Karla’s favorite place of all the places she had been was Joliette. Not only was it a structured and a disciplined environment where all the inmates were required to work and attend programs, everyone was responsible for the upkeep of their property and for cooking and feeding themselves. The groceries were bought with pooled wages.
Each woman earned $6.90 a day, a minuscule sum given that a bag a potato chips at the prison store or canteen was $3.50. The store in Joliette was well stocked and run by the inmates. However, groceries were as expensive, perhaps in some cases even more expensive, than groceries in those twenty four hour mini-marts on the outside. Meager wages and healthy prices meant there was no way to opt out of the cooperative thing. The only way to get sufficient food was for each woman to contribute her share to the house fund and buy enough groceries to feed everyone. Some of the women could not cook, others would not cook. Practicing a primitive form of democracy, the house members quickly had to select cooks and cleaners and divide functions in some semi-equitable way. This was not easy. It was actually very difficult. And just when you seemed to get things working they way they should, one of the women would be paroled, and another, new, disoriented or disgruntled con would take her place and everything would become tenuous again.
Celebrating someone’s birthday in Joliette in 1998 – Karla did not think it was hers – she and Christina and Tracy got dressed up in their best dresses. Karla wore a little, black cocktail sheath. They all put on lots of makeup. It was no big deal but they made a birthday cake and had a lot of fun.
The prison recreation committee made a camera available so inmates could take pictures and send them to their family and friends. Two years later, Karla’s picture showed up on the front page of the September 22, 2000, edition of the Montreal Gazette.
A firestorm of publicity ensued. Everything, from her styled blond hair, to the dark eye makeup, painted lips and sleeveless dress, incensed the public. What did they think? That they wore sackcloth and shuffled around in leg chains. All the women in prison wore their own clothes. As far as she knew, it had ever been thus. “It makes me laugh,” Karla wrote in the aftermath, “how little the public knows about what really goes on in prison.”
Newspapers across the country picked up the pictures and extrapolated the story with verbose editorials by indignant columnists. People wrote letters to the editors. They telephoned, faxed and e-mailed their Members of Parliament, the Solicitor General and the Commissioner of Corrections. Members from the right-wing Alliance Party howled.
Even though birthday parties and other gatherings are common in prison, prison officials expressed regret and a sense of helplessness. This was somewhat pawky too, given it was the prison that supplied the camera with which the pictures were taken in the first place.
Karla instantly scanned a mental lineup of possible betrayers. It was not Tracy Gonzales. She was still in Joliette. Linda Veronneau would not do it. At that time Linda was in love with Karla and Karla would have been the last person Linda would betray. Neither would Stivia Clermont. It was not her style.
Christina Sherry had been paroled but it wasn’t her either. Christina would not have wanted those pictures published anymore than Karla did. As it was, Christina was on the outside when the pictures appeared and she lost her hard-won waitressing job because of them.
The paper said that they bought the pictures from an ex-con for $500. It could have been Mary Smith, it was the kind of thing she would do. Like Karla she was doing time for manslaughter but she was incredibly bossy and belligerent and everyone was really happy when she had been paroled.
But Karla was skeptical. One would think that even an idiot like Mary Smith would have known that she could have easily sold the pictures to one of the Toronto newspapers for thousands of dollars just as one of Karla’s own uncles had done with her wedding photographs years earlier. And given the timing, and how bad it was for her, Karla would not put it past the prison to have been the source. For them, the timing was perfect. The pictures portrayed Karla as a vamping slut, living la vida loca in what the media dubbed “Club Fed” and the “Hen Pen.”
Tracy Gonzales and Christina Sherry had been involved with a notorious Montreal pimp named James Medley and had been convicted on sexual assault charges to do with some kind of bizarre, violent tryst of his design. They were very different women than Karla - both much younger, drug-addled street kids who had run away from abusive homes. Their stories and their crimes were dramatically different. The one common element, perhaps, was the fact that all three women had somehow fallen under the spell of a sadistic sexual predator. But the press made it sound as though Joliette were a sandbox in which women who committed heinous sex crimes spent their time cavorting in townhouses with color televisions. In retrospect, Karla realized that the party pictures and the attendant furor raised the specter of Karla the Sex-Crazed Killer again and made it much easier for the prison to do what it had fully intended to do anyway.
Karla’s family had long-standing plans to visit her in Joliette that Thanksgiving weekend. They had not seen each other since the previous year and the visit was much anticipated. Sixteen days after the pictures appeared in the Gazette, on the Friday night that began the long weekend, at 11 p.m., Karla found herself the only passenger on a seven-seat Pilatus 7, flying into the oblivion of the prairie night with her legs shackled to the seat, two, silent, armed guards on either side and a soggy egg-salad sandwich in her lap.
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