It is always difficult to write about someone’s death. What I will write about is Stephen Reid’s life. I first heard the news of his passing when I arrived at work this week, from a colleague. It took a good 12 hours for me to understand he was gone. The next morning, I heard and read media stories, which always led with, “Bank robber and writer Stephen Reid…” In the afternoon, the radio story led with: “Writer and bank robber Stephen Reid…” I am guessing the CBC received complaints by describing him as a bank robber first, something he had done in his past.
The writing came later, but it was the way we all knew him as people in his community of Masset, and on Haida Gwaii where Susan Musgrave and he made their home. I was very annoyed, and was yelling at the radio, every time the hourly news began by describing him as a bank robber.
I know that I have done some wild things in my past, and I am sure that you have as well. When I think back to my youth, there was a good chance that I could have wound up in jail as well, and in another country that would have been worse then any Canadian jail. I will save the shocking details for my future book.
I first met Stephen few years ago, when he and Susan had a gathering at their home on the Chown River. I knew a little of his life and remember him as very soft spoken and polite. Forward to a couple of years ago, and I was interviewing him for the Observer.
It is so interesting that now I realize that he was born in Massey, in northern Ontario. That is close to my last name, and he was only a year and half older than me. I was also at Kent Federal Prison, not as an inmate, but as an SFU student representative to the students in the prison, during the time he was there. I remember when I was interviewing him, it was more like a conversation. He was so polite and so soft spoken; I would say he was the most genteel person I had ever met.
He grew up in a family of nine children, and from what I read, he was abused at age 11 by a doctor who also introduced him to drugs. He became addicted to heroin and cocaine. What I understand about addiction from the readings of Gabor Maté is that addiction is about trying to fill holes that cause us grief in our lives. Stephen and I did not speak of that time in his life. And it was difficult for me to think about what is was like for him as a member of the Stopwatch Gang. He just seemed to me to be too much of a gentle man to imagine him in that role. But it was part of his history, it happened.
He spoke a little with me about what life was like in prison. He has been described as a Canadian criminal, a bank robber, and a writer. He spent half of his adult life in prison. A few months ago, we both found ourselves on the ferry going to the mainland, and we shared conversation over our meals. Two weeks ago, I spoke with him when we were both at the Masset Hospital. That is the last time I saw him.
There were seven killer whales in the Masset Inlet a few days before Stephen died, on June 12. The Haida people believe that when they come, it is a foreshadowing of someone’s death. Hopefully Stephen will find peace in the next realm. He is already missed in this one.
Please send your news to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 30. Enjoy the sun, wherever you are. Life is too short to be inside.