The first thing most people ask me about my novel is if they’re in it!
And behind this question is a larger question—how much of this book is true?
Although I have altered the timing of events to coincide with my character Liza’s return from Dublin to enrol in university and resume a relationship with her jailed cousin Dace Devereux, From the Chrysalis is based on the most deadly prison uprising in Canadian history, the Kingston Penitentiary Riot of April 1971.
Six guards who were taken hostage survived; two prisoners who were beaten and tortured on the final day of the four day riot did not.
To my knowledge, two inmate accounts have been written about the riot: Roger Caron’s factual account Bingo: Four Days in Hell and Gregory Bell’s fictionalized Birdsong. As my subsequent research revealed, both these jailhouse authors were long-term inmates and low key leaders in the riot.
Though neither Bingo nor Birdsong addresses the role played by the inmate who protected the hostage guards, it’s no wonder: at the time of the riot, there were over 600 prisoners in the Kingston Pen and at least as many stories.
My novel From the Chrysalis is about the inmate who protected the guards and was later one of thirteen men charged in the torture deaths of two prisoners. For the purposes of this novel, his name was Dace Devereux.
Dace’s cousin Liza had great hopes for him—hopes he’d survive, hopes he’d stay out of prison, hopes people would stop thinking he got away with murder in the penitentiary riot, hopes they would always be together.
This is her story too.
When Dace and Liza meet in a prison visiting room and her “real” life begins, they haven’t seen each other for five years. Their only contact has been the eighty-three letters she’s saved while he’s been serving time and she’s been getting into trouble in Dublin. My guess is that they’re both as nervous as hell.