Paddy Mitchell is Canada’s most famous and best-loved bank robber. He was the leader of the Stopwatch Gang, (in)famous for a string of well-planned and precisely executed bank robberies across Canada and the US in the 70s and 80s. They timed their robberies to maximize the take – while other bank robbers would net a few thousand dollars per robbery, Paddy and his gang were consistently pulling off heists in the hundreds of thousands. They never hurt anybody in any of their robberies. Equally impressive was their phenomenal ability to escape from prisons. Interestingly, everybody liked Paddy Mitchell – the police, the media, the public, everybody.
I’ve had a long-standing interest in Paddy Mitchell. I read all the books, including his own (This Bank Robber’s Life, written from Leavenworth Prison several years ago). I spent many hours in libraries, going through the microfiche files of the newspaper coverage. In university I wrote a paper about the atypical media coverage of Paddy Mitchell, and interviewed a couple of reporters who had covered him extensively. Last year I finally sent him a copy of that paper, and I’ve been corresponding with him in prison.
About a year ago, Paddy found a lump “coming through” his chest. He attempted to get medical attention in prison, but was told it was probably nothing. “I’m still waiting to go for surgery for that egg-size lump on my chest. I’m beginning to get a little perturbed. I’ve had this thing for about ten months and all I’ve got the medical staff to do is send me for a CAT Scan. No one seems to know where the results of that scan are. I think they’ve forgotten about me in the shuffle. And this “thing” keeps growing,” wrote Paddy in March 2006.
Finally, in April, Paddy had a chance encounter with a doctor who was visiting the prison on another matter. He pulled the doctor aside, yanked up his shirt, and showed him the lump. The doctor said it was probably a cancerous tumor and ordered tests immediately. It was lung cancer, and it had spread to his brain. Treatment has now begun, starting with brain surgery.
Paddy’s positive and optimistic about beating cancer. Good for him. But I’m MAD. It seems to me that if we lock someone up, we’re effectively denying them the right to meet their own basic needs – and so we must assume responsibility for meeting those basic needs. There is something gravely wrong with a system that does less than that.
So many people make such a big stinking deal out of the fact that inmates get so many ‘privileges’ like television. What about access to life-saving medical attention to a tumor growing out of your chest? Shouldn’t that be a right?