From productive Squamish citizen to behind bars — and back?

Former local drug dealer talks of what landed him in prison and what he hopes is next

Squamish's Ghyslain Noel has had a lot of run-ins with the law in his 46 years.

He is currently serving 4.5 years, minus time already served for possession drugs, including fentanyl for the purpose of trafficking.

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The Squamish Chief wrote about Noel's charges and conviction, so we were interested in what he had to say for himself now, while behind bars.

When we spoke with him,  Noel was in a room in Mountain Institution, a medium-security facility in the Fraser Valley where he is serving part of his sentence. A corrections officer dialed the phone and handed it to Noel, then he was left alone to speak with us.

What follows is a version of that conversation edited for length and clarity.

 

Q: Your issue was dealing drugs. There is an opioid crisis and people are dying. Do you think about that?

A: When I was into drugs, that is all you think about — getting drugs.

You are desensitized to all that. Now that I look back, it is not only the deaths, but it is also destroying families. Putting people in jail. It destroys lives all the way around. It destroys communities. It is bad stuff.

I was too deep in it. But now I look back at it and I understand.

Q: Some people are likely going to give us heck for talking to you. The argument would be why talk to you, given what you did and being in prison. What do you say to that?

A: I would say alcohol and drugs — I have been into them deep. And crack cocaine, I did that from 2003 to 2010.

Even when I restarted doing drugs I was doing meth.

Once you are stuck in that cycle, it is so hard to get out.

With the drugs, you will mess up your family. The drug is so strong that it destroys lives.

I am done.

I was clean for six years. I know I can do it.

The only way I made my way out the first time is to find God.

I messed up again, but I know that I have reconnected with God again and I know when I get out, I will be good with it.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about Mountain Institution and what it is like there for you?

A: It is a 120-man unit.

You eat in the cafeteria. You get yard-time four times a day, for one hour each time. But right now because of COVID-19, we are only getting one yard a day.

Basically, we stay on the units the whole day.

Q: What was it like to be in there and the pandemic sweeping the globe? Were you aware of it when it first started?

A: Yes. We aren't allowed to get newspapers, but we saw it on the news. The gym is closed, we couldn't get any visitors. I didn't get sick.

Q: Can you tell me about how you came to Squamish and when?

A: I came from Quebec. I was in Whistler in 1995 and moved to Squamish in 1996.

It was cheaper in Squamish. I was only 21 and I was working construction and after a few months, one of my friends said he lived in Squamish and was going to travel.

I stayed at his place until I found a place of my own.

Q: And you worked mostly construction?

A: We were doing drilling and blasting back then for a contractor.

I worked doing some salt masonry.

Then I worked running an excavator and loader for a landscaping company.

Q: Obviously, something in your life went sideways, given where you are. What is your perspective on that?

A: My emotions got the best of me. I had gotten married and it went sideways.

Q: Do you struggle with drugs?

A: I did.

Q: Why do you think that happens?

A: I think a lot of people have trouble dealing with their emotions.

I got out of jail in 2012 and I was clean for six years and a productive member of society and then in 2016 when my marriage when sideways, I went "Frick It!" and I threw everything away. I thought I would party for a weekend, but I ended up going back to the way I had been living.

Q: What was your upbringing like with drugs and stuff like that?

A: My parents are not drug addicts. My dad was a weekend drinker, had two companies, was a hard worker.

I wasn't raised in that kind of environment. I was raised well.

Q: Do you think there is enough support in the Sea to Sky for people who want to manage their substance use?

A: I think it is pretty good. There's people like Lisa Young at Sea to Sky Community Services, if people need help, they are good.

And there is harm reduction and people to talk to.

I think there is some good help, but when somebody is not ready, they are just not ready.

But I will tell you one thing, I am ready now.

Q: There is talk of the decriminalization of drugs, say as Portugal has done. What do you think of that? More harm reduction and less criminal prosecution, would you like to see that?

A: I am an extremist. Some people can be functioning addicts, but no. I couldn't do it. I don't know if it would be that good, personally. I would still be an extremist.

Q: Does prison give you the chance to reflect on why you hurt yourself in this way?

A: Yes. The federal system has good programs. I did the three-month program. If you really wanted, you can do a trade in here too.

Q: When you get out, what do you want for yourself?

A: I still have until 2022, I am going to a drug rehabilitation house for a few months. Then I can have a job. I will be in a halfway house after that.

When I am working, I hope to put money away and rent a place, get to have weekends there, slowly.

Q: If you picture your best future, what would it be?

A: I am going to be drug-free. I think I want to get into car detailing and slowly maybe sell cars and maybe get a dealer's license. Or maybe even mobile car detailing?

Q: What are you looking forward to the first day you are out?

A: Dairy Queen, coffee and donuts.

Q: Anything else you would like people to know?

A: I would like them to know that once people are on drugs, it changes them. That is not the real person. That is the drug that you are seeing. It is sad. If someone you know is struggling with drugs, maybe take them to the gym or for a hike. Help him slowly to get better. For myself, if I would have gone to the gym and saw some gains and would have been happier with myself, that might have changed things. When you are on drugs you become unhappy and depressed.

Q: There's a lot of writing and understanding now about how addictions are linked to trauma. So the addiction is a symptom of something else?

A: Yes, I would say so. Trauma, mental health issues. And some people also hurt their backs, end up getting prescribed medication and then end up on street drugs.

Q: Why did you agree to do this interview?

A: I don't know. I just wanted to be helpful.

Take a tour of a Canadian penitentiary here.

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