The Sweetest Portion

I was thinking about the voting changes a politically damaged majority would like to see implemented. Is it safe or even legal that any standing party has the ability to draft let alone push through without giving each of us who votes some form of referendum? It seems illogical to not have the ability to vote on how to vote. If the government can change our ability to vote we must demand the ability to speak to those changes.
These changes affect our most basic democratic power. These glaring errors, deficiencies and possibly fraudulent flaws in the existing system should have been not a late political maneuver but an early call to their countrymen that for the protection of democracy and or to enhance the accessibility to vote, changes needed to occur. If they are pulling stories from the last election why are we only hearing the alarm today? If I am a witness to voter fraud or am in any way informed of voter fraud I would expect most good politicians would be the citizens we can depend on to bring voice to the wrong. It might even be a legal requirement.
Not to bring it to our attention is what we need to worry about. To strategize before a problem is brought before the public is not politics; it is a twisting of the government for the government. Democracy works when the ability to get in power cannot become the ability to stay in power. To tamper with the election process without the voice of each whom elects is dangerous and should be answered to.
Should I as a voter be left voiceless by politics in seeing and determining the fairest and most accessible ability to vote?
They say some will be hindered in their ability to actively take part in the course of their nation. For those who vote would you not find insult and injustice if you were in any way hindered in your ability to vote? What can we do to ensure that each and every Canadian can cast a ballot? If a vote is not worth protecting we can only hope it is not ours.
If it cannot be proven to be beneficial to the full flavour of democracy, I can only wonder to who the sweetest portion is going.

We Need Clinicians Not Cops

The headline for the London Free Press today was   “Mental health cop calls soar 40 percent.”
The article goes on to explain that mental health calls are costing the police more than $14 million now which is “chewing” up roughly 15% of their budget. We have a veteran city councilor agreeing that the police department is justified in saying these are health issues-not police issues-and we need the federal and provincial governments to get onside.
I’m a simple man but now that we’re all onside lets have the province and in fact Ottawa step in and redirect that $14 000 000. Policing does not improve mental health but rather mental health care improves mental health.
Chief Brad Duncan has according to the article voiced concerns about the issue for years and in fact repeated them just last week after a meeting of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
I believe we should have a total cost figure for police forces across Canada to determine the amount that we are funding police to deal with mental health matters. It is my assumption that any amount should be mainly diverted into health care services and possibly the creation of mental health care teams who can work at a street level and not only deliver mental health care but divert it to the appropriate services.
We can specifically train officers to respond to the dangerous instances of mental illness which are few and far between. We need clinicians not cops. If a health care worker can do what is presently done by an officer I see no reason to require the officer to stray from their criminal and safety matters.
Having in this case some portion of $14 000 000 put directly into mental health care services will then eliminate their call to such funds which will reduce their budgets. Unlike Mr. Bud Polhill I do not see a great need to find new money from taxpayers when it can be diverted.
We can then turn to honing the training of officers in response to mental health crisis intervention which sometimes come to a tragic end. If they are left to deal with necessary initial contacts they can then specialize in assessing danger and better recognize that dealing with symptoms is different.
I can agree with the chief that reasonable and beneficial application of funds needs to occur. It needs to be applied firstly with thought to those who need assistance through illness. If we are going to shift from policing mental illness to treating it as early as possible it should be the least stigmatizing and most therapeutic.
This funding needs to be better applied to the mental health consumers of this community. At the end of the day I can see no argument in that. If we can expand the mobile mental health unit run by the Canadian Mental Health Association it can only benefit those with mental health difficulties. If the police are spending $14 000 000 diverting a portion can only improve the mental health experiences of Londoners.
I have few complaints regarding the police in all my contact. I have sat behind some fine officers. Men and women I have always carried respect for. The only point I wish to make is that it is stigmatizing to have a recognizable police vehicle pull in front of a home, and enter it with guns. What do neighbours come to believe about the individual but also the illness?
It is detrimental to the fight against stigma to continue to police mental illness. It coats those with mental illness with a degree of criminality. This feeds and strengthens one of the biggest myths about mental illness. That being that the mentally ill are violent. We need prompt and proper delivery of mental health care just as it can be expected for physical health. If I need physical health care I tend to see those specifically and intensively trained in healthcare. If I need mental health care I tend to see police officers whose training is less specific and intense. To accept and continue with the use of police officers in the application of mental health services is a form of discrimination. We would be aghast to find the same with respect to physical illness.
We need a healthcare version of mental health service not a policing version. Agreed. It does not seem a leap to continue with the police to administer to calls which may need police tactics to ensure safety. Most calls should safely be diverted into the hands of highly trained healthcare workers. We need the police for what the police do best.
The sooner we can divert this funding into a safe, therapeutic and destigmatizing model, the sooner mental health services will improve for all Londoners.
Thank you Chief Duncan.

The Conservative Government of Canada Did Not Consult…

I was reading the testimony presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding Bill C-54 which is an Act to amend the Criminal Code regarding people who are found Not Criminally Responsible. Many of the arguments put forward are similar to those I sent to the Conservative Government in March of last year. (Just type in Brief in the search box).

I won’t make the same arguments but I would like to point out something as relevant. Bill C-54 is about the law and mental health. These are the groups the Conservative Government of Canada did NOT consult in the drafting of the Bill:

The Canadian Psychiatric Association,

The Canadian Psychological Association

The Canadian Mental Health Association

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada

The Canadian Association of Social Workers

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

The National Network for Mental Health

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada

The 19 members of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health

The Criminal Lawyers Association

The Canadian Bar Association

Not to mention individuals, and families who are secondary victims and directly affected by such legislation.

This list is not exhaustive but then again it is.

People throw the word stigma around a fair bit but this government and this Standing Committee have stood on the throat of an important and often ignored segment of the issue; the secondary victims who live with it. I have to forgive stigma else it drives me mad but when it is intentional and politically motivated it becomes less an issue of ignorance and it becomes abuse.

Mr. Robert Goguen shatters all faith I have in a committee that is somewhat of a safeguard to irresponsible government. The Conservative Member of Parliament from New Brunswick succinctly sums up his government’s perspective and perception when he says:

 “It’s making sure that these CRIMINALS are treated for whatever time is needed.”

 In all fairness to Mr. Robert Goguen I Googled his qualifications. Such a statement could only come from someone who has no clue. In fact, Mr. Robert Goguen is a lawyer. Mr. Robert Goguen is in fact the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.

I don’t possess a law degree, in fact I don’t even possess a degree but I feel I need to point out to Mr. Robert Goguen that a necessary element for a crime is Mens rea; a guilty mind. To put it more simply for Mr. Robert Goguen the act does not constitute guilt but the act of knowing does. Not Criminally Responsible individuals are not found guilty and are thus referred to as the accused. I’m not sure where Mr. Robert Goguen got his law degree let alone where he has stumbled about with it but in Canada, coast to coast the accused is not guilty and therefore not a criminal until proven to be so. Not Criminally Responsible individuals are not proven to be guilty because they could not appreciate the nature of the act or omission due to a mental disorder.

Mr. Robert Goguen has lectured on bankruptcy at Mount Allison University and the Universite de Moncton. Mr. Robert Goguen is well qualified in bankruptcy considering he himself is bankrupt of a basic understanding of the law.

 

Irony

The troubles with regards to Corrections Canada and the political apathy that has hung like a cloud for decades over the conditions inmates with mental illness are exposed to has been put in perspective for me this morning. I feel a little foolish having for so long gone on about people like Ashley Smith and the recent coverage by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation of inmates with mental illness kept in solitary confinement. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation delivered to my plate a headline that almost makes me want to eat my words.

“Turkey farm video shows “gaping hole” in government animal welfare oversight”

“’The birds are not being properly monitored’ said Ian Duncan, an animal welfare expert with the University of Guelph.” I checked for a comparable expert somehow connected to Corrections Canada but he or she must be out to lunch.

Don’t get me wrong, the treatment of turkeys is important to me. Turkeys deserve dignity and respect if we are going to smother them with gravy. There can be no doubt that these are “disturbing images”, unlike a solitary cell with a mentally ill inmate shackled to his cot and his toilet full of urine and more.

“Mercy for Animals Canada has also filed a complaint with the Ontario Provincial Police, which has launched a criminal investigation. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) is also investigating.” My Turkey a la King will be much easier to swallow knowing we have these agencies and that they have powers and are so willing to act on behalf of turkeys.

“There’s not much being done right now and it’s a major concern” says Geoff Urton with the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The turkeys themselves must be buoyed knowing something is being done and we have agencies and police forces in each province able to advocate and intervene.

“Ultimately, there should be some kind of proactive inspection and monitoring compliance system in Canada. Otherwise, how can anybody know how these animals are being treated?” Seemingly, words right out of my mouth.

“A 2009 Harris Decima poll commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society (I forgot to mention that many cities have their own agencies in case the provincial ones drop the ball) found that 72 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were willing to pay more for meat that was certified humane.” I wonder what the numbers would be regarding humans that are kept in cages. Human and humane seem to go together but we seem quite concerned when it is denied what is and always will be a bird.

Duncan says:”…the general public, I think if they see something like this, they’re going to be absolutely horrified. Horrified that this is how their food is being produced.”

I’ve been advocating for the humane treatment of inmates with mental illness for a while now. I guess the answer is to have those with mental illness fill their pockets with peas and pour gravy over themselves.

Enjoy your supper but be careful not to choke on the irony.

4:20

This excerpt is from an article by Scott Taylor from Metro news on the legalization and taxation of cannabis.

“Ivey School associate professor Mike Moffatt said the tax works out to about 40 cents for each of Colorado’s 5.2 million people. “Assuming the usage would be similar among Ontario’s almost 13 million people, the tax the government would earn would be around (a) lofty $5 million,” he said. That’s for a single month, equating to $60 million a year.

“A lot of this tax money is money that would otherwise be going to drug dealers and organized crime,” Moffatt said. “Instead of financing that, why not finance schools and hospitals and all the things our society needs?”

He cited a Fraser Institute report that stated the federal government could realize over a billion dollars a year if pot was legalized.

But London West Conservative MP Ed Holder said he couldn’t disagree more with the figures. Price, he said, will still create competition between the legal outlets and drug dealers.

“That does not go away because it’s been legalized,” he said. “The underground economy does not go away.”

Plus, Holder said, he’s never known of a situation in which a person using hard drugs didn’t start off with marijuana.

“If you ask our local (police) chief if he thinks marijuana should be legalized, it would be interesting to get his reaction to that. I imagine he’d say no. The previous chief said no … because it leads to other things,” Holder said.  “At what point do you put money ahead of principle?” (I would suggest Mr. Holder look to the oil sands which many consider putting money ahead of principles.)

Mr. Holder’s comments are unfortunate because there are some who read the article who put weight in his words because his ass is in Ottawa when really he’s just an ass in Ottawa. If you want to shovel something try the end of my driveway Ed.

Ed Holder tries to argue with an economist not because he possesses the correct information but because of his convictions and those of his party. He needs to put empirical evidence ahead of his intuitions which were cemented in a Grade 5 health class and driven deep by the Harper Hammer.

Mr. Holder fails to back up his claim because it is an institutionalized myth and perception rather than a fact. You can still be tough on crime while making cannabis legal, probably tougher because you can actually allocate more resources to true societal ills. Tough on crime is part of the foundation of conservatism but for the Harper Hooligans it is more about perception. When we can open the paper and see thousands of dollars worth of cannabis (worth that amount because it is illegal) and see people crowding courtrooms it seems law enforcement and justice are working. Interestingly, drug busts are one of the few photo opportunities available to law enforcement to demonstrate the need for ever increasing tax consumption in the face of declining crime statistics.

Mr. Holder actually believes people will make the rational decision to avail themselves of illegally produced cannabis when a safe and legal alternative exists. Lay off the moonshine Ed.

“The underground economy does not go away.”

No, the underground economy does not disappear but it does shrink to the extent that a legally regulated market displaces it. If taxed at 25% the 60 million in taxes would shrink the underground market by $240 million in Ontario alone. Seemingly recreational users are a target while organized crime is not. Mr. Holder’s approach to the underground drug trade is to throw his hands up. Would he throw his hands up at drunk driving laws because someone is always going to drive drunk?

We can estimate the tax dollars but as important are the tax savings from unrealistically enforceable laws. Petty marijuana offences siphon resources from violent crimes which may end up neither prevented or solved and legalization creates safety for users and allows more control.

This government wants us to believe that because their opponents are in favour of decriminalization they are in some way irresponsible to youth development and safety. Outside of political manoeuvring I don’t see the point. Many young people are protected by and adhere to the laws governing tobacco and alcohol; why would marijuana be any different?

Justice is blind so it is administered fairly. When we create and continue with laws with the same disability we create conditions more conducive to catastrophe. In my opinion current drug laws have failed society. The war on drugs has been raging since the seventies. One wonders why after half a century we cling to this misguided approach.  It’s like putting a Band-Aid on dust. Can we not be rational? Fifty years of failure requires me to question what is happening. The conservatives keep swinging with a broken bat which makes them fools who hopefully will soon see the field.

To gain an idea of what has been happening for decades consider the resources we would require to institute alcohol prohibition. If that seems undoable consider we are doing just that for a drug that is less likely to be linked to violence through usage. I realize there is violence surrounding cannabis but it mainly spawns from its criminalization.

Plus, Holder said, he’s never known of a situation in which a person using hard drugs didn’t start off with marijuana.

For over a decade science has told us that “there is no conclusive evidence to suggest the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

If marijuana is a gateway drug as Mr. Holder suggests it needs to be considered if this correlation doesn’t come about from contact with the illegal market. If marijuana is decriminalized people won’t be dealing with people who can procure heroin, methamphetamines etc. It becomes harder to find butter when it is not next to the milk. If marijuana can be considered a gateway drug it needs to take its place behind tobacco and alcohol. All three are mentionable mainly because they are accessible and somewhat acceptable. Caffeine is the original stimulant.

Thanks in part to people like Ed Holder it is all a myth that won’t die. Tobacco is both legal and lethal as is alcohol yet marijuana with few if any deaths directly attributable remains an enemy of the state. We have prescription drugs such as Percocet and Oxycontin which ravage lives but for some reason Doritos eaters are demons. For youth the entire message becomes nonsense.

I think the largest failing in the war on drugs has been the inadequate application of services that do fight drug use…addiction services. We pay well over three hundred dollars a day to incarcerate addicts while pennies trickle into programs and solutions.

Addicts don’t always see things as they are. The madness of addiction disappears in the folds of the habit. What is sad, harmful, wasteful and senseless becomes a rationalized series of repetitive and self-destructive behaviours. Addicts are occupied in the behaviour or those that enable it to the extent that they cannot recognize the absurdity. Current drug laws are an expanding and similarly sad, harmful, wasteful and senseless use of resources. This is not a policing failure, it is a political failure. When looked at from afar is a societal shame.

You can take away the substance but the addict continues in some form. In jail tobacco was a rarity and some inmates would smoke dried orange rinds and banana phloem. We covet what we can’t have. There is a degree of being dared when we make something that is socially regarded as harmless, illegal.

This will all happen despite Mr. Harper. Generations to follow will scratch their heads that we took so long to figure out a manageable path.

We need to look at the social consequences of criminalizing marijuana. What effect does a criminal record have on an individual, a family and a community? Criminal records are a cause of employment discrimination which is a gateway to financial disempowerment which can be linked to some financially motivated criminal activity. A criminal record places an individual on the fringe of society where it becomes difficult to contribute in a meaningful way. We shake our heads at people who are “wasted” but how many lives have been wasted by criminalization?

If we keep myopic morons in parliament it becomes a mirror for the prison system itself. Problems in and problems out.

Mr. Holder seems capable of reading the chief of police’s mind so I will take a crack. I think despite the job security the whole affair provides he might call it an economic and social failure. Even if the chief hasn’t drunk the same blue Kool-Aid I can imagine he might agree it is pointless and expensive to police recreational marijuana use. How unbiased is an officers opinion on legalization when their livelihoods are threatened by the abolition of a portion of their powers and budgets?

It’s fun to watch the conservatives straddle this dilemma. On one hand it is politically advantageous to appease public perceptions but they have a handbook they must adhere to or voters who vote for the party will shrink. There is a solution, open your eyes to solutions. “Just Say No” has a place. It should be used at a polling station. If you make me walk for my mail you can walk as well.

My advice to Ed Holder and Mr. Harper it to inhale deeply of some common sense; hold it in and it might even go straight to your head.

What I Learned In Jail

Corrections in General

What we pass onto prisoners through the justice and correctional system returns to the street.

Treatment in = treatment out

If we expose people in prison to unsafe conditions why would they care to contribute to a safe society on the outside? If we are inhumane or uncaring how can we expect them to be otherwise? If we allow them the opportunity to be brutal on the inside of a prison it should be no surprise to find them brutal when they are released.

We can agree jail should be a place of denial and punishment but to interject humanity or respect only makes one more mindful of their shortcomings regarding the same.

When we separate a prisoner from society normally what happens is they create their own society. There is a separate code, culture and hierarchy and this would often include” heavies” (inmates who would control what they could). This culture continues to exist in the mind of many released inmates.

While at the Ontario Correctional Institute (OCI) there was no real hierarchy and no heavies. Our behaviours mirrored more closely how people would carry themselves on the outside.

Hierarchies spawn violence. People fight for the top, or peck at those unfortunate enough to be on the bottom. I also believe it would diminish a portion of recidivism. I am not educated in the psychology of crime but for some prisoners they feel they have a higher significance and importance in jail. Anecdotally, the returning prisoners I was familiar with were those who thrived in jail, those who were above others in the hierarchy. For some, being in jail is a status boost.

If you can eliminate the hierarchy there is less social and psychological benefit to risking your freedom through criminal activity. For some, crime becomes a no-loss scenario.

1)      Chance of gain in the crime

2)      Social gain in returning to a situation where power and control (that would otherwise be unattainable) are obtained

The institutional hierarchy is mimicked by the inmates. One person walks around like they own the place and the rest fall in line according to loyalty, familiarity or criminal charge. Rather than years or service or specialty a prisoner leads by force and manipulation. We use what we are charged with as the only means of status. The pedophile could be strong and smart but never will they have status which renders them powerless. At OCI the pedophile could be democratically lifted from their position. A charge had no bearing on whether you were in charge of TV programming or janitorial duties. It allowed each prisoner a means to be something more. When someone is elected to a position a personal best must also be a communal best. When inmates depend on each other they respect each other. The more inmates manage themselves the more they value their surroundings and each other. With a concrete system with which to build a society and community within corrections, inmates can maintain a workable humane safe system.

The “heavies” on the units need to be the Correctional Officers (CO). The COs must set the tone and rules. There should be no difference between justice and prisoner justice. In my experience some are fine with the idea of prisoner’s doling out justice on each other but it is inhumane. I am reminded of the Romans throwing humans to lions. Each unit has a lion, a heavy. All prisoners are prone to being beaten (or eaten) when there is unsupervised leadership among the inmates. Cut the head off the lion. The institution should be the leader and any leadership among the inmates should be democratic and supervised.

If we want prisoners to return to society and follow rules… the best place to teach them is in jail. Prisoners need a reality in jail that better serves their reformation and society as a whole. Prisoners need simple tools to better themselves. We have to impart on them a degree of self-worth or they have nothing to lose. We need to refashion some of how they relate and what they believe. Once they are released they are vulnerable to financial stresses, relationship stresses, temptation and addiction. If they exit without learning new ways of relating re-entry to jail is more likely.

Higher penalties while incarcerated

There needs to be more consequence for misdeeds while incarcerated. It is pointless to hold offenders to justice in the first place if there is none while they are in jail. We double speed fines in construction zones so why not double the penalty for infractions while in jail? A crime on government property could have a harsher sentence?

Safety and Surveillance

When a guard or correctional officer (CO) is among prisoners it may potentially place the guard in danger but it offers a degree of safety and security otherwise unattainable. Guards are more likely to intercept contraband and weapons. They will be able to identify problem prisoners and can administer to that individual. Having guards in close proximity would enable the CO to maintain order and identify prisoners with special needs. A CO could become an assessment tool in classifying prisoners and diverting those in need of more security, health services, treatment, segregation etc.

Preventing a fight or beating by being present to de-escalate arguments is safer than rushing onto the unit to break one up already in progress. The units I spent most of my time in were in the Sarnia Detention Centre. They were basically cages. When trouble was finally detected COs had to open two doors to separate a fight or end a beating. Most of it would have been preventable by simply having a guard on the outside of the cage to watch us. Instead, they sat in a hallway with the door to noise and news closed. In my opinion some COs are responsible for the violence that can happen through complacency. They understand the prisoner code and many are covertly supportive of it.

If a CO was closer they could overhear conversations and be able to immediately intervene or alert more guards to help them with the situation. We need COs trained in de-escalating and diffusing violent situations.

If two guards are present a signal can go out for extra personnel at the first sign of trouble rather than in the midst of it.

Prior to placement if an offender is classed as violent through conviction or past record they may be more appropriately placed.

The x-ray machines I saw at Toronto South Detention Centre ensure that no weapons enter. If there is no contraband which is achievable through these x-ray chairs, the unit becomes safe to both inmate and guard. My experience with jails is that the response time for additional officers is between five and fifteen seconds. With a guard viewing the inmates at all times a fight or beating should only last as long. Two officers become six quickly. If they can interact they will prevent even that.

Surveillance in jails should be complete. In the forensic system I was viewable on camera except in private spaces.  Privacy can be suspended in the name of security. If we have the right to strip an inmate naked do we not have the right to watch them do almost everything else? Cameras don’t eliminate violence but they can prevent it.

Toronto South seemed ideal from a security standpoint; two officers on the actual unit with one guard in the tower watching over the area.

No one has time to consider their wrongs or take responsibility and work towards improvement when they must remain alert to their surroundings for safety.

At OCI, I had a desk and felt safe so I was able to learn about myself. I devoured self-help books as I struggled with my illness. The pages didn’t alter my symptoms but I have been altered. I wrote part of my book in the form of letters from jail. If a unit is in any way unsafe I would not sit with my focus on words home. If we can make units safe we have an environment where programming and prisoner improvement can take place.

Prisoner Violence

If we are complacent regarding violence and prisoner justice it detracts from taking offence at crime to begin with. If we subject prisoners to a lawless community our communities are subjected to the same when the same attitudes and behaviors are released.

Many crimes are rooted in not relating well with people. When an inmate is exposed to inappropriate interactions it reinforces existing deficiencies. If an answer to argument is a fist it will land you in jail where the fist is still the answer to argument. We are releasing people with experience in further lawlessness. It should be the opposite if we expect results from our investment in their lives.

It makes no sense to process prisoners with the same disregard we fault them for. People learn best by being shown. It can be with words or more active. If we demonstrate a degree of respect toward inmates they can learn what it is, use it amongst themselves and share it with the families and communities they return to.

At OCI a democratic and just community was built by the institution. Most adhered to it and those that didn’t were simply removed. If we build a community where inmates can practice living thoughtfully they can recognize the importance of the same on the outside.

News from the street enters the jail and news of the jail enters the street. Prisoners can reach people regardless of which side of the bars they are on. A fight or argument in jail doesn’t always end there. The prisoner culture spills into our communities.

We want prisoners to have respect. To allow brute force and manipulation to run a unit proves our disregard and furthers the cycle of disrespect.

Privileges, Programming and Responsibilities

I spent roughly a year at OCI in Brampton. I will share some of my perceptions.

It needs to be said that had I not experienced detention centres I would be unaware of the positives I experienced at OCI. For me, a toilet seat and a real knife and fork were worth behaving for. I’m not being flippant when I say if you offered me a cheeseburger for every month I behaved, I would have waxed the deputy superintendent’s car every frosty morning. It doesn’t have to be much to encourage positive behaviour and behaviour modification.

With privileges, good behaviour can be rewarded and anchored to the positive. With increased privileges on the horizon an inmate has cause to do well. A privilege provides two reasons to comply with conditions and commands. An inmate wants to do well so they are not demoted to a lower level of privilege and they are also compliant so they can advance to the next level.

With the deprivation of incarceration comes economical and simple means of reward: the TV could be left on an hour longer; thirty minutes more sleep on Sunday; a jug of watered down coffee for the unit.

In Sarnia an inmate would sweep and mop the guard’s walkway for a jug of coffee. I cleaned an entire unit and moved mattresses just for the sake of having something to do. For me it was quite an honour. Normally a guard would choose the “heavy” and blindly reinforce the hierarchy.

A person can learn healthier habits through positive reinforcement. At OCI I was the secretary for a spiritual program that we crowded for. I kept attendance and if three or more sessions of the 16-week program were missed a person would not receive their certificate. I was a stickler for details at the time and had several irate inmates on my heels when they did not receive their certificate. I saw it as an interesting piece of paper but some viewed it as an accomplishment. Those inmates didn’t come to each session but they came to enough hoping for a certificate.

An extra hour of TV can be viewed as a means to escape hardship. It not only motivates the inmate personally if he wants to watch TV but he also becomes responsible for his fellow inmates sharing the same pleasure. If you are the one who fails to ensure the TV time – you have to answer to your fellow inmates. Extra TV time at OCI was the reward for smooth unit operations. If we failed cleanliness we lost the privilege.

When I spoke at Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) it was in an unused gymnasium. With the purchase of a basketball well behaved inmates could gain five minutes to themselves in the gym. The supervised solitude will diffuse tensions and for those active some testosterone could be expended.

Access to freedom is a tool of reform. To deny it is punishment enough and to measure levels of relief provides the opportunity to create co-operation. If inmates co-operate they can witness their own importance and the importance of others.

Privileges provide some hope and in terms of treatment the optimism alone speeds progress. Jail is often hopeless having little to do or little to look forward to. If an inmate has hope they may be less prone to violence.

When each inmate has a duty for the unit they can learn responsibility, gain a sense of self efficacy and a sense of belonging.

When the lower inmate is able to advance it is a signal to those who think they are better that all have value. If everyone has value it dissolves the hierarchy.

The use of protective custody (PC) and general population (GP) creates safety through segregation but also animosity. Inmates are within reach of certain inmates through communication and connections so safety can be compromised. The GPs considered those in PC to be rats, thieves and sex offenders. As such all were looked down on and in situations where segregation fails those in protective custody are in danger. At OCI there was no PC or GP and as such the hierarchy it creates was non-existent. In some form it enhanced the safety of the institution.

I was in PC for much of my incarceration. I ended up in cells with GP, they saw me and many would know what unit I was on. We were transported together and would see each other as we accessed the yard. Any prisoner is reachable.

I saw several fights in PC and was a witness to a beating so in my estimation it is already failing to be what its name insinuates.

At OCI there was no PC. The only segregation was between new arrivals in the assessment area and the offenders already classified to units. When I was in regular jails the threat of violence coated most days. OCI was safe because non-violence was a condition of the privilege of inhabiting humane, respectful and progressive living conditions.

No one comes clean in dirty water.

We need to dismantle how inmates gain their self-esteem and replace it with socially acceptable measures. We want them to gain their esteem by behaving not by bullying and manipulating. We want them to gain their esteem by cooperating and contributing.

Portions of my mental health and corrections journey included the use of privileges. When medicine and the law intertwine privilege can be a level of security and is progressive. Inmates that are a risk can at any point be placed in the most secure setting and inmates who are doing well can be advanced.

OCI and the forensic hospital in St. Thomas (formally Regional Mental Health Care St. Thomas, now Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care) were the safest and most humane of the institutions I experienced. OCI had a zero tolerance policy regarding violence. OCI had many amenities worth behaving for. If a prisoner violated a certain rule they could be transferred back to a detention centre. Detention centres are the harshest to be in and have less comforts, opportunities and treatment.

Another rule at OCI was participation in programming and treatment. We had Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, General Addictions and an array of spiritual services administered by permanent staff and supported by volunteers. Participation in spiritual programming was widespread, though voluntary. It was a change of setting or a break to the monotony for some but for others seeds were planted. Personally, spirituality was one of the most important aspects of my rehabilitation and recovery, something that I didn’t have when I entered the system.

More importance could have been placed on programming. It is unlikely the rooms I saw at Toronto South for programs such as AA will work. There is no anonymity with windows into the room and the children’s chairs are humiliating in themselves. If programming can be mandatory after sentencing all sentenced inmates could begin with AA. Those without substance problems will learn about and appreciate the struggles of those who do. Participation in programming is an escape from the monotony and is often embraced for that alone.

Volunteers are a link to the “outside” and I found self-worth in the fact of their presence. Volunteers can be a link while incarcerated but connections can carry into the community providing continued supports when the prisoner is released. Most of the programs at OCI were maintained by volunteers.

A six week exposure to anger management will not benefit every inmate and others would resist but numerous others would benefit.

Spirituality

I would be little of what I am today were it not for being ministered to throughout my journey. I gained my faith within institutions and if I have nothing else this would be enough. If an inmate has faith they face and overcome what they might not otherwise. We should not push religion on this group but if we make access to spirituality attractive the nectar will stick to some and change lives.

 

 

Early Intervention

I am the million dollar man. I have spent three years in correctional facilities, two years hospitalized and five years monitored in the community. The five years I spent incarcerated amount to approximately $550,000 dollars and that gets added to the cost of my community treatment. In my estimation it would have been cheaper to have a worker follow me from a young age and it would have been advantageous for me and the system to have had intervention before I cost over $300/day. A mental health worker paid $60,000/year could have spent over 18 years seeing me for four hours a day. That same mental health worker could spend one hour a day with me for 70 years.

I think if there was one person who was assigned to my mental health journey I may have avoided the courts. I didn’t receive the intensive treatment I required until I was in my thirties and there were periods I was not in receipt of treatment or oversight.

I sometimes wonder if that time and money was spent when I was younger if I would have avoided everything.

Educational Supports

In my experience many inmates struggled with various degrees of illiteracy. I personally assisted a couple of inmates with reading and writing letters. It is sad to sit next to someone who hasn’t the ability to experience such an integral part of existence. I’m not sure how these adults navigated the educational system without procuring the ability to read.

When an inmate is incarcerated it presents the state with another opportunity to teach literacy. Possibly volunteers could be called on to assist in passing on this basic skill. Literacy could be conditional for those who need it and it could be encouraged and advanced through the issuance of simple privileges.

Inmates could be called on to assist each other in literacy creating cooperation and self-worth in both teacher and student. We can poke and prod this segment of society to become gainfully employed and contribute but illiteracy is a hindrance at best. These individuals are not stupid and could embrace society and normalcy more easily if they could navigate the written word. A criminal record is difficult to overcome but illiteracy is an obstacle that will only be moved by education.

Inmates need access to the raw materials for self-improvement. I took Bible correspondence courses during portions of my incarceration. I don’t see why these voluntary programs couldn’t include secular members of the community. One suggestion may be teacher colleges including marking inmate attempts at equivalencies. My exposure to schooling while incarcerated included a woman who came weekly to the Sarnia jail. I was quite psychotic and she assisted me beyond academics. While at OCI I mainly attempted to gain a typing credit with a teacher who worked half days. While we have prisoners in our grasp we may as well mold them. What if for those who have failed the public system we now take the time to instill knowledge and the ability to gain skills; skills that pay taxes and build communities. Lack of education and skills may not lead to criminality but they anchor most inmates to the cycle of crime.

If I am a better person I can’t help but be a better citizen. I was twice confined to Sarnia Detention Centre and I saw several familiar faces on my return. Many of the guards were familiar with about a third of the detainees. The repeat offender may hold less promise of participation and success but there are few beyond hope.

Better citizens add to public safety rather than perpetually compromising it. If we are paying to house these inmates we might as well do something with the housing and food we provide. There would be less educators teaching in other countries if they could safely do so within corrections. Make it a paid internship. They gain experience and the province economical labour. Obviously I’m just spitballing but there must be ways to institute inmate improvement in an economically feasible fashion. Even at an expense it might prove profitable in the long term. I understand fiscal responsibility but if a government doesn’t invest in the longer term they will balance a broken society.

Some inmates will not amount to much on the street. Corrections could incorporate measures to change this.

Uniforms

I can identify a guard as being similar to myself when they are out of uniform. Many inmates associate and resent the uniform regardless of who it is on. I can imagine a guard as having a life outside of the jail. If an inmate can view a correctional officer as more of a person they are better able to identify with them. Prisoners recognize that other prisoners have relationships and family but a guard is a guard to them. Just as the guard judges us as criminals we judge them as something even less. There is a barrier between guard and inmate which limits the amount of respect that passes between the two. If guards become caseworkers their assistance will be recognized as that. They will still be the ones with the keys but they will unlock the potential that lies within many inmates.

This places more value and respect on them in my opinion. When we see the uniform it is a reminder of where we are, when see clothes on a person, they are exactly that. Clothes on a person. If a correctional officer is also recognized as a person not just an authority figure the respect and cross identification between inmate and guard might create a more secure and safe environment for both guards and inmates. If a CO becomes someone I can know, they become someone who can set an example for me. I will not mimic that which I despise.

The majority of the justice system wears a uniform. If I was dealt harshly by someone in a robe or bruised by a badge, your uniform is part of the same and if I am looking for any revenge it might often do. You become part of why I may be suffering. The pain, stress or confusion involved with the system is taken out on uniforms. Without the uniform the officer becomes less a beacon of my plight. If most prisoners have no respect for the uniform why are they worn?

At OCI the COs often wore street clothes. It was the first time I fully recognized them as quite like me. I was wearing an orange uniform which offered enough of a distinction between us. They were as visible among us and in the same sense stood out in a different way. I saw each officer in both street clothes and uniforms and my respect did not differ.

At OCI we were encouraged and at times mandated to speak with our correctional offer/caseworker. The person with the most potential of being a positive influence is the correctional officer. In a regular correctional facility to be seen speaking too much with a correctional officer creates a dangerous situation. Other inmates can infer that they are being “ratted on”.

Keep in mind there is usually an underlying mistrust of most correctional officers.

Corrections and Mental Health

Mental illness is an illness

Mental health services in the community are not always accessible because of funding and or stigma. When an individual with diabetes enters the justice system he or she will have access to medicine. Their blood will be tested as required etc. When an individual with a mental illness enters the justice system they should have equal access to treatment for a medically identifiable illness.

When I was found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) my treatment became law. Equal access is the right thing and would be a healthy blow to stigma. Not many people lose the ability to perceive reality and are found NCR. I do believe mental illness is enmeshed in many other crimes. We need only consider crimes to which alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor.

We can still punish the offender but it makes the most sense to treat them. I saw a fellow rearrested within several hours of his release. He was an addict. He was an intelligent upbeat and humourous person but he was a prisoner on both sides of the bars. If he entered a 30-day drug or alcohol treatment program as he served his sentence he may not stay sober but it might help. These are fallen citizens who may never vote but whose hand we must grasp because we will be called to account for knowing that hand was there.

We do not tell those with diabetes they must suffer because they are a criminal and we mustn’t say it to those with depression, schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder. If there is any link between mental illness and the crime we have cause and duty to treat the illness.

Assessment and treatment of mental illness and addictions in jail

We don’t have to build hospitals to treat a significant number of citizens with mental health challenges. The correctional system provides an opportunity to assess and treat mental illnesses which are becoming too costly to ignore. Mandatory participation in treatment is easily enforced. Individuals are observable 24/7 to better assess and treat. They are being fed and housed already. OCI in Brampton would be suitable with minor modification to deal with mentally ill inmates. Mentally ill offenders should be treated regardless. To not treat them is costly, irresponsible and contributes to stigma. We can’t deny a prisoners access to therapeutic measures and proper mental health care.

Even a 30-day sentence would provide enough time to assess. Community supports and conditions could be incorporated through the probation system. Probation is often a three year duration which might provide the teeth to institute and carry on with treatment beyond the facility. While I was in the hospital forensic system I could be called on at any time to submit to drug and alcohol testing. If a dirty urine sample sends you back to jail it is reason to remain clean. If we conscript participation in community programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and can keep an inmate clean for three years I suspect it would contribute to public safety and provide a sober person to incorporate back into the community.

If one in five probation officers is versed in mental health they could administer to community treatment adherence and be a regular assessment tool.

We owe it to our communities at least to ensure that when an inmate is released whether they suffer from schizophrenia or addiction that they have been treated.

If my mental illness was better assessed and treated while I was at OCI I may have not entered the forensic system. The year I was there would have been ample to get a better handle on my illness.

Accommodations can be minimal for any offender but the mentally ill offender requires the opportunity of solitude and a degree of mercy and compassion.

Segregation

Segregation should be a last resort – not an only option.

Segregation is used as punishment for misdeeds in jail – but an extension of a prisoner’s sentence would be more impactful. Even those who do well in jail look forward to and count on release. Many would not risk further time. Those that do are a problem prisoner and could be managed otherwise. Most do not experience segregation so its threat is obscure. To be given more time is comprehendible as a threat.

I often lament the use of segregation but my personal growth, in part, sprung from the deprivation I experienced. Deprivation gives rise to insights otherwise difficult to obtain. It is punishment and can be used as such where appropriate but the mentally ill offender is better served in a different setting. Seclusion can alleviate acute symptoms in the short term but is detrimental in the long term.

From a prisoner’s perspective justice and corrections is a maze no one in particular cares if you make it through. If I can see a correction officer’s purpose as that of assisting me it lessens animosity. An inmate may resent someone having authority over them but if the correctional officer is helping that too can be overcome.

Corrections should be an avenue of reform and rehabilitation.

 

 

Diversion and Community Supports

Mental Health Courts and Diversion are necessary but mainly tinsel if they do not bring about the services and treatment necessary to in fact divert the offender from further contact with the justice system. Had my diversion lead to something remotely like the hospital forensic system in terms of treatment and compliance I may have never entered the correctional system. The money spent could have been a better placed $30,000 hospital visit.

I believe it is in the public’s interest to administer more in community support to individuals on a mental health journey. If I was prescribed a worker to follow up on me I would have more likely been truly diverted from the justice system. It could have been a daily phone call. If it was a person I already had a therapeutic relationship with I would have trusted enough to convey what was happening to me and I would have a ready contact for how best to get help. If I could access supports through this individual it would coordinate care and supervision of that care. One person could have access to my complete history to best determine what was presently appropriate.

Portions of my incarceration were inappropriate and at times no one was aware of my challenges. People who are psychotic/deemed NCR, or otherwise acutely ill, should be in a hospital setting as they would be for an acute physical illness.

Hospital Forensic System

When I look back on my mental health experiences I see compassionate well trained professionals but some of it seemed haphazard. The forensic system was the best worst thing to happen to me. It was the exception. It has flaws but it was the first time I was exposed to intense and comprehensive treatment.

I can understand not wanting people occupying hospital beds but it makes no sense to provide the care when a person commits a crime – the care should take place before it happens.

Accessible and proper mental health care could reduce the numbers in the forensic system. If an illness is being monitored and managed it is less likely to result in some of the tragedies we hear about. Forensic patients are not punished so the fact that their recidivism rate is so low can mainly be linked to the fact that deterrence lies in treatment. If treatment can be used to deter future conflict it only makes sense to provide it as early as possible. For some it is far too late after the crime.

If we continue to do as budgets allow and be fiscally responsible, we will not progress. In the short term it appears as fiscally responsible but when I consider the repetitive nature of my mental health journey and of the many others I have witnessed it is only truly fiscally responsible to properly address the problems to begin with.

With the use of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, those at risk can be managed in their own homes with little call on the taxpayer. Community treatment is more therapeutic and it allows the client to remain enmeshed in their families and communities; both assist in immeasurable ways and further reduce leaning on the taxpayer.

If we could compare a typical mental health journey to a boat with a leak – what I experienced was like taping up the hole. When I was in crisis I had a piece of tape placed on my life and I was returned to sea. It is expensive to take the boat from the water and properly fix the damage but until that happens we will be buying tape and citizens will suffer individually and collectively. Tape doesn’t fix the hole.

NCR offenders will never be eliminated but they can be reduced if comprehensive treatment is applied to those most vulnerable. Most of the forensic patient stories I am familiar with included the application of mental health services before the offence. If these individuals are coming into conflict with the law after and or during the application of mental health services it points to a gap.

Early Education

In my youth psychiatrists were secrets. I was taught how mountains were formed but not how emotions are formed.

I believe we can convey to youth what stigma is, how it is perpetuated, its consequences and we can challenge them to be the generation to eradicate it.

In the 70s and 80s we had exposure to some health curriculum. We had dental hygienists come into the classroom to teach us how to brush our teeth but I don’t recall information about the mental side of my health. A mental health worker could stand in front of the same class to inform youth about mental health.

If we are exposed to the correct information at a young age we are able to filter future truths. Stigma is an attitude attached to distorted thoughts which are anchored in misinformation. If the proper information is presented much of the fear which feeds stigma will be eliminated. If the emotion of fear is challenged by knowledge it can be lessened so when we are exposed to mental illness in our neighbourhoods and communities we can be more rational about what we are witnessing and those experiencing it will be more apt to find help. If fear is eliminated it leaves room for respect, compassion and empathy.

We can teach youth mental hygiene.

If youth are exposed to various mental health professionals and other knowledgeable citizens they will know where to turn if they or a friend need assistance. With education they may recognize their own difficulties and seek early treatment. When mental health is talked about in the classroom it is talked about around dinner tables. Youth can carry information to people who may have passed by the pamphlets.

If a mental health worker is a regular visitor they become a familiar face for someone who may need mental health services in the community. The mental health worker can be the link between our schools and mental health services in the community.

Most of my exposure to mental health information has come from experience and self-education. Knowledge doesn’t alter symptoms but it relieves the stigma which is at times worse.

I do not think we would create a generation of mental health hypochondriacs any more than a Heart and Stroke Foundation presentation would lead to strokes.

I believe mental health education can be presented in a meaningful and interesting fashion. The more that is done to inform people about mental illness the more stigma is combated. If stigma is reduced it creates a more therapeutic environment for all mental health consumers. The results will spill from our classrooms into our homes and communities. If a gate is left open something will get through. Education is a gate that needs to be opened to mental health. When we educate our youth we educate society.

Lack of mental health education perpetuates stigma. If a government makes mental health education a priority it brings mental health itself to the forefront. It is a signal to all citizens that mental health is a priority and that your approach as a government is to expose mental illness for what it is. Making mental health education a priority fights stigma.

It is achievable to create a generation which spreads accurate information and the understanding, compassion and empathy that it enables.

To not educate our youth has costs as well. People resist seeking treatment because of the stigma. Illnesses progress untreated increasing social and economic costs. The cost in terms of suicide alone is incalculable. If we can get people to seek help early the chaos that springs from illness can be managed.

Mental health knowledge strengthens the fabric of communities by incorporating the legitimacy of mental illness. If my illness is understood and accepted I can contribute in a more meaningful way and find support in the community. Understanding undermines the isolation of mental illness.

26.2 Miles

I was reading an article on the popularity of running. I used to run. I started questioning the health benefits when I realized sidewalks are next to roads. It’s exhausting, literally. I gave it up when I rolled over the hood of an automobile making one of those rolling stops. I don’t have a problem with running but I do have a problem running. Cardiovascularly I’m a mess. Thank God for evolution. If I had to chase down my dinner I’d be eating snails. Running doesn’t sit well with my addiction to cigarettes either. Please don’t call me a hypocrite; it’s already on my driver’s licence.

I started thinking about marathons. It seems everyone has a 26.2 sticker on their car. It’s actually dangerous as I am obliged to pass them. I find it a little illogical that people use trains, planes and automobiles to run in a race. It’s like parking lots at health clubs.

Couldn’t we run 13.1 miles from our front door and return with the same admirable time to brag about? Nike would choke without somewhere to dump their advertising shirts and bags but possibly our grandchildren wouldn’t if we left the airplane at home. We could pin a paper towel to our backs with a number and I doubt people would question the validity of the 26.2 sticker. I’m guessing half of them are left from previous vehicle owners anyway. Couldn’t we pretend instead of being pretentious?

The Boston Marathon had just under 27 000 participants in 2013 and they expect 36 000 this April. I couldn’t uncover how many are actually Boston residents but last year 96 countries were represented along with 56 states and territories. I calculated almost 4000 entries from countries outside of the U.S. They included Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Iceland and 209 from Italy. Are there not roads in these strange lands? I’m not sure how to calculate the jet fuel but I can see some of it in the clear blue skies above my home.

Running can be an admirable addiction but when you run until your toenails fall off and you have to tape your nipples so they don’t wear and bleed from your shirt rubbing, I wonder. Maybe I’m just not that healthy.

I realize these events are great for charities but do we need to use trains, planes and automobiles to raise funds for these worthy causes? Couldn’t we use our SMART phones and have a telethon? It sounds like marathon and it may even make more cents. I guess it’s like real estate…location, location, location.

I love marathoners; my brother is one. Thankfully he doesn’t read my blog either.