“Tell the story the way it is. Don’t make me a hero. Tell what I did and what was done to me. Then let the audience make its own decision.” – Roger “Mad Dog” Caron.
CORNWALL – Rob Lindsay of Paradox Pictures, four times a Canadian Screen Award nominated writer, director and producer, and a film maker for more than 20 years, is screening his new documentary Go-Boy! at the Aultsville Filmfest on Friday, January 24th. This presentation, scheduled to begin the 2020 Festival, is a home-coming of a sort.
The subject of Lindsay’s film, Roger Caron, was born in Cornwall in 1938 and raised there. Roger Caron, was, and unquestionably remains, even in his hometown, a controversial figure.
Caron officially got into trouble with the law around the age of 12: however, he was already a kid who had clashed with authority.
As a boy, he ran with some other tough kids, got into petty thievery, then graduated to more serious crimes including breaking and entering and bank robbery. In all, he would spend some 23 years of his life in mental institutions, reformatories and prisons.
But Roger Caron had a unique talent that ultimately made him stand out in both the straight and the criminal worlds.
He was an extraordinary escape artist.
Caron successfully broke out of 13 prisons, often right under the noses of authorities, setting a record unmatched in Canadian criminal history. In some of these escapes, he was cheered on by other inmates with the shout “Go Boy!”
In 1978, ex-con Roger Caron did something else extraordinary.
He won the prestigious Governor General’s Award for non-fiction for his vivid, no-holds-barred book describing the Canadian criminal system and the treatment of inmates. Go-Boy! Memories of a Life Behind Bars was a best seller across Canada.
Rob Lindsay has always had a fascination for documentaries. “I like stories and I like listening to people and learning what they are passionate about. I find that I’m attracted to that passion, when I talk to them,” he explained to The Leader during an interview.
Lindsay grew up in Kingston; he could see Collins Bay Penitentiary from his home. When he was 15, he read Go-Boy! and found himself visualizing Caron’s story. In his mind he even mapped out escape routes. When he met Caron years later and told him about “those escape routes, Roger told me ‘You’re about 30 years too late,’” Lindsay laughed.
Go-Boy!, however, had painted a picture in Lindsay’s mind, “not a pretty picture necessarily, but a fascinating picture. The book actually read like a movie.”
What finally convinced him to make Roger Caron the subject of a documentary film was the “compelling story of an uneducated man, locked away for long stretches in solitary confinement, who taught himself to read and write in a prison cell. He was a natural story teller.
Roger readily admitted to his crimes, and never claimed that he was not guilty. But what he felt was that he had been hard done by. His version of ‘hard done by’ focussed on whether the punishments he and other inmates received fit the crimes they had committed.”
During those 23 years Caron was in prisons, including the notorious Kingston Penitentiary, virtually the only form of “rehabilitation” regularly carried out was solitary confinement.
Prison floggings were common, almost routine. Caron carried scars on his buttocks and lower back from one whipping for the rest of his life.
Inmates were subjected to medical experiments and to shock treatments. There was almost no understanding, and consequently little treatment, of learning or psychological problems. (Caron suffered from ADHD a condition which, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, had exposed him to constant punishment starting in his first days in Catholic schools. Truthfully, his earliest ‘escapes’, Lindsay points out, were from classrooms and teachers.)
In 1971, simmering rage at conditions in the Kingston Penitentiary erupted into a violent riot which has gone down as one of the worst in Canadian history. Caron was there, witnessed the events, and wrote of them.
In the documentary, Lindsay grounds his story by exploring a lot of different points of view. Among them, Roger’s sister, Sue, who still lives in Cornwall, and some of the guards who knew Caron. “Guards called him a good inmate,” Lindsay said. “They didn’t glorify him, but they seemed impressed that he taught himself to read and write in jail.”
He also drew from Caron’s own archived interviews and speeches. After the book Go-Boy! came out, somewhat ironically, Caron was hired by the government to tour Canada, telling audiences about what he had faced in the prison system. “He may have opened a lot of eyes to the realities of that system,” Lindsay said.
Rob Lindsay is adamant, however, that his documentary film is not some blanket indictment of Canada’s penal and mental health systems.
“I try as much as possible to keep this film in Roger’s own words,” he explained. “I don’t blame the system. It was what it was, in that time and in that era.” That is the system Roger Caron described in his book “and we do not go into indictments. This is strictly one man’s journey through the system of that particular era.”
But the director did have one particular theme in mind.
“I think I really want the audience to get the message from this film about the incredible power of words, of the arts, if you will,” Lindsay explained. “No matter the horrors Roger Caron went through, he found a different kind of escape in his writing. He didn’t set out to write a book: alone, essentially uneducated, locked up in solitary, putting down words became his form of inner therapy. Through his stories people were hearing him and paying attention in a way that the bank robberies and prison time had never guaranteed him. I think that Roger Caron’s ultimate escape was through words.”
Paradox Pictures secured the rights to Roger Caron’s Go-Boy! in 2004, so film maker Rob Lindsay had the opportunity to talk directly to the author. Lindsay is excited to be screening his film at the 2020 Aultsville Filmfest. He will also take part in a question and answer period immediately following the movie.
Director and writer Rob Lindsay had one more anecdote to share about Roger Caron.
In his later years Caron suffered from both dementia and Parkinson’s disease (he died in 2012 at age 73).
“Roger was in a wheelchair by then, but we took him back to the Cornwall Jail as part of our filming.” Lindsay said. “We wheeled him right into that prison court yard.”
He looked around, and then the old Roger of Go-Boy! seemed to reappear. “This place,” he said quietly, “would be so easy to escape from.”