#322 Stephen Reid (1950-2018)
First published June 14, 2018.
Stephen Reid has died at age 68 of pulmonary edema and third-degree heart block in the hospital at Masset, B.C., on June 12, 2018.
Following Reid’s death, Masset Mayor Andrew Merilees commented, “He was always friendly and pleasant. He was enjoyed by most of the community despite his past failings.” Reid is survived by his wife, Susan Musgrave, daughters Charlotte Musgrave and Sophie Reid Jenkins, and granddaughters Beatrice Musgrave and Lucca Musgrave.
Born on March 13, 1950, in Massey, Ontario, Stephen Reid began writing in 1984 while serving a 21-year prison sentence for bank robberies undertaken with the Stopwatch Gang, an all-Canadian trio so-named because most of their approximately 100 bank heists in Canada and the U.S. were undertaken with ninety-second time limits.
With a criminal recording dating back to 1972, Reid was arrested during an FBI raid in Arizona in 1980 at a time when he was wanted for 31 robberies in the western U.S. He would be subsequently sent back to Canada to serve a sentence related to the theft of $785,000 in gold bullion at Ottawa’s airport in 1974.
Reid married his writing mentor Susan Musgrave at Kent Prison in Aggasiz on October 12, 1986. That same year, with the assistance of his wife, he published his first novel, Jackrabbit Parole, inspired by his exploits. There was little criticism at the time about a criminal benefiting from his crimes by writing about them, partly because Susan Musgrave was such a well-known and widely-respected literary presence across Canada.
With Musgrave’s help, Reid was released on full parole on June 1st, 1987. He lived with his wife and two daughters near Sidney, on Vancouver Island, and also at their new home on the Sangan River, Queen Charlottes Islands/Haida Gwaii.
The recovering-criminal-as-literary-celebrity had all the makings of a good news story. A non-fiction work about Reid by Ottawa journalist Greg Weston, The Stopwatch Gang, was published by Macmillan in 1992, and it was optioned for film by Tri Star Productions in Los Angeles. Reid played the role of an armoured truck guard in the feature film Four Days in 1998.
Until June of 1999, Reid was able to work in the field of restorative justice, with L.I.N.C. and in the NWT with Dene and Inuit youth offenders. His fiction and book reviews appeared in various publications. Earlier that same year, the rejuvenation of Reid and his reunion with Musgrave was the subject of an one-hour CBC (Life & Times) documentary, The Poet and the Bandit, which had aired in January.
But heroin and cocaine led him back to crime.
Dressed in a police uniform, Reid, with an accomplice, re-offended with a Cook Street bank robbery in Victoria on June 9, 1999, pointing a loaded shotgun at bank employees and bank patrons. The pair fled with $97,000. Reid reportedly fired at police with a 44-magnum handgun. There was a car chase and Reid held innocent civilians at gunpoint after taking refuge in their apartment.
On December 21, 1999, having exchanged gunfire with police, Reid was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The judge noted for the record that Reid’s crime was simultaneously “an attempt to terrorize people.”
Reid managed to get himself granted day parole in January of 2008 but his temporary freedom was revoked in November of 2010 when police pulled him over and found 3,600 contraband American cigarettes in his vehicle.
Stephen Reid won the Butler Prize in 2013 for his second book, a collection of essays titled A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison, also written in prison. While Reid was still in prison, a three-member jury awarded him the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, citing the collection as a “prison ethnography taut with wit and humanity.”
At age 63 in 2014, Reid was granted day parole at a hearing at William Head Institution in Metchosin. He was subsequently permitted to revisit Musgrave in Masset where he took up residence. By the end of his life, Reid had published two books and served time in more than 20 American and Canadian prisons.
Jackrabbit Parole (Seal Books 1986)
A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden (Thistledown 2013) $18.95 978-1-927068-03-8
He completed a play, DOING THE BOOK (workshopped by Cahoots Theatre in Toronro, 1997).
He co-produced a prison documentary “Walls” in conjunction with the Spicer Commission. The film rights to Jackrabbit Parole were optioned.
A non-fiction work about Reid by Ottawa journalist Greg Weston, The Stopwatch Gang, was published by Macmillan in 1992. The Stopwatch Gang has been optioned for film by Tri Star Productions in Los Angeles.
Reid played the role of an armoured truck guard in the feature film FOUR DAYS in 1998.
Susan Musgrave and Stephen Reid were the subject of an hour-long CBC (Life & Times) documentary, THE POET AND THE BANDIT, January 1999.
Member, Writers’ Union of Canada
Board of Governors, Prison Arts B.C.
Editor Prison Journal 1987
Judge of essay contest for Parole Board on National Crime Prevention Week 1988
Board of Directors, John Howard Society 1989-90
Moderator Citizens Forum (Spicer Commission) 1990
Host of Benefit Reading for Prison Arts, B.C. 1992
Host of annual benefit for literacy, Read Canada Society 1991-93
National Council Member (B.C./Yukon Rep) Writers’ Union 1995-96
Co-Director, L.I.N.C. (Corrections Service Canada) 1996-1997
Artistic Director of Literary Events, Saltwater Festival (Sidney,
B.C.) 1996, 1997
Editorial board, Journal of Prisons 1997, 98, 99
Teacher, Creative Writing, Camosun College, 1997, 98, 99
Board of Directors PEN Canada 1998, 1999