This headline is from an article I tore out of The Toronto Star on Tuesday, June 25, 2002. I would have used scissors but they were not part of our “kit” at the correctional facility I was incarcerated in.
The article by Richard Brennan begins with “A mentally ill, deaf woman was confined to a segregation cell in an Ontario jail for two months without regular access to a shower or fresh air the province’s ombudsman reported yesterday.”
Within two years I was in the process of being found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder and faced the same. I guess I could be angry looking back on it and the fact that the ombudsman was powerless in her role. I could be angry society saw little need to address the issue. Instead I am saddened that eleven years later we are dealing with the same issue.
Is the problem systemic or societal? The system is seriously flawed if in 11 years we are unable to change. When a mentally ill woman in a jail is subjected to segregation rather than mental health services and society does not scream for answers it smells of stigma. These situations have persisted because our attitudes persist. We still do not perceive mental health as the pivot of overall health.
What is the benefit of making mental illness a joke or using it as a putdown or slang? We stumble on our own stigma and twist uncomfortably in its shadow when we or a loved one is affected. We are careless with our attitudes and we become prisoners behind the stigma they create.
The ombudsman said the Tories’ hard-line, no frills approach to prisoner care has only exacerbated the problem. The then Public Safety and Security Minister Bob Runciman said jails are not meant to be fun places. These are not county club settings. We’re not the federal government…you do the crime, you do the time. Many of the complaints are frivolous.”
I guess at that time it was acceptable to wash your hands of individuals once they become involved with the justice system. I guess at that time if there were frivolous complaints all could be ignored. I guess back then mental health care was a frill.
Ombudsman Clare Lewis was a voice ignored but I will quote her anyway.
“I’m not asking that people be mollycoddled. But, by golly, if we are going to incarcerate people – and we do in large numbers – then we have an obligation to see that they are treated rationally, with dignity and with some degree of respect.”
We continue to leave politicians with enough indifference that they do not act. Indifference is stigma in action.