I was pleased and perplexed by a certain article covering the opening of the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care. The media coverage certainly was not negative but in the middle of this article was a list of individuals who once occupied the old facility. The first to catch my eye was Ashley Smith. This young woman ended up dead at one of our institutions in her journey of many. One of her destinations was the old St. Thomas forensic facility. I may not think like most but this connection would be akin to reporting on the red Toyota Matrix someone drove to the plane they crashed in. All of the people I saw on the list seemed to infer something negative about the old facility and even the new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care.

One of the names on the list was a patient who was an occupant of the old hospital while I was there. I have known this individual for over a decade. I have never heard him utter an angry word or swear and I lived with him in less than ideal conditions for almost two years. He is one of the finest friends I have. He lives in the community and he and his partner have a beautiful child. I would trust this person with any child I had. I would trust this person with anything and everything I owned. I can depend on him. This man helped me to heal. When he met me he did not judge me, he merely extended his hand. I have learned from him and he is one of only a few people I know who is truly gifted. I would like to tell you his talent but he has already been drawn out; I refuse to do the same.

I suspect that if any who read this were to meet this man you would like him. He is deserving of respect, not for what he has done but for who he is and what he has overcome. At least try to understand what it must be like for him and his family to have an illness impact so profoundly.

For me what was most interesting about the opening was the curiosity that poured from the public. While I was at the facility I saw hundreds of people lined up for tours. I saw that as important in demystifying this little known and often misunderstood part of our health care and judicial systems.

On the tour I took, the guide for each area was composed of current staff.  If I worked with a population I did not respect, feared or thought worthy of derision of any kind, I would not have a smile or humour as I lead you about. I’m a little vocal but I would do my best to convey this was a dangerous place full of people I viewed as criminals. If the people who work with these individuals have compassion and respect I wonder why anyone else wouldn’t.

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