Getting from a Pod to a Penitentiary…and back again…

I floated yesterday.

I went to one of those pod places—sensory deprivation float tanks–and gave it a shot.

There was a Groupon so I thought I’d take a chance and see what it was all about.

Now, I’ve never been suspended in warm, heavily salted water, soft spa music piping through, completely naked and in total darkness in my life—not even sure I really wanted to try it.

But for the price, it was worth trying out.

The only other time I can recall actually being suspended in water was at the start of what I often refer to as one of the strangest days of my life.


From last year’s journal:


I was working for the State Department in western Canada, when some years ago, I found myself in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on business.  

On this particular trip, my travelling colleagues–the political reporter, the Consul General and the Ambassador–went off on a side trip and left me in town.  I had other things to do.

I started the day with breakfast with the city’s mayor.  A sweet old guy who used to play pretty good junior hockey, he was always good company and we never had to be “official” around each other—we just had a good time.

After that, I got on the road and headed to a small town in the countryside about an hour east of Saskatoon, famous for its mineral springs, where there are so many elements in the water you couldn’t sink yourself if you tried. Slightly off season, the town was quiet.  Aside from the mineral springs I was about to visit, the town is known for its dance hall, complete with a floor padded with horse hair. Yep, really. Apparently the horse hair gives the floor a nice bounce; it was closed so I can’t attest to this fact.  

Check out this You Tube link for more info on the town. (look, they even have a drive in!!)

It’s always fun to hit a rural town…and in a province where they have places called Eyebrow and Elbow and Climax, how can you go wrong?

So after a quick cruise around town (that’s all it took), I just floated around for an hour or so in the spa.  After my float, I drove a little further along, about an hour further east, until I got to my next assignment: a visit to the pen.

The hoosegow.  The jail.

It’s actually the largest maximum security institution in the area.

And I went to visit a murderer.

Perhaps I should explain.

Every citizen has the right to consular representation, or at the very least, a visit from a consular officer once a year.  While I didn’t exactly fit that category, I think they figured I would do.

I don’t remember his name, nor do I care to; I’m sure I could look it up.  

He was in jail because he killed two people.  He’d been in for a while.

They called him into the interview room which was not like what you see on TV—there was no grimy Plexiglas between us, no telephone for a conversation that was most likely being surreptitiously recorded…just a round table in a small room with a couple of chairs, the guard station directly across the hall.

He was a slight, middle aged black man, a wiry guy who looked like he weighed a hundred pounds wet.  He had on prison issue khaki pants and a white undershirt, and a beige doo-rag wrapped tightly on the top of his head.  Several gold neck chains swung as he walked (he had a pronounced gait), and when he opened his mouth to speak (I’m pretty sure he never smiled), every single one of his top teeth was capped in gold.  It was like staring at brass knuckles except, well, gold. And in his mouth.  I almost expected them to glint in the light.

We spent an awkward hour together where I tried to make light conversation and ask serious questions regarding his treatment and his time there, and to ask him if he needed anything; he proceeded to tell me he was innocent and that the USG should help him prove it.  

Lots of time to think on the drive back to Saskatoon, about how people end up where they do.  It could be a lifelong pattern or it could be one simple mistake; I’m here to tell you you never want to end up in a place like that.  The smells, the sights, the sounds…with me forever.

So I found myself back in Saskatoon that evening, at a farewell event for the chancellor of the university in the fanciest ballroom in town, with ladies in evening wear and men in tuxes.  Speeches droned on while guitarist Jeff Healy fired up his guitar on the great lawn in the back yard of the hotel, along the river; it was the first night of the jazz festival too, and he was the headliner.  It was kind of funny, and certainly odd–that clash between formality and creativity. I longed to excuse myself just to go see him, but alas, duty called and I was where I needed to be.

As soon as things ended, I zipped over to the double decker bus (it’s a parked food truck—been there since before that concept was born) and I got myself a double mint chocolate ice cream cone on a cheap wafer cone (the only way to order it), and I wandered over to the river where a new band had taken the stage. I sat and listened for a few minutes before heading back to the grand old hotel and my room overlooking the parking lot.

Weirdest day of my life.  Not the worst, just the weirdest.  To date.


But I digress.  Frequently.

So the only other time I did the floating was on that trip (and a return trip to the same place with my son who caught the mineral water in his eyes and got cranky—a short stay that time).  The water was the colour of tea, with a sorry brownish tinge.  Unlike the sulphur-laced hot springs, I don’t recall it smelling too terribly bad, and you could indeed float—rather, you can’t really sink, so it was interesting and fun.

Back to yesterday morning.

This is a trend that has been around for a while, but it just one of those things I’ve never done.

Very friendly front desk, an escort to my private pod room, some simple directions and then I’m alone.    Clothes off, ear plugs in (important to get this right), quick shower, and into 1100 pounds (or maybe it was 1100 tablespoons?) of Epsom salts in warm water.

pod 1

It felt a little awkward at first, finding the balance of your body as it suspends in the slightly viscous water and salt solution.  I chose not to close the lid on the pod—too claustrophobic, I think—and I selected spa music in the background (for a real sensory deprivation experience, I think you would need to kill the music.)

It was….different.  I wasn’t exactly relaxed, but I wasn’t terribly stressed either. I found myself thinking about the beach, and the sand and the water, and I thought about all the places where I’d had the chance to test the waters.

water collage
In order: Barbuda, Greece, Main Beach, East Hampton, and the Milk River…all good places to float

I thought a lot about home.  I pictured Main Beach, toes in the sand, and water and waves every day in summer, long fall walks at the ocean or the bay—take your pick.  Town Pond in autumn, with green, red, gold, and brown leaves dropping into the ends; in winter, with kids skating into the night, and someone always falling in; the Christmas tree, bathed in blue lights, in the middle; spring, and baby ducks and geese, and sometimes if we were lucky, swans; steamy summer mornings when the mist lifted off the surface and summer people let their kids chase the birds…..

I thought about the ferry to Shelter Island and how I used to take the first boat across after my overnight radio shifts on the north fork—the fresh air, the quiet roads, and how I’d soon be home and would be able to sleep…..

ny for bedroom ferry
Shelter Island Ferry

I think I drifted off.  I know thoughts of work and daily stress left as quickly as they came.  At one point, I wondered how long I’d been in, and then all of a sudden, the lights came up and my hour was over.

Shower to rinse off the salt, nice bath products supplied and a peppermint tea waiting when I got out.

Would I do it again? I think so.  I have a head cold for the first time in forever and so I’m not cruising at full speed.  I’d like to go and check it out when I’m feeling better, and I think I will.


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