehabilitate inmates. As with most, inmates upon completion of their sentence had become hardened, and wiser to prison life and criminal ways.”
While Commissioner Don Head is quoted in a chapter, Maclean says the book wasn’t approved by Correctional Service Canada. But he thinks its gritty, honest approach has helped it become successful, both with the public and people working in corrections.
“I think this book has gone over well because I do talk about the truth. It’s not a whitewashed, politically correct book.”
Serving Life 25: One Guard’s Story is available on Amazon, Kobo and Kindle.