Jailed for murder he didn't commit
Jul. 8, 2004
VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR Anthony Wong makes up lost time with his 3-year-old son Jahbless, teaching him to ride a bike this week. Wong has spent the past three years in confinement.
Anthony Wong just taught his son how to ride a bike. The boy is 3 years old, proud and cautious on his training wheels.
Anthony is proud and cautious, too. He very nearly missed the chance to teach his son because he just got out of jail. He was sent up three years ago on a charge of murder — one of those stupid, senseless, useless east-end shootings. Anthony always said he wasn't there.
But a woman at the scene said he was. She was sure of what she saw. Anthony went to jail on her say-so. The woman changed her tune a few weeks ago at trial.
The judge set him free on the spot.
Anthony is 23 years old, slim and handsome, with big bright eyes and solicitous manners. He was sitting on the sofa in his sister's apartment in Brampton on a recent sunny afternoon. His son played with a toy car on the carpet.
Anthony wore a crisp blue shirt, a blue tie with a clip, slim black strides and spotless sneakers; the clothes brand new, bought soon after the judge let him go.
A simple question: how does it feel to rot in jail for three years for a crime you did not commit?
"I was just starting college when it happened. My son was just born. My great-grandmother had just died. My family is very important to me. So is education. I want to do something good in life. The whole thing was a mistake.
"The person they charged me for, I never saw him before in my life. The first time I ever saw him was in a photograph at trial. He was dead in the photograph. I was sorry for him, but I didn't do it. It was so crazy."
Now and then, as he talked, Anthony would stand and pace the floor and then he would sit back down again, as if still a bit unsure of the size of the world outside a cell.
"When I got charged, I was shivering. I never had that feeling before. It wasn't pretty. Tears started coming later when I went to my cell. I did time in two places — the Don jail and the East Detention Centre. The East Detention Centre was the worst.
"The first day I got there a guard said to me, `You start your life sentence now.' He punched me in the face. There was no reason. They beat me up a lot in jail. My body is still aching. I got scars on my wrists from where they handcuffed me so tight it bled. Here, you can see the scars." He thrust out his hands and I saw scars.
He talked about life inside.
"There was three people to a cell. One person had to sleep on the floor. There was stuff carved into the walls, names and dates when a person went in and so on. I didn't carve nothing." Why not? "They say if you carve your name, you might come back and see it."
How did he get along?
"You need someone to talk to or you go crazy. You try to make friends. You follow jail rules." Jail rules? "Respect people. Don't walk in front of the TV. No loud noises. Ask if you want to use the phone. Do your own time. Take a shower or you get beat up. Don't look in other cells or you get beat up.
`When I got charged, I was shivering. I never had that feeling before.'
"You wear an orange jumpsuit. They give you blue and white sneakers with no laces. Once, they took my T-shirt away from me. I asked for it back. They cuffed me and threw me in the hole just for asking. They swore at me, they beat me, they pulled my hair and kicked my face. I had to see the nurse. I got beat up a lot. I read my Bible morning, noon and night. If it wasn't for my Bible, I'd never have made it through."
Did he have a job in prison?
"I was a server on my range. I'd get up in the morning and serve breakfast. On my range there was 10 cells, three men to a cell, so that's 30 for breakfast.
"After breakfast you went back to your cell for an hour. Then it's lock-up for cleanup. You mop the range and clean the showers. They give you a squeegee. It don't smell good in jail, like wet cement. I cleaned my cell with shampoo and conditioner to make it smell fresh. I'd take deodorant and polish the floor. Otherwise it stinks, there's flies and so on.
"There's no privacy. When you pee, the others see you. Sometimes you put up a sh--sheet so no one can watch when you go; that's like a screen. The guards don't like it when you do that.
"After cell inspection you go into the yard. Some guys work out. The way you work out, you open two doors together; two guys hold the doors steady so you can do pull-ups, or you hold the door handles and do dips.
"After lunch you watch TV or go on the phones or play cards. Then you can take a shower. After a couple of hours it's dinner and then you get locked in your cell.
"The guards, they like to play games. They might put you on the tough-guy range and they bet on how long it would take before you got into a fight."
He said, "Most guys get fat in jail. Not me. I starved. Some days I only drank water and ate stale bread." He wasn't on a hunger strike. He was convinced the guards were spitting in his food.
An official from the union representing prison guards said they would be happy to see any allegations of mistreatment investigated fully. Dan Stevens, deputy superintendent in charge of services at Metro East, said, "Anything of that nature is certainly not condoned."
Jim Cowan, director of communications for the Ministry of Corrections said, "In general we can't comment on individual cases. Even if there are records, we could not release them. But if a person is not satisfied with their treatment, he can always appeal to the Ombudsman. We always co-operate fully. We take these matters seriously." Guards do get fired for harassing prisoners.
Anthony said, "It was hard to sleep at night. You get people who snore a lot. You get people bugging, making noise — schizophrenics saying they see their mom, or dead people. You hear keys and beeps as guards make the rounds. Some nights I'd wake up all of a sudden and wonder where am I and what am I doing here."
He's out now. What's he doing?
Joe Fiorito usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail: email@example.com
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