Well-known pro-life activist Linda Gibbons has spent a large portion of the last seven years in prison for numerous challenges of court-imposed bubble-zone injunctions around certain Toronto abortuaries. The injunctions prohibit pro-life activity of any sort within specified areas around the abortuaries.
Gibbons was in southern Ontario recently for a visit away from her current residence in small town Alberta, where she is helping her aging parents adjust to a move from B.C. The Interim caught up with her for an interview, and asked her about her current situation, recollections about the past and plans for the future.
The Interim: Are your plans for the immediate future to stay out West?
Linda Gibbons: I will stay with mom and dad as long as they need me.
The Interim: In terms of pro-life activity, do you have any plans?
Linda Gibbons: Well, the town is small, so you just speak to your local church and whatever. The closest place to do any picketing is Edmonton, which is about a one-and-a-half-hour drive. But my dad really needs me. Because he is pretty well housebound, the only time I really leave the house is if I go to church on Sunday, or go over to the church to clean it for a few hours during the week …
I volunteer to be church cleaner, filling in when others don’t sign up. Other than that, I don’t go anywhere. There are things I could be involved with, but I really feel I should be at home … I don’t want my dad left at the house by himself.
The Interim: So you have no plans to be in Toronto?
Linda Gibbons: Well, I intend to come back to Toronto eventually and continue my pro-life work, but I guess you can say I’m on sabbatical right now.
The Interim: Perhaps I can ask you about your last time in prison. Were you able to minister to or counsel the inmates when you were there?
Linda Gibbons: We had three women we counselled that (resulted in) saved babies during that time. It was a very successful time.
The Interim: Can you tell me about prison life and what it’s like? Are there any specific hardships you have to deal with?
Linda Gibbons: It’s very noisy. A lot of the women are troubled by drugs, prostitution and violence. Drugs make them very desperate. Their criminal records escalate as they get deeper into the drug life. Some of them overdose, get sick and die. There aren’t fun drug trips.
Many are repeat offenders. At least 50 per cent are girls you’ve seen before, so it’s like a revolving door. But that gives you a good chance to minister because you become known by these women. They become familiar. You know their background. Someone doing an hour of visiting can’t get that in-depth with them.
Your life is an open book to them. They see you 24-7. It really puts your Christianity to the test … To keep a positive testimony in there is not something that comes naturally. You somehow have to say that as a Christian in jail, it’s not “dead time.” You are there to minister.
The Interim: I assume the inmates and guards know what you’re in for. Do you find that they respect what you’re doing?
Linda Gibbons: When you’re an inmate, you’re a persona non grata. You’re a second-class citizen. The way (the guards) treat some becomes a generic way of treating everybody. The odd one might be more thoughtful. Some are institutional robots. But if you’ve got one that’s deeper than that, he may try to discuss it with you and treat you a bit differently.
But generally, whether someone is in for a traffic ticket or for murder, they’re all treated the same way – you’re kept at a distance … They go into a perfunctory, functionary role, like a Russian robot. There are some who are very precious, but they’re few and far between … There’s a certain callousness that a jail naturally breeds. A guard who can break through that is exceptional, and there are exceptional guards.
The Interim: Are the inmates open to what you have to say?
Linda Gibbons: Most of them are not open to religion. You couldn’t have a religious radio station on. But I’ve seen that if I do a little something at Christmas, like decorate the tables and bring some sheets, they can sort of get moved by the moment. But on a regular basis, the majority of them cannot deal with religion. Yet, they can deal with someone who will sit and listen to their story.
The biggest risk is that when you’re dealing with someone who is hostile, like a little porcupine, that you withdraw from them. That’s exactly what they don’t need. When they put out their bristles, you have to make a conscious effort not to withdraw from them. They pretend not to care … If a girl is crying over her problems, the average jail person would say, “You’ve got your problems, I’ve got mine. I’m not sopping all over the table. Don’t tell me your problems. I can’t take it.”
On an average day, I might have two girls sitting in front of me with tears running down their faces, telling me what they’re going through. Sometimes, they don’t want to be told anything, but the fact that someone is actually making eye contact with them, sitting and listening …
Their minds are so messed up from drugs and whatever that it makes them very hard, very calloused.
The Interim: Looking back