Ontario Provincial Police Detachment Commander’s Conference: excerpt from my presentation

Some would say you have too much time on your hands when you’re in the Hole, for those of you who aren’t accustomed to the lingo – solitary confinement. Usually this isn’t dangerous but rather an additional punishment in a complex system of punitive treatment. For me in early May of 2004 it was a launch pad for lunacy.

My thinking began fairly simply and I would say both then and now logically. When I was on the regular Range, an old retired teacher slept in the next cell. Each night at 20:00 hours they brought my medications and then would waken this soul to give him his usual sleep medications.

My master plan was to escape from the Hole. This would occupy some of my idle time. The Hole is about five by eight feet with solid concrete walls and has a solid steel door. The door has two four inch square windows for observation and a flop down opening through which food is passed. Escape by physical means is not a possibility. That leaves two other exits. The first is to escape the reality of the Hole in your imagination. The second is to devise a complex plan whereby the system itself rescues you from the monotony. I spent several days imagining except everything I imagined was reality to me. The C.I.A. were really monitoring me, my toilet was bugged, the Pope was in the basement following my every move, my thoughts were being broadcast throughout the jail and courthouse etcetera.

After becoming bored with my physical surroundings in a bizarre reality I devised a simple and at the same time innocent plan to depart from Hole number six. I decided I would pretend to be asleep when they came by with my evening medications, I assumed they would try to waken me like my teacher friend. The logical outcome that I foresaw was that I would be taken to the nurse’s station for observation or assessment. My hope was to jump awake in the nurse’s office and proclaim to be Harry Houdini The Second as I had just escaped from the Hole in my sleep. That madness wasn’t to be. Things quickly went in directions I couldn’t possibly have hoped for.

Firstly, during my feigned sleep they came to offer me back my mattress. There are no clocks or watches in jail let alone the Hole so my timing was off. I had been removed from the medical cells for screaming in the night as I was saving the world and was there for “administrative segregation” rather than for punitive measures but I still lost my mattress, pillow and sheets during the day. They may have been successful in preventing me from sleeping during the day but be damned if I didn’t retain the right to pretend sleep!

After the guards screamed my name several times, they came in and physically tried to waken me. I remember hearing the nurse’s voice, she proceeded to check my pulse and blood pressure. I was able to discern from her voice and information she gave to the fire department, who were now present, that my pulse was erratic. She was calling me Mr. Batten so I knew she was frightened. At the same time the fire department response was reminding me of my calls to the Fire Marshall’s office weeks earlier to have the jail updated regarding inspections.

They lifted my limbs and tried to look into my eyes.I was twitching different parts of my body while everything else was relaxed. They lifted me into a chair as I was concentrating on twitching and relaxing. On the way through the doorway they slammed my foot into the jam. It didn’t break and I didn’t flinch. I took the cue that they weren’t as concerned about my well being as they were about my security and “flight” risk. I realized where I was when they tipped the chair forward at the top of the stair well and in my relaxed state I began to fall out of the chair. I was pushed back at the last second but they continued to test me as I’m sure they were not convinced I was having seizures.

Near the top of the stairs I heard the one of the female emergency responders say I held the breathing tube down my throat for ten seconds and that I was no doubt a popular person around the jail. Everyone broke out in laughter. The humour wasn’t lost on me but I did not crack a smile.

Once they had me outside I was greeted with a breath of fresh evening air. I wanted to open my eyes, to see the stars, but I have a feeling I would have seen a police officer first. They said to me “O.K. Mr. Batten we’re outside, do you feel better?” I hadn’t been given the signal from God to stop or change course so into the ambulance I was placed. It was nice to be on a soft bed, nicer than the mattress I was offered at the jail.

I have a feeling I was shackled around this time. They put something down my throat again to create an airway. My airway was larger without the apparatus. I choked continuously for at least two minutes all the while twitching and remaining relaxed. My secret was to try to concentrate on one thing at a time. While choking on this airway, it wore on my throat and started to mix with my air and saliva. I began frothing blood and the ambulance turned on the sirens and I could feel the acceleration. For all I know they could have been circling the jail trying to outsmart me. They didn’t realize I had complete and total faith in God.

Once in the emergency room I could hear one of the guards misinforming the nurses and or doctors. One guard said I had just come off a range and could have been into some drugs. He also said I had been acting strangely for several days which though plausible didn’t say much for their treatment of me.

They warned me several times about the catheter, it sounded more like threats. I was more reluctant than my peaceful appearance. I had a catheter removed following a suicide attempt. I let out a small yelp at that time and I assumed going in would not be much better. The catheter didn’t provide a drop of urine. “Ohh” was their response. I could feel and hear them moving about. “He didn’t flinch,” said a female voice. I would later bleed as a result of that catherization.

After some blood work, they pulled the intravenous from my left arm and the blood shot across my chest, some things were working. They pinched the inside of my left arm and left a bruise, no response. They kept trying to examine my eyes, I fought it and they kept saying he’s faking he’s faking. Off I went to the psychiatric unit.

A while after I was directed to wake up, I was interviewed by a psychiatrist. He started asking the usual questions. I was cognizant of time and place, I knew the date. The sad part for me was that I had to yell at him to bring him down a notch with his condescending questions. I was an important figure, I was followed by religious leaders, the CIA, etcetera. They maybe thought I was delusional but that would have to be assessed and investigated to prove me wrong. The doctor was a sceptic without sufficient reason as far as I was concerned. As he left my room I screamed through my door to the nurses’ station which was out of sight. I assumed he was there taking notes. “Do you give out drug samples to your patients?” “Do you have a pharmaceutical license to dispense medication in Ontario?”

I think they were interested in me while I was meek and gentle, swaying with the end of the world. If I lay on my pillow, the world would end. Awake, I would finally see my children.

I’m not sure what the doctor wrote about me. He must have declared me sane enough to go back to jail because that was where I was heading. For some reason the system found me fit enough for confinement once again. I was placed in the medical cells where you get a mattress 24/7. I was behind bars but I had indeed escaped from the Hole.

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.

Attorney-General MacKay wants us to believe solitary confinement doesn’t exist in Canada because he calls it ‘administrative segregation’. BS!

The use of solitary confinement and acceptable standards for the treatment of mental health in corrections is a form of torture as it exacerbates and often deteriorates the mental health of a segment of society that is marginalized, compromised, and vulnerable to abuse and in many cases clearly disabled. Solitary confinement deteriorates the mental wellness of anyone.

The use of solitary confinement can inflict permanent psychological injury. To use it on individuals with mental illness is more harmful, depending on their symptoms. ‘Administrative segregation’ denies a person the psychological benefits of movement, and visual or auditory stimulation. The need for human contact and interaction is fractured at best. Seeing a hand or face through a food slot may worsen symptoms. It is also internally disorienting to be exposed to 24 hour light. The use of light in various forms can be used to torture an individual. To my knowledge there is no medical literature supporting the use of constant light to treat or rehabilitate mental illness of any sort or severity.

When I was in solitary confinement I lost the sense of time in part due to 24 hour light. For me 15 minutes was exactly the same as 2 hours which was identical to 12 seconds. What reality was I to build without the cornerstone of time? At times I confused night with day. The denial of a sense of day or night affected my sleep which worsened my condition. Sleep interacts with several neurotransmitters which also have an effect on memory, emotions, moods and appetite. Solitary confinement causes a disruption in circadian rhythms and affects dopamine which is linked to schizophrenia and serotonin which is linked to depression, anger, OCD, sleep disturbances and many other emotional and physical disturbances.

To place someone in solitary confinement who is struggling with reality is like taking the half dead goldfish out of the bowl to revive it.

This government would not allow corrections to worsen the physical health of an inmate but we allow them to worsen the mental health of inmates. Mental health in corrections or around the corner is a health issue. Being involved in the justice system does not in any way mean the government or any individual has the right to withhold proper and humane health care. Mental health is health care. If I suffered a severe physical illness the image of correctional surgeons would seem alarming.

Even in corrections the necessaries of life are a societal standard. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) Commissioner’s Policy Objective Regarding Health Services is:

1. To ensure that inmates have access to essential medical, dental and mental health services in keeping with generally accepted community practices. Inmates with severe mental illness are subjected to ‘administrative segregation’ so why do we not see it used as an “accepted community practice?”

It is incumbent on government; a duty, to provide the necessaries of life including mental health care, as inmates are in conditions which make them incapable. The duty to provide the necessaries of life is essential when an inmate is further incapacitated by illness. This government has not and is not performing their duty. Instead they are openly presenting a systemic institutionalization of stigma through laws and services. Under the charter these are acts of discrimination. The government is legally bound to provide the necessaries of life; treatment, to any inmate who is in need of what we refer to as mental health services but which under the charter must be acted upon as though it is and can only be recognized as health care. To continue with the use of solitary confinement and the denial of mental health care is negligence.

When an inmate is incarcerated, health care becomes the responsibility of the government. Individuals in jails and prisons are neutered of any capability to seek out or enlist assistance. In dealing with individuals with mental health concerns, availing oneself of health care is often not within the capabilities of the inmate as symptoms often further reduce an inmate’s ability to vocalize and enlist assistance. If an individual is incapable of insight into their illness they are also incapable of being proactive with regards to their health. It then becomes imperative for the authorities to institute conditions and opportunities to address the needs of the inmate.

Attorney-General Peter MacKay says inmates in ‘administrative segregation’ do not suffer adverse effects and that segregation in Canadian prisons is “different from and not analogous to the concept of ‘solitary confinement’ referred to in many foreign jurisdictions and should not be confused with it.”

Solitary confinement in Canada is not dirt floors or cockroaches but the dimensions and duration of confinement is essentially identical. Inmates are given food and sanitation but their toilet is table and chair. Inmates are checked regularly but there is virtually no human contact. People who have no mental illness to contend with would find segregation alarming in a matter of days if not hours but politicians speak of it like it’s a fable or fallacy.

I know that solitary confinement has many similarities regardless of latitude and longitude. It is the prolonged exposure to a small chamber often with constant light and essentially no human contact. Peter MacKay wants Canadians to believe solitary confinement doesn’t exist in Canada because the conservatives and corrections call it ‘administrative segregation’. You can paint a Toyota a hundred colours but it’s still a Toyota. It is a ridiculous ruse and epitomizes the fact that the conservatives have no “concept” of solitary confinement.

Peter MacKay uses the same distorted logic in telling Canadians ‘administrative segregation’ is not analogous or in no way comparable to solitary confinement. The United Nations refutes this notion. The United Nations defines solitary confinement as any incarceration method that restricts inmates to a cell for 22 hours a day or more “without meaningful human contact.” Canada falls into this definition easily but for some reason the government wishes to make their own parameters and use silly name games to camouflage their use of these measures. Is it a bad thing to follow the United Nations in promoting human rights or would we rather the conservatives make up our definitions? Are we a nation of conscience?

I would ask Attorney General MacKay how many solitary confinement cells he has seen in “foreign jurisdictions” and how many he has seen in Canada. What is the Dishonourable Peter MacKay’s firsthand knowledge of solitary confinement?

With regard to these “foreign jurisdictions” my first question is what are the differences? My second question is does the Canadian government consider solitary confinement as a form of torture in these “foreign jurisdictions” or is it simply foreign ‘administrative segregation’? My third question is which elements of solitary confinement in these jurisdictions are considered a form of torture and of these elements how many exist in ‘administrative segregation’ in Canada?

I can only laugh if Peter MacKay has never seen ‘administrative segregation’. I wonder if he has heard the door close behind him. Has he spent an hour there? Peter MacKay is a manipulative liar and I will call it to his face. We are all talking about the same place but the conservatives have named a bathroom Bermuda and we’re supposed to swim in the spin. Inmates refer to it as the Hole or the Digger. Corrections call it ‘administrative segregation’ and therefore conservatives tell us solitary confinement doesn’t exist in Canada. We are exposing persons with identifiable medical conditions to this contradiction of terminology. We should ask the inhabitants if it is anything but hell.

I will simply state that the conditions of ‘administrative segregation’ in Canada contains elements of torture and further that these conditions are imposed on individuals with symptoms of mental illness and in many cases for that reason alone. This policy and practice is discrimination.

We see photos of Peter MacKay and the Teflon Toupee in combat zones. It would be a great photo op with the pair of them near a solitary confinement cell. Maybe they could step on the throat of someone with an identifiable illness as they croon to the base of their vote who are excited by tough on crime policies regardless of human rights.

As far as non-existent “adverse effects” I mainly speak from personal experience but in comparison to the Attorney General Peter MacKay it is at least experience. Peter’s mother is a psychologist. Possibly she could draw him a picture of what dissociation and PTSD are. I went into solitary confinement with neither. I had never experienced them in my life. When I came out it took two years before I stopped staring. If that means nothing to Peter MacKay and his conservative agenda the shame is his mother’s.

Distancing oneself or ones government from the truth that they are not providing services in health care is understandable. I think quite simply this government wishes most not to have to compensate those who have been exposed to this form of torture. Like the residential schools they owe an apology. (Other than those in the conservative government who have spoken up against it.) It confounds me why a government would use conditions even remotely similar to what is clearly torture in other nations on individuals with a health condition or disability. I am ashamed of my nation.

As I write this, individuals with mental illness are in solitary confinement in Canada. The use of solitary confinement as an acceptable standard for the treatment of mental health is a form of torture, exacerbates mental illness and often causes a deterioration of the mental health of a segment of society that is under the care of our government. This shame doesn’t disappear with terminology. Tomato, tomahto.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Mental Health Strategy, Ect.

I don’t often advocate for the police. They have unions and each other so I don’t view them as disadvantaged or marginalized. They are not on my radar so to speak 🙂 I usually defend those who are unable to stand up for themselves or who do not have the opportunities and advantages that I do.

In my recent encounter with Ontario Provincial Police officers I have softened and expanded some of my views. Few of us have the honour or opportunity to share a meal with the police and their humanity is nourishment itself. I don’t want to disappoint those who find me a refreshing prick with a pen but I have a few points for us all to consider.

Most people do not know that since I was a child, I dreamed of being employed in law enforcement. I know of few better examples of irony. I also have several friends from my youth who are police officers. I can name at least seven who I played high school football with. I am fairly outspoken regarding tragedies that involve mental health but do not think I would not be as upset to hear of an officer falling in the line of duty.

Many of us have an uninformed sense of what the police are like. They are the brutes who give us speeding tickets. I agree that it is an annoying pastime of theirs but they are attempting to keep their families safe as well as yours. We do not blame the baker for making us fat.

Like everyone I am influenced by the media. With the media preoccupation with the sensational we are force fed and filled with any and many officer mistakes. To make an analogy it is no different than hearing that the Toronto Maple Leafs have actually won a game and concluding that they are having a great season.

I tried digging up some real numbers to provide some perspective and fairness. There are over 26 thousand police officers in Ontario. The few we hear about as having fallen short in their duties would be statistically minute and invisible on almost any graph.

I was aware that police officers are trained and informed that a person with a knife can be lethal at a range of 15 to 20 feet. I might be spatially disabled under such conditions. Officers are trained to use lethal force in these instances. I will still argue that a greater distance should be maintained where possible and appropriate but it is comprehensible that such situations do not always work out. I would imagine that any officer who had to make a lethal decision would be haunted by such and it is understandable why officers also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I have argued against the use of Tasers on mentally ill individuals as they are often disabled and it is a health condition. We need to guard against Tasers being used too often but in speaking with an officer I see their value. An individual with a knife who charges at a distance of 20 feet will still reach the officer even when shot with a gun. This is a no win situation. The Taser if successful will stop that same individual in their tracks. I would rather have to deal with psychological and temporary agony than find myself and or someone trying to help me in a coffin. I have a family as do they. The consequences of the lethal use of a firearm are far reaching.

We can point out that 92% of officer fatalities are committed with a firearm or that police homicides occur 23% of the time involving robberies and 3% occur apprehending psychiatric patients but I’m not sure those numbers would make me feel better if I was faced with a knife and I am unlikely to call on statistics or probabilities when I see that knife waved in my proximity. Any weapon is problematic.

I could only find numbers from Vancouver but they may still be relevant. One third of all police calls involve people with mental health issues. Let’s assume that the Ontario Provincial Police are dealing with similar numbers. I think the police have been put in a place and are being called on to remedy issues that are not theirs to own. Mental health is increasingly involving agencies that were never meant to be mental health service providers; police and corrections.

We can scream and shout at them both but the solution doesn’t entirely lay with altering what they do. We need a number other than 911 to call and we need to prevent and protect individuals from entering the justice system as a result of their addictions and mental health issues. Thirty percent of individuals come into contact with the police in their first experience trying to access mental health care. We don’t change the diaper when an infant needs to be burped.

There are agencies better suited to serve the mental health needs of Ontarians. These organizations and agencies need to be better coordinated, better funded and more accessible. To keep things as they are is monumentally more expensive fiscally and socially. We will have less need to call 911 if mental health care can be obtained prior to crisis. The police will always have a place and we need to be grateful for that. It is an unenviable position and a difficult duty. It is unfair to the police and Ontarians to make police an automatic selection for mental health issues.

I am showing my support to the Ontario Provincial Police not because I now know several more outstanding officers but because I deeply desire better outcomes for Ontarians. I will still point out problems and they may be the target of my often sharp and ill timed sense of humour but in the case of the Ontario Provincial Police and specifically the Elgin County Detachment I see compassion, promise and an active engagement in improving the mental health outcomes of Ontarians. Is the Ontario Provincial Police Mental Health Strategy perfect? Possibly not but I am inspired and I believe community stakeholders can co-operate and implement something of an improvement.

The quarterback doesn’t throw the ball because he is incompetent or incapable of making headway; he knows the receiver stands the best chance of the most advancement. Community stakeholders are the wide receivers. We have been calling the police for help with mental health matters for decades. Community stakeholders are now being called on. I believe they can handle the pass.

Gratitude in the Gravy

I am beginning to take Thanksgiving and similar holidays for granted but I still consider them granted. I have had dozens of such days denied in the past. I was a turkey in a cage wishing and wondering about the real ones steaming on family tables. I had occasions of special meals delivered on plastic trays and the flavour was not lost on me but it is family and friends that provide the true seasoning and season.

We had our turkey and cranberry on Sunday. My digestive system seemed to defy probabilities and several pounds of gravy and goodness all but vanished. By 9:00 PM I was hungry again. I popped a pair of Eggo waffles in the toaster which seemed like putting whipped cream on a Frisbee but I like Eggo’s. I hadn’t had an Eggo in about a year and as I waited for it to toast I started to reminisce. The butter on my knife and bottle of real maple syrup reminded me of the days of substitution.

Grocery shopping used to be calculations and unfulfilled cravings. After I met my wife, her wage bulged the budget and foods I longed for made it past the checkout. Grocery shopping became an exciting excursion and a measure of happiness. It was more entertainment than expense and added to creativity in the kitchen. These days grocery shopping is still a pleasant experience but as I bag perogies and produce I walk away wondering which is infused with precious metal. I am grateful we can afford avocados but I wonder about others for whom a healthy diet is unaffordable.

I ate my Eggo’s and thought about days without but I smiled because I have in fact been given a gift. Had I not done without family gatherings and grocery luxuries I would have not licked the maple syrup off my plate.

Dear God, Thanks for Thanksgiving and please consider my syrupy smile gratitude for groceries. Amen

“It is a kind of cold and uncaring environment”

A 30 year old father has died at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre. On the surface it seems no correctional officer or administrator can be faulted because it was a suicide and because this particular inmate did not voice an intention or thoughts about suicide. Corrections sidestep the corpse and deny responsibility because protocol was followed. What if protocol in fact hastens or facilitates the death? Following the rules in this case could be considered the smoking gun.

According to London Lawyer Kevin Egan, who represents hundreds of London inmates “It is a kind of cold and uncaring environment.” I hope Kevin Egan didn’t have to research too many legal documents to come up with the understatement of the century.

Inmates are screened at admission about their mental health and suicidality. “Do you feel suicidal?” if answered in the affirmative will bring about a second strip search and the inmate is placed in solitary confinement or for those who like to justify its use, segregation. The inmate is given a tear proof gown and blanket to go with their toilet and 24 hour light.

For any inmate who is familiar with this system of sadism there is only one answer to the question. “No.” Inmates in solitary confinement because of suicidal ideation or behavior are checked on every 10 minutes. Interestingly, it takes about 5 minutes to die. In the case of this young man because he was segregated but not on suicide watch he would have only been checked every 20 minutes in comparison to the usual 30 minutes in the general population. This deviation points to the admission that solitary confinement creates a dangerous situation that needs increased supervision.

I realize Elgin-Middlesex Detention Center is understaffed and poorly designed but is it not possible for “cold and uncaring” correctional staff to ask an inmate if they are suicidal after intake? Surely, while under the arguably tortuous conditions of solitary confinement an inmate could be spoken to and asked if they are suicidal. Would any institution grind to a hault if such a protocol was implemented? It would require conscience and a degree of compassion but it may save a life.

To be placed in solitary confinement deteriorates mental wellness and exacerbates mental illness. This is where it becomes difficult for guards, administrators and healthcare staff to sidestep culpability. This particular inmate was taking prescribed psychiatric medication and was placed in an environment where whatever mental wellness he possessed was compromised. His mental health was compromised by the correctional system which did little proactive to prevent his eventual death.

There have been 16 coroner inquests into jail suicides since 2007 and the recommendations of better screening and monitoring of inmates has been ignored. This is not only a dereliction of duty but it is outwardly reckless and a foundation for legal culpability.