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Roger Caron

As a boy, Roger Caron watched his French-Canadian father pay local police officers $25.00 a week to keep the family bootlegging business alive in order to “put food on the table”. It didn’t take long for Roger to adopt his father’s misguided morals. By the time he was 17 years old; Roger had a string of armed robbery convictions and had twice escaped from provincial correctional institutions. That’s when the courts decided the boy would grow into a man in the most volatile environment imaginable – Canada’s oldest federal institution, Kingston Penitentiary.

Roger was educated by the best criminal minds in Canada during an era where beatings, solitary confinement and medical experimentation were the accepted means of prison reform. For almost half a century, Roger was a man in search of his own identity. The media dubbed him “Mad Dog Caron” for his bank robbing exploits and correctional officers called him a ‘habitual headache’ after escaping an unprecedented thirteen times from prison.

Roger’s life took a dramatic turn during an unlikely series of events. During a stint in solitary confinement in the notorious Kingston Penitentiary, Roger spelled out a nasty word for his disgruntled guards with some Christmas jellybeans given to him by the Salvation Army. By the time the “goon squad” had beaten the rebel inmate to a pulp, Roger realized the power of his words. If one word spelled in jellybeans could garner such a reaction, imagine what a series of words could do? Roger taught himself to write under the most barbaric prison conditions ever documented.

At first he wrote as a means of self-discovery and distraction from his daily horrors of life in prison. Then by the spring of 1971, Roger’s work had grown to 2000 pages of handwritten scribbles. It was at this time he witnessed the biggest riot in Canadian history. By the end of the horrific four-day event at Kingston Penitentiary, Roger’s life work was tossed into the garbage with the rest of the riot debris. Then by sheer luck, a prison teacher looking for school supplies found the manuscript at the dump. The day Roger’s words returned to him was the day he knew they had a bigger purpose than his own self-discovery. Fifteen years after he wrote his first word with jellybeans, “Go-Boy!” was published. The book quickly become an international best seller and went on to win Canada’s highest literary prize, the Governor General’s Award.

“Go-Boy!” exposed one of the darkest periods in corrections history by a man who had a front row seat through the whole experience. Upon his release, Roger traveled across the country and told his stories to packed conference rooms, school auditoriums and intrigued police precincts. The book even became required reading in criminology university courses as Roger enjoyed a life in the limelight on talk shows, game shows and a national speaker’s series. Roger had successfully traded the lead in his bullets for lead in his pencils, as he continued to charge forward with a new career as a writer. He went on to write three more books, including the award winning “Bingo!” about the 1971 riot at Kingston Penitentiary. It was at the height of his new fame that Roger was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In time, Roger was forced to stop travelling to give speeches and eventually the debilitating condition took away his ability to write. For the first time in his life, Roger Caron found the one thing he could not escape from –himself.

Today, Roger Caron is 72 years old. Although the memories of his past still haunt him, his story of redemption is as relevant now as it was 30 years ago. Despite living with Parkinson’s, Roger may have slowed down but he is as sharp as ever. His carefully chosen words are still poignant and often profoundly funny. Roger takes solace in the fact that his words, both written and spoken, will live on.