At the age of 14, most children are playing sports, studying for high school and hanging out with friends, but Patrick Keating was doing heroin.
Keating’s drug addiction began with a few puffs of marijuana when he was 12 years old in Montreal. From there he began using hash, acid, speed and eventually heroin, which quickly became his drug of choice.
A self-described introvert, Keating found heroin helped him come out of his shell and was less nervous around others.
“It just made life seem more palatable. It felt like I could do anything I wanted,” Keating said. “I am quite an introvert, quite shy and that went away. I was able to talk to people. I felt like I could function a lot more.”
But his addiction began to outpace him. He could no longer afford to feed his habit and started low-level drug trafficking, where he would sell a bit and keep some for himself. That quickly escalated to stealing things and selling them for cash.
His world came screeching to a halt when he was 20 years old, after he was arrested and charged for bank robbery and sentenced to 10 years in a Montreal penitentiary.
Keating never imagined his drug addiction would lead him to prison.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was quite scared, I’m not a large male, I’m quite small so my immediate thought was ‘here we go’. You hear all those stories of what can happen to somebody. I was quite reluctant,” he said. “I did what I thought was the prudent thing. I kept to myself, I kept my mouth shut, kept my eyes open and just watched how things worked.”
Over the next decade, Keating kept a low profile in prison. He would go to work and in some cases, school. He would read, walk around the yard by himself or with fellow inmates and talk about life.
While he never got into any fights, Keating said he could often feel the tension between other inmates, and once in a while people would end up dead.
In the 1980s during the middle of the Quebec separation referendum, Keating was transferred from Montreal to Matsqui Penitentiary in B.C., where he enrolled in a theatre course, which set him on a new path.
A local theatre company put on a play at the penitentiary, the first of which Keating had ever seen, which began with a woman up to her waist in sand. Her day starts with a bell ringing and she talks about the old times. In the second act, she’s up to her neck in sand — the day starts, the bell rings and the day ends.
“I thought, oh my god, this is my life,” he said. “It really affected me.”
Shortly after getting out of prison, Keating graduated from Simon Fraser University with a bachelor of arts, majoring in theatre.
Now, Keating, a Vancouver actor and theatre maker, is sharing his story about life behind bars with Inside/Out, a first-person narrative about the people he met behind penitentiary walls.
Keating hopes the play serves as a reminder that inmates are still people.
“Everybody inside is someone’s father, mother, brother or sister,” he said.
Inside/Out is one of 14 plays hitting the stage in Victoria as part of Uno Fest from May 18 to 28 at various performance spaces around the city.
The 19th annual festival presents solo shows from artists around North America. For more information visit intrepidtheatre.com.