Dear Mr. MacKay, I was surprised that when I spoke to you at the Canadian Alliance On Mental Illness and Mental Health Gala that you did not inquire into my access-ability requirements.

I feel terrible. The Honourable Minister of Justice Peter MacKay is leaving his post. He’s been urinating on the Charter for a while now and I was wondering how long he could keep it up. I guess he’s finally petered out which I’m sure is a relief. Maybe not to the prime minster who is nothing more than Reform without Peter.

If I thought Peter MacKay would resign I would have written to him sooner. I only wanted to invite him to my home but he has taken it as the gauntlet being thrown. I hate to say it but for someone so athletic looking I would have thought Peter had more game. I did admonish him which may have been unwelcoming but having no regard for a segment of society who are in conflict as a direct result of a mental illness is not a slight I can pretend to ignore.

I actually thought Peter may have visited me so he resigning is quite a shock. Does anyone know how long cucumber sandwiches last? I guess someone should step aside. We are allowing serious human rights violations to be inflicted on the mentally ill. When I looked into my crystal ball/stainless steel toilet sink combination I saw more orange than justice ministers resigning at my feet. I wasn’t even aware that it was an injustice to be psychotic in the confines of solitary confinement.

I did not mean to scare Peter MacKay into resigning. I only wanted to point out his mistake in the hope of pointing out more mistakes. It would have simply been tea with a detainee but in a way he has done the right thing by stepping down. I feel somewhat responsible but he made his own mistakes. I would have reasoned with him and found a way around all of this but some crown attorneys see only one scenario. It can be overlooked as a job description for a crown attorney but when you continue on that path as a Justice Minister you become a knob. Peter MacKay became a thing Stephen Harper turned to key up for election. When it comes to justice and sadly Peter MacKay this government always did what looked good and seldom what was good.

I’m not an optimist but I have dreams. I will be awake at night imagining the course of withdrawing my extended hand to the prime minister. Possibly he too will not see me coming. I certainly did not see this coming. I don’t know who to aim for next but this is sure a lot of fun. Good bye Peter.


May 12, 2015

Dear Mr. MacKay,

I was surprised that when I spoke to you at the Canadian Alliance On Mental Illness and Mental Health Gala that you did not inquire into my access-ability requirements. Some disabilities are invisible and I assumed at such an event you would have been more careful. I mentioned to you that I had lived in solitary confinement and that I was found Not Criminally Responsible on Account of a Mental Disorder. But you handed me a business card without asking if I had any requirements of assistance. It would have been most helpful to have you contact me.

As one of few who speak about the issue of Not Criminally Responsible having experienced it as living flesh I am dismayed that my voice has not been heard by this government. I submitted a Brief to this government regarding Bill C-54 which post prorogue became Bill C-14. I spoke with government employees and tried to access my own Member of Parliament but I was never asked if I had any accessibility requirements. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with sharing my medical information with a receptionist and I had to enlist assistance from individuals not employed by the government in attempting to communicate with the government.

I am pleased you are coming to London and will take you up on your offer to see me. I would like the opportunity to show you that solitary confinement can damage an individual. Mental illness in the correctional system is a complicated issue. I understand corrections is not your portfolio but in reading your statement on solitary confinement and thanks to your offer to speak with me I’m sure you could understand and convey to those better versed what you will learn.

Since language is no more than incomplete shorthand I will be able to convey more in person. As such I would like to invite you to my home. I am slightly agoraphobic and it would be helpful to have access to my writings to impart on you what I know. I have firsthand knowledge of corrections and the forensic system from the position of inmate and patient while living with serious and persistent mental illness. I know you believe that there are no adverse effects to Administrative Segregation but I have proof. Some of this evidence is within me, some of it is written and some of it is in how I live.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience to set up a meeting.

Kind regards,
Brett Charles Batten

I had a meeting with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay

I was sitting at an elegant table in the elegant Shaw Centre in Ottawa. We were gathered for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health Champions of Mental Health Awards. The Parliament Buildings were to my right as was my beautiful wife and I was simply minding my own business. A senator who didn’t look anything like Mike Duffy came round the table and gave me his business card. I smiled and gave him mine.

I noticed the Minister of Justice Peter MacKay schmoozing and posing for photographs like some redundant rock star. He seemed pleased with himself. Without warning I rose to my feet and went and stood behind him as he was speaking to a groupie. I glanced back at my wife and she had the same worried look on her face as the day I proposed to her. I gave her a wink and she started shoving dinner rolls in her purse in case we were turfed before the taters.

“Hi Mr. MacKay, my name is Brett Batten and I’m an advocate. I don’t know if you’ve ever met anyone who has lived in solitary confinement but I have spent some time there.” “In fact I have” was his response. I wondered if they too were wearing a suit and tie at the time but my immediate thought was to recall ‘Bobby the Bullshitter’ who lived around the corner when I was seven. “We’re going to Disneyland.” “I’ve been to Disneyland twelve times.” I detoured the exasperation and mentioned that I would like to discuss the issue of solitary confinement with him sometime.

“Well, that’s the portfolio of Public Safety and my portfolio is Justice.” I wasn’t sure who thought who was stupid. “I understand that but as the Attorney General you have made statements regarding solitary confinement which are misleading.” “I don’t believe I have, what did I say?” I looked around for a second as I thought we were suddenly in the House of Commons. “You said Administrative Segregation was not similar to solitary confinement in other countries.” “Well, solitary confinement in Sarajevo is different from what we find in Canada.” “Well, we are not talking about dirt floors but the dimensions and more are quite the same sir. The United Nations defines solitary confinement as any incarceration that confines a person to a cell for 22 hours a day or more without human contact.” “Well I don’t always agree with the United Nations.” (Especially when it contradicts ‘the agenda’.) “Solitary confinement is used for sex offenders to ensure their safety.” “It is predominantly used for individuals with mental illness; it is a default response to a health issue.” For someone who didn’t say anything about solitary confinement Peter seemed to hit on all the points he made in his official statement.

I decided to give him the benefit of my doubt and asked who I could speak to about the issue. “You can talk to me” and he handed me his business card asking for mine. “Where are you from?” “London!” “I’m going to be in London in a week or two, maybe we can meet.”

“I was found Not Criminally Responsible and was the individual Champion of Mental Health here last year. Pretty much in that order.” He looked surprised and at the time I wasn’t sure at which. Maybe for a minute he thought ‘Wow, I could have actually spoken to someone found Not Criminally Responsible before I shoved the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act through Parliament.’ Nothing may come of this but at least Peter MacKay can say he shook the hand of someone found Not Criminally Responsible. Good on him!

It all sounds hopeful with him coming to London for Tea and Crumpets but like the rest of the electorate I expect his political promise to be broken. It was a formal event and I’m sure he was trying to appease me but I did drive all night to get home and vacuum in case he visits. He has my business card so I hope he enjoys my Blog.

As a public service Peter MacKay’s phone number is (613) 992-4621. Just tell him Brett gave you his number.

P.S. Please don’t call me at home, I’m expecting an important call.

People seem to think you are either for Tim McLean and his family or for Vincent Li. Balderdash!

I had a gentleman email me a letter regarding Tim McLean and Vincent Li. I disagree with most of what he has to say but I respect his attempt at dialogue. He took the time to express himself and was civil with me. Normally, I would dismantle his arguments and refute them each by each but I will let his letter speak for itself. He has revealed several issues that I believed underscore the hate and stigma that surround this tragedy.

I have pointed out that much of the stigma surrounding Vincent Li is ignorance. I still believe that. People are spouting their unsubstantiated opinions and are rarely attempting to become knowledgeable or informed. Some are actually using their opinions as a shield to information.

I would like to speak to one point I find personally offensive. This gentleman and others take contrary information and arguments as absolutes. Some people seem to think you are either for Tim McLean and his family or for Vincent Li. Balderdash! I attempt to explain and argue factors surrounding mental illness, Not Criminally Responsible and Mr. Li not because I do not support Tim’s mother, friends or anyone else involved in this tragedy. If Tim’s mother’s side or voice was not being heard or supported I would be bringing that to light as well. Tim’s mother has the ear of the Prime Minister and government and a nation is behind her. I include myself in this support but I speak the other side and to other issues in an attempt to provide a degree of balance. People seem to be saying there is something wrong with this picture without looking at the whole picture. A book, painting or person rarely makes sense when viewed only partially and reality is distorted when our focus is a pin point.

One person threw in my face, “what if that had been your son?” I Tweeted back and asked if they were referring to “Vincent Li or Tim McLean? We could be a parent to either.”

My son is about the age Tim was when his life so tragically ended. I cannot put myself in Tim’s mother’s shoes and I would never profess to understand or comprehend her ordeal. I can however come as close as anyone claiming anything similar. What makes me unique is that I can to a degree empathize with Tim’s mother but I can also imagine being Vincent Li or Vincent Li’s parent. If it is fair to ask me what if Tim was your son it then becomes fair to ask what if you were Vincent Li or Vincent Li’s parent? Part of the solution is for each of us to more seriously consider being Tim McLean, Tim’s family and Vincent Li and Vincent Li’s family.

After reading this man’s letter I have a softer view of some of the ignorance. For some it is not a capacity they have. I don’t think this should be an excuse to not strive but I do not think it is fair to attack.

Hey
so i just read your article in response to vince li( i don’t give him the benefit of being called a mr cause he doesn’t deserve it).
I don’t take this out of anger or me not understanding of the disease li has.You seem to be a very smart man, well written article just disagree with you and anyone else who thinks vince li should have freedom or is completely healthy, I have never argued that fact or point my argument or disagreement with is everyone is posting li the victim. He did the crime. ( not like i would know i am not a doctor or a lawyer just a everyday regular joe concerned with the worlds safety)
A rapist is a rapist ,a murderer is a murderer no matter the mind set you have to be sick to do the crime like Li he did the real victims and continues to be Tim Mclean and his family through the justice system and the health system.
The fact that any one would defend these such actions is baffling to me.These quake doctors that are releasing him and giving him more & more freedom want nothing to do with him ,won’t put him up at there own house don’t want him over for the next family dinner or have li in their community.
So with that being said lets be honest with our selfs here for a minute vince li will be completely free and be in charge of his medication one day one day very soon and what will happen that one day he forgets to take his medication and goes past a elementary school just out for recess and li hears those voices again and down kid yourself just cause he is being made to take his medication and he seem s to be doing better because he is being medically sedated with medication and being watched and monitored.
The fact that people believe he his cured and can’t compete a crime again is wrong cause this has happen once before where a guy was found criminally not responsible for killing a young woman and he was released few years later and committed another murder of 2 more.
Its not fair to justify this crime/murder by a disease poor Tim Mcleans soul will never rest
The one question i keep asking is What do we Owe to this man Vince Li? as a nation ,as other humans . What has vince Li done for Canada? he was a immigrant less than 10 years do we really owe him anything now society expects us to house him in our community near our family`s , teach him skills to get a job and to live every day life i don’t believe he deserves that the best Li deserves is either a needle to end his life ( eye for an eye) or permeant waste of life in a facility to provide him the help and care he needs since he needs to be watch and medication on a daily to operate like another human.
The best test the selkirk hospital should do is take Li off his medication while he’s still there and see what the results would be.
Thanks for listening to my thoughts & ideas i have and put out hope it opens your eyes but probably not since with this case i find you either one either side Vince Li`s or Tim Mcleans & family
Have a great day

Sincerely,

RE: Vincent Li and Tim McLean. Compassion isn’t a dart we throw it is a net we cast.

I spent the weekend battling on Twitter. I don’t often Tweet but there was much ignorance I felt compelled to refute. Vincent Li who was found Not Criminally Responsible for a very disturbing and tragic incident is in the process of being granted a progression of freedoms in his treatment and rehabilitation. It needs to be clarified that these measures will themselves be measured and monitored. It is also important to understand that Mr. Li has been assessed by several psychiatrists who are in agreement as to the status of his mental health. Most importantly the individuals who contribute information and make decisions on that information have and always will ensure that public safety is paramount. Paramount.

I am not an expert in law or medicine. I have some information about each but my specialty is what it means and feels like to be caught between the two. If you want the definition of psychosis you can ask a doctor. If you want to know what the experience is like, you can ask me. If you want to know the intricacies of Not Criminally Responsible ask a lawyer who specializes in such. If you want to know how those processes affect an individual, you can ask me. I don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch but few know what I know. My journey is far removed from what most experience and I believe that is where my use is found.

Unfortunately, people with opinions often have no desire to hear from someone who actually knows something, as it interferes with their ignorance. Opinions have value but when their basis is ignorance they become water balloons without water; completely ineffective and they go nowhere.

I heard the voices that are incensed and incredulous over the appearance of the case. In my estimation most of these individuals are using headlines for a measure and as a basis of knowledge from which to form and progress their opinions. If a person looks only at the atrocity they can only make basic conclusions.

The severity of the offence is not the indicator of recidivism. If a person stabs another twice they are not twice as likely to re-offend as the person who stabs once. It is an asinine assumption and a distortion of logic. The brutality of the offence for which an individual is found Not Criminally Responsible has no bearing on their prognosis or recovery. The absence of blood in no way determines the effectiveness of medications and the presence of blood in no way determines the efficacy of treatment and rehabilitation.

Tim McLean who is the deceased in this case is clearly a victim. He was simply a passenger on a bus. However, there is more than one victim. We have to consider the families and friends connected to all involved. We have to consider witnesses and first responders. We have to consider communities. We also need to consider Vincent Li himself. Mr. Li is a victim of a mental disorder and a victim of public backlash, stigma and hatred. He no more asked for this event than anyone involved. To be a monster to a nation as a result of an illness is a weight that must also be measured. Mr. Li did not choose his illness and he is quite likely near the front of the line of individuals who would wish the event never occurred.

People confuse psychosis with psychopathy. They are two vastly different states and it is unfortunate they are phonetically similar. It is the same as confusing dentistry with dysentery. Psychosis and hallucinations are Axis 1 disorders while psychopathy is Axis 2. Twitter was awash with words like psycho and I would direct those people to the internet to actually find out the meanings and intricacies of mental disorders. Knowledge is power and slang is pathetic and painful.

I was disappointed to uncover the extent of hatred and intolerance that exists in Canada. People seem to embrace the biblical “eye for an eye” mentality all the while ignoring the New Testament and specifically the red letters attributed to Christ. I guess it is easier to cast stones. Possibly people gain a sense of self righteousness and can forget their own faults. An “eye for an eye” does not bring peace or restore the order of the universe. The universe is unfair and unjust. Just ask a child with a distended belly in a third world nation. People seem to believe the world is just and they become quite worked up trying to make it so through mental manoeuvrings. An “eye for an eye” leaves two people blind and it only expands suffering. It is rather imbecilic to think that suffering can relieve suffering. It is also a little sadistic to find peace in anyone’s pain.

Many individuals seem to think that Vincent Li may be better but Tim McLean is still dead. My sympathies go out to all involved but Tim McLean will be dead no matter what happens to Vincent Li. There is no logic in that argument or revelation and nothing that is done will alter what happened to those involved.

People were flying off the handle saying maybe Mr. Li’s psychiatrist who assessed him should have him as a neighbour. The fact is Mr. Li was assessed by several psychiatrists who came to the same conclusions. The general public and even Members of Parliament like Shelly Glover think they should be the ones assessing and that their opinions which originate from newspapers or less are the only assessment tool needed. We need to allow those who are trained and knowledgeable care for the community and Mr. Li. Despite the brutality of the offence Mr. Li is considered low risk and has been assessed and is being monitored. Few of us could say the same thing about our neighbours. No one is immune to mental illness and it does not discriminate. To an extent we are all capable of atrocity if we become ill to the point Mr. Li was. If you disagree please point me in the direction of the magic water you swallow to prevent mental illness.

I was called a douche, a jerk, a scumbag, a murderer advocate and was told to go hang myself. All were desperate and illogical attempts to overcome the disparity of being confronted by someone found Not Criminally Responsible and who is intelligent, logical and able to disseminate information, form relatively sound opinions and coherently craft them into Tweets. I got a little saucy myself but being the Not Criminally Responsible individual in these arguments I tempered my responses. I came to the somewhat biased opinion that I would rather have me as a neighbour than these scary and somewhat unstable twits. I have been tested and proven not to be a psychopath or sociopath but these individuals cannot claim the same. I don’t much care what they Tweet from their parent’s basement but I am concerned that they interact with others in person and that they are probably allowed to obtain firearms and most terrifying; can vote.

I came to the edge of being insulting and was uneasy with where I found myself. I am one of only a few who to a degree represent individuals who have been found Not Criminally Responsible. I do so not always out of desire but more so out of duty. There are many days I wish to be more ordinary and forget what is past. I realize though that my abilities, experiences and gifts are meant to be shared. I have near total recall of most of my psychosis and as much as it is a curse to remember all of that, it is somewhat rare and it would be a loss not to explain and share with others in an attempt for us all to understand each other. I don’t have fame or popularity to promote my causes. I am involved in the unsavory aspects of mental health: Not Criminally Responsible, the Canadian Criminal Code, Board of Review hearings, courts, police and corrections. Possibly I could let some of this slide if Clara Hughes jumped in but she’s busy on her bike.

I told one individual to “say Hi to everyone on his paper route.” I felt bad that I might be misinterpreted. I have every regard for individuals who support or supplement their income from delivering periodicals. Unfortunately, the 140 characters allocated by Twitter did not allow me to explain my meaning. When I was growing up teenagers delivered newspapers and I was implying that this individual was a child in his thoughts and arguments.

I think it is fair and acceptable that I get a little saucy. I don’t believe that since I was found Not Criminally Responsible that I need to portray something meek and gentle. I am and we all are many things. Part of my point is that I am no different from anyone and I posses characteristics that many and most humans posses. In a way being sarcastic and cheeky is an exercise in illustrating my ordinariness. I grew up with three brothers so I was born and bred to stand up for myself. For years I was unable to do this as I was in jail or hospital. If I had no voice I would be skinnier than I am. I traded barbs with my brothers as an exercise of intellect and debate and it was an ingrained and somewhat socially conditioned form of love. We did not hug each other though we do now. Instead we insulted each other as a form of attention and we found affection, comradery and even respect in its often humourous arms.

The one individual who seemed quite engaged in trying to enrage me gave up when I asked him his real name. He was calling me “champ” in some attempt to belittle me and I told him “my name is Brett and I do not hide.” My full name is attached to my Twitter account. This child was Tweeting from behind his mother’s skirt and when I said to “step up or shut up” he implied that I was threatening him. I reassured him and told him he couldn’t “hide and speak” and that I simply wanted to know if he “was a mouthpiece or a man.” He did not give his name which confirmed he was in fact just a mouthpiece. He was a noise originating from the area of the head but not the brain necessarily.

People were arguing that if Mr. Li misses a dose of his medications he will buy a bus ticket and repeat his actions in some form. Medications are important but only a fraction of the treatment and rehabilitation Not Criminally Responsible individuals receive. Further, these individuals are monitored and know themselves the importance of their medications and the other aspects of their treatment and recovery. In the case of Mr. Li there are a series of supports in place and extended that were not present at the time of the offence.

People think Mr. Li should be locked up forever and worse. Punitive measures do not alter the cause of the offence when the cause is mental illness. Treatment and rehabilitation of the individual with the illness is not only humane and progressive, it is the only successful and logical approach. Mr. Anonymity was trying to argue that all criminals should be medicated and why was Mr. Li so special? Firstly, Mr. Li is not a criminal and secondly they have not discovered medications for greed, stupidity and evil. As you might conclude it was draining attempting to inform such moronity. If I had to do it again I might just walk away as many of these individuals used their opinions as a shield to information. However, some of what I was saying was getting out there and their deflection did not mean I did not reach anyone. I am also pleased that there is a lasting public record of their stupidity. Maybe eventual embarrassment will guide them towards a book.

People were using the grief of those involved as a basis and argument for their hatred, ingrained ignorance and intolerance of people and circumstances they have little basis of knowledge in. People think they are being sensitive to victims and compassionate but compassion isn’t a dart we throw it is a net we cast.

Slightly Medieval Misconceptions

There seems to be a public misconception perpetuated by the media that when an individual is brought before the courts anyone can make an attempt to use the “mental illness card” and seek a designation of Not Criminally Responsible On Account of a Mental Disorder (NCR). Firstly, when a lawyer seeks the designation of NCR it may be the prosecution or the defense and it is rarely at the direction of the accused. Secondly, it is not pursued for any individual with a mental disorder but only in those cases where there is a possibility that the mental disorder rendered the accused incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or of knowing that it was wrong. There needs to be a causal relationship between psychiatric symptoms and the offence. To have a mental disorder itself does not automatically lead to a loss of reality.

A finding of NCR does not simply mean that the accused has a diagnosis but that the disorder removed a crucial element of a crime. In order to be convicted of a crime the prosecuting crown must prove that there was criminal conduct or a guilty act but also that there was a criminal state of mind or a guilty mind beyond a reasonable doubt.

In certain instances a mental disorder can render an individual incapable of appreciating that an act was wrong which can subsequently prove that their mind was not guilty. It is not a matter of being ignorant about a law it is a matter of being incapable.

Individuals who are found to be NCR are not innocent or guilty and are thereafter referred to as the accused. They are usually confined to a forensic hospital for treatment and rehabilitation for an indefinite period. Their progress or lack thereof is reviewed yearly by a Review Board and a disposition is decided by a panel after hearing evidence from the hospital, the crown, the accused and the victims. Restrictions may be removed or added depending on the evidence. Public safety is paramount and it follows that the least restrictive and least onerous conditions for the accused are put in place. Treatment and rehabilitation are important but they do not overshadow public safety.

There are instances where a finding of NCR could be pursued but some lawyers do not pursue it as it places their client in a position of indefinite custody. To act in the best interests of their client a finding of guilt is preferred as the freedom of their client is determinant. This is logical but serves no one as the underlying illness is sometimes ignored. From the perspective of public safety this is the less desirable option as treatment and rehabilitation reduce recidivism.

There is a misconception that to be found NCR is some form of getting off. In some instances NCR individuals gain community access sooner than if they were sentenced but the opposite is just as probable.

My interest in the Luka Magnotta case is that it provides me an opportunity to inform and educate. These high profile cases highlight the stigma and misconceptions that permeate our society. The attitudes that spring forth are of little consequence to me personally but I am alarmed because they affect all individuals who experience mental illness. NCR is not a club or union that seeks members. Like anyone I would prefer to see no NCR cases as I am acutely aware that there are victims on both sides.

The NCR provisions in the Canadian Criminal Code protect us all on many levels. They insure humane and progressive treatment of the accused and for anyone with insight who realizes they are not immune to mental illness it is a relief to know you would not be punished for an illness that rendered you incapable of appreciating the nature of a wrong. No one should be punished for events that are beyond their control. This is civilized and this is humane.

I personally believe that the defense in the Luka Magnotta case has a difficult task but my mind remains open to all possibilities and I will wait for more evidence. There appears to be evidence of knowledge of wrongfulness but even this could be explained in the light of a mental disorder. There can still exist an impaired ability to reason or appreciate. It has to be proven that Luka Magnotta had the ability to apply the knowledge that his actions were wrong. To form an opinion and tie the knot of the noose in the first week of a trial is unfair, dangerous, irresponsible, unjust and slightly medieval.

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.

 

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.