I could call myself a victim of sexual abuse but that is not how I perceive myself nor do I wish to make my experience into something beyond what it was and is.

I haven’t had too much positive feedback from my latest argument that mob justice in media, community action or people using their positions to promote their opinions becomes problematic for more vulnerable members of society.

Some people seem to think I’m some kind of misogynist. My blog is closer to being a misandry march but who has the time for that. I have even had people make assumptions about my experiences and understanding regarding what these women may have experienced. In my world sexual abuse doesn’t have anything to do with being a man or a woman.

I could call myself a victim of sexual abuse but that is not how I perceive myself nor do I wish to make my experience into something beyond what it was and is.

The man involved in my experience was a practicing physician at Ontario Correctional Institute. At this point no one knows everything that happened except him and me. I shared some of it once but I was not whisked away to the courts.

Being a prisoner of the Province of Ontario I really didn’t know what to do. It was during a portion of the admitting process. I had just been transferred to Ontario Correctional Institute and I was totally unfamiliar with the institution, its employees and my fellow inmates. My knowledge of the correctional system at the time was limited and if there was a safe or independent avenue to report the occurrence it was not openly expressed to me in any way.

I could have written a letter to my mother but all outgoing correspondence was read by jail censors. I could have written a letter to the Ombudsman but I did not know who to ask about Ombudsman confidentiality. I could have called my lawyer but she charged me about $75.00 for that service and I was in every respect penniless. I could have called any service of the province if I had access to that information. The only phone I had access to was in a public space and within ten feet of the guards station.

I’m not sure why an inmate would require anything near a physical with no outward symptoms or complaints. I know my rights today and I would likely attempt to decline such services in a rather boisterous way but I am also familiar with the correctional system and such requests often end up quelled.

I would have yelled rape but I wasn’t 100% confident that the guards I assumed to be somewhere near would have grabbed the right asshole. It might have just been the one doctor but it might just have been his turn. I discerned that it was best not to involve his friends. This doctor is probably dead now and I don’t hold a grudge. He might be in hell having a perpetual prostate exam but that has never been my prayer. The Spirit I believe in forgives all transgressions and transgressors. I don’t know much of the Bible so I use a few words I was taught as a child. Forgive me my trespasses and forgive the trespasses of others.

We often assume we have people figured out but it takes a lifetime to figure yourself out. Go figure.

Measurable As Murder

Police officers are trained that at 20 to 30 feet a person with a weapon can close in on them and cause serious harm. If officers themselves create this unsafe distance it becomes measurable as murder.
Sammy Yatim was shot eight times while holding a knife on an empty streetcar. When officers first arrived the distance was safe and no one was near Sammy. Sammy stayed on the streetcar so it goes without saying that the dangerous distance was created by officers themselves. Instead of firing eight shots into a community and distressed individual the situation could have been contained and a negotiator or anyone else with people skills could have been called on. Sammy could have been left on the streetcar all night until he fell asleep, but he fell dead.
Here in Ontario police cadets at Ontario Police College are trained for 12 weeks. Is it difficult to imagine that a highly experienced and educated psychiatric nurse could be trained in those same 12 weeks? I would argue that a psychiatric nurse armed with police tactics would be capable of dealing with someone on an abandoned streetcar who has a knife.
There have been instances of nurses in hospitals dealing with patients who are brandishing sharps. Those incidents have never resulted in a patient being shot 8 times and Tasered for good measure. How is it half a dozen brave highly trained officers end up pulling pistols to answer a knife? Cowardice is the first word I come up with but callous stupidity may be closer to the mark.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have recently made mental health issues a priority for Ontarians. After well over 100 years dealing with individuals with mental illness it is as pathetic as it is progressive to finally make mental health training a priority.
Any who are familiar with my modus operandi will not be surprised at my lack of excitement at such news. I am unlikely to send the new commissioner a card expressing my gratitude at hundreds of officers finally knowing half as much as they should. If the Ontario Provincial Police were involved in an excess of tax fraud would they blanket officers with training in accountancy or would they approach government with a call for expertise from outside their ranks?
In 2012, the Ontario Provincial Police responded to over 27,000 occurrences involving 7,192 people identified in the OPP’s Niche Records Management System (RMS) as “mentally disordered.” Training officers in mental health matters is a beginning but it would be more productive to leave medicine to healthcare workers. Nurses don’t surround a bank robbery but cops surround a mental health matter. Why? Why do we not question the police being involved in mental health?
Some will say I am a mouth piece and in particular would likely wet myself under similar circumstances. I soundly proclaim to have been placed in more dangerous situations without backup, bulletproof vest, sidearm or any training. Outside of that I was not paid over $60 000 and it was not my job. Citizens are to be protected not perforated with bullets when the hair on the back of your neck goes up. We are lead to believe police officers have some chokehold on courage but it resides in each of us. Some would scream but as many would do as well if not better.
My first contact with London’s Chief of Police started with me querying about the man with scissors that was shot dead wearing a hospital gown. The chief proclaimed that he had a pair of scissors as though it was a foregone conclusion that an officer would have likely died. I’m not privy to the filtering of who becomes a police officer but I would suggest weeding out the men and women who are afraid of someone trapped on a streetcar with a knife. If you’re afraid of scissors stay home.
The cops and robbers mentality is fun on a playground but in real life not all citizens involved in a police exchange are bad people.
I had a friend in high school who pleaded with a police officer not to charge him as he was interested in becoming a police officer himself. The officer’s response was “you put your pants on one leg at a time don’t you?” Obviously my friend was no different from anyone else. He was not special but the officer painted himself with the same obvious nature of humanity. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. Officers do not need impunity as much as they need integrity. In the real world when someone makes a catastrophic mistake on the job they are fired. Police forces could and should purge themselves of any officer who is derelict in their duties. Police unions end up ensuring the chaff is part of the service. Officers are not infallible unless you ask one. When officers are aggrandized it minimizes the value of the rest of us and perpetuates these sad statistics.
In Ontario we have the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) to investigate serious incidents involving police officers. It is composed of 54 full and part time investigators. Forty-seven are former police officers. I’m jaded but that’s about as logical as making five year olds daycare supervisors. In 97 percent of cases the investigation exonerates the subject officer. This is statistically suspect if not sad. It’s not much more than a catch and release program.
What needs to be done differently? Actually the change needs to be in attitudes. The citizen needs to be regarded as someone’s son, sister or child. Paint people with the similarity of neighbours and you’re less like to Taser, shoot and beat them. An attitude of better than and separate leads to brutality.

What’s His Name?

Like the Prime Minister and Governor General I am delighted at the news of the royal birth. My first born was a son and I saw in him my father and myself. Becoming a parent is a shift. Concern for self becomes concern for family. What wouldn’t we do for our children?

I was reading some of the news coverage of the birth and was interested in the celebrations. There will be a 62 gun salute outside the Tower of London to mark the arrival. I couldn’t help but think of the thousands who died protecting the monarchy with a “one gun salute.” Those individuals don’t sell papers they merely gave their lives so we could have Freedom of the Press.

I was comforted to learn that all other parents and children who share the same birthday as the royal child will receive a commemorative penny in a pink or blue pouch. Isn’t that the royal way? Everyone else receives pennies while the royal pouch overflows with jewels.

I have no resentment to an innocent child but I don’t recognize his blood as any different. To my way of thinking each generation weakens this so called royal blood. If someone is indeed different; royal, each child they have is only half royal. This blood we pledge to, defend and pay for is only a slight fraction of whatever significance royal blood had in the beginning. If I lay with a poet my child does not burp a limerick.

I am on the edge of my seat waiting to learn this child’s name. I haven’t a clue if Dick sounds more royal than Don but with all the fuss what choice is there outside of Jesus?

You can honour or pledge to “what’s his name” or you can do the same for the guy with the scars on His hands. He can’t wave and he may not have even been handsome but He was important not for the blood in His veins but for the drops that touched the earth.

The Giggling Fisherwoman

IMG_0578I usually fish alone and am quite adept at “landing” a fish in a canoe. I have few worries and many thoughts when I fish.

On Saturday evening I paddled to my favourite fishing hole on Lake Huron with one of my nieces. It is an oasis of boulders and rocks. It was nice to have a paddler in front to make short order of the journey. We anchored in waves that were at the upper edge of what I might normally expose myself to. My niece seemed unconcerned and I longed for some good fishing. I ran the paddle and anchor as we moved about the shoal having decent luck. I say luck because it was my inexperienced 11 year old niece who was landing fish. I lost one mid-fight which she countered with a 3 pound smallmouth. I netted it and placed it over the side on the stringer which was where my lure ended up after my beautiful bass tangled beneath the canoe. I don’t recall if it was when I had to strip most of my old tangled line from my reel or the third time I pierced a finger with a lure that I started to pray. I’m sure it wasn’t a curse as “shit” was “sugar” for the evening.

The next two fish were as big as or bigger than the first. They were both caught on “her” lure her father gave me. By ten o’clock at night it was reclaimed by that side of the family. The fish on the stringer were not only larger than many I catch but also more numerous than my individual catch limit. My niece is my new lucky lure and she paddles so I might take her out again. She might read this but if she doesn’t I will tell her it is only for the extra fish but I need her. That’s the beauty of family. We do better together.

I’m sitting here with a sore thumb from the hook it met but it’s good. It reminds me of the fun we had. I was more excited by any one of her fish than most I have landed myself. She was giddy in her success and sent the odd questionably humourous remark my way. I maybe shouldn’t have tormented her on the water. I was adamant that no one would see me point at any as being hers. (Note to niece…your uncle has more in his belly so in all honesty, who ended up with more fish?)


What is resilience? Is it an ability to withstand something intolerable? Is it a manifestation of stubbornness? Is it some family strength passed through generations? Is it simply survival? When we hear of what others have endured we need to keep in mind that there was no other choice. To have not withstood would have been an end.

I have withstood certain events as we all have. I had the advantage and disadvantage of being mentally ill. My perception of certain conditions would not be the same as someone looking in on me.

Thousands of years ago I suspect resilience was part of daily living. Jimmy didn’t run to his dad because Joey called him a name; he hit him over the head and took the dead rabbit from his hand. It’s probably best things have changed. I might be the guy short a rabbit. I sometimes wonder if there isn’t merit in the fight. I’m not talking about violence but the endurance of something intolerable.

I have learned things I never would have known were it not for pain. At the time of my trials I only wanted an end. Today I look back on some of my experiences and it provides cause for not fearing what lies ahead.

One Fish

I caught one Bass on what were rough seas. Most of the weekend on Lake Huron was not a Bass fisherman’s dream. It’s interesting though the different ways it can be viewed. I could tell you the time I invested and on some level agree that it was a failure. I could look back on better days and it would explain why no pictures were taken. But if I was to ask the other fishermen in my midst they would exclaim at the wonder of my fish. If I took inventory of my canoe we could all be convinced of the victory.

I guess the ambiguity arises at the present location of said fish. It sits in a freezer waiting for enough company to be worthy of a family meal. Were it in our stomachs its merit would rise from the depths like its scaly form did.

Time and place can be most influential on pessimism and optimism.

The Limestone Remains: The Care Continues

St. Joseph’s Health Care delivered an open house and official closing for the hospital that has housed thousands including myself. What would it have been like to be stationed there or employed there? I was legally obliged to be there which interfered with my perspective. I wonder at the impression the building made on others. When you are allowed to move freely through a building it has a different impact than when you are locked in.

I was surprised to see so many members of the public. I saw strollers and canes. I am pleased the public has no apprehension in entering these facilities when they are empty. I am hopeful it lessens their apprehension regarding the occupants.

The closing ceremony was very moving and meaningful. I was near the back as we proceeded down the hallway and out of the building. Lights were turned out and the doors slammed. I was in tears for part of the long walk down the hall. I was crying for people I know and for those I knew. I was crying for what I lost and for what I have gained.

I was given the honour of lowering the hospital flag. I wanted to keep the flag so I could scream to heaven to my good friend Ed – “we have captured the flag!” I realize there are no sides to this battle but it all seems like a victory for those who struggle with mental illness.

I know Ed is smiling down at the efforts of so many.

Thank you St. Joseph’s Health Care.

Gift Shop

When I was a patient at the old hospital much of it was abandoned. It was able to accommodate 5000 but while I was there the few wards that existed housed less than 200 clients. As I wandered the long hallways I began to internalize the perception that I too was abandoned and forgotten. The fact that there was no gift shop in this hospital conveys the reality.

Why wouldn’t a hospital devoted to mental health have a gift shop? I don’t imagine hospitals profit much from gift shops but the patients do. If we all visited those with mental illness in the same fashion we do for “physical” illness there would be gift shops. If you don’t think stigma is a reality this would seem an almost physical manifestation of it. Our perceptions lead us physically away from those with mental illness. We know the value in visiting the sick but the whispers we grew up with keep us at a distance.

The new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health has a gift shop. Maybe they gladly accept visitors and it’s not “as close as you want to get” but rather As Near As Your Beliefs Will Take You.

Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care

I was part of the forensic system for seven years. My first 10 months were spent in jail followed by a year on the Forensic Treatment Unit and another on the Forensic Rehabilitation Unit. The remainder of my rehabilitation took place in the community.

I’m no expert when it comes to rehabilitation and I don’t know the first thing about design but I know how accommodations make me feel. When I had no window and only a toilet for furniture, when the fluorescent was always and my company never I was convinced that not a soul in the world cared about me. When I see this building I am convinced that the individuals who will pass through here will be cared for on many levels. I hope these surroundings remind them that they are not abandoned or forgotten. When I see this building I know my community cares about mental illness. When I see this building I know society has compassion.

We are celebrating a new building and change. I am celebrating the dignity we are able to afford the staff and clients who will occupy this facility. Those who suffer from mental illness deserve no less. It has been my painful pleasure to come to know both clients and staff across the way. I have become friends with both. I am pleased that the staff will have surroundings befitting the fine care and expertise they measure. The responsibility we entrust them with deserves our respect.

This building fights stigma. When we can all come together and create such a space it allows us to all understand. We can have no doubt that these illnesses deserve our very best. The line I often saw between mental health and physical health treatment disappears on this site.

I have been a mental health consumer for 34 years and have experienced several institutions. Often my will was not to be there. One that sticks out in my mind I only spent a couple of days at but I can still remember the graffiti on the seclusion room walls, the tired old furniture, even the paint would send any person for the exit. For some of the occupants here, at times there really isn’t an exit. If they can look around themselves and see everything I see in this building I suspect they will be better able to embrace their rehabilitation.

Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care will further the welfare of those unfortunate enough to find themselves here. These premises are a remedy to preventable hardship. This hospital is more therapeutic than the old one for one simple reason. Patients will have their own rooms. To live in a dormitory every noise is common and privacy is extinct. Even the mentally ill need a space to call their own; even the mentally ill need privacy; even the mentally ill need solitude.

No one wants to find themselves in this building. It is only the staff who choose to be here. Mental illness is not a choice and these facilities should be about rehabilitation.

I am pleased for my neighbours and community. I am pleased for the many people I know who suffer from mental illness and for those who don’t. To be here is usually something that happens to someone else. There is no inoculation to exclusion from this building. Thankfully there is treatment so we can all take a path towards the exit.

We are All fortunate to have had this opportunity to consciously and deliberately plan for advancements in rehabilitation and to honour society’s shifting perception of mental illness.

The Odour of Justice

I apologize for not writing sooner. I have been writing but I have felt less inspired and deemed most of my musings unworthy of posting. When you spend as much time alone as I do there is little confusion as to where doubt comes from. There are naysayers and people who may point out our failings but it is a personal choice to lick at their laces. If I am able to drag myself from my doubts I can sometimes see them for what they are. They line up in excuses for why I don’t venture forward. Try as I might to not go somewhere, I do.

I have been waiting to hear from the Justice Minister 🙂 and Bill C-54 is still on my mind. I still believe it is a response to the sense of justice many of us carry. We are more at ease with punishment than we are with rehabilitation. We stand to the side, proverbial stone in hand and we pass our own little judgements. We decide who or what is to be forgiven. This all comes out in public sentiment spun by certain media and propped up by stigma and misunderstanding.

I’m sure it is sexy for the Conservatives to give off the odour of justice as it is their only ambition to have voters follow the scent. We need to be mindful of the fact that some of our sense of justice is primitive. It was not long ago that we gathered for hangings. It appeals to the eye for an eye mentality. An eye for an eye does not make the world more just it just makes it doubly tragic. Should we punish those who are only socially responsible? Should your opinion be a measure of their treatment?

Just because in your head they are guilty and responsible does not make them so. The crime is entwined with an illness. Regardless of how distasteful the crime may be we have to agree that were it not for the illness there would be no crime.


yogawithmaheshwari http://yogawithmaheshwari.wordpress.com/ has nominated me for a Sunshine Award and mindfulness4now  http://mindfulness4now.wordpress.com/ has nominated me for a Reader Appreciation Award. My thanks to them both. When someone finds your blog and responds with likes, comments or a follow it is an acknowledgement of ourselves. I put my self into my words and it is I who am appreciative of being seen. Thank you Leanne and Maheshwari.

Some of what I write is my way of allowing readers to see that mental illness is not something to be hidden. It is part of our world and touches most of our lives; shutting it out impoverishes us all. We are connected as humans by what shines within us but also by the fact that most of us are broken in some small way.

I’m trying to address two awards and will fall short at both but I would like to acknowledge a few bloggers.I try to wander the web and see what other creative people are doing. I like words but also enjoy those who record the world with photo’s. One that caught my eye and more was http://tracielouisephotography.net I’m not done exploring her images or words and I would recommend anyone to start.

http://prideinmadness.wordpress.com is one of my online neighbours. She came out and spoke to me when I first arrived here. She is a passionate person and I hope the conversation continues.

http://infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com or NZ Cate is a far off friend who I have even tweeted with. We have only met through words but if you look over her blog you will see that words can be enough and infinite sadness is infinitely more.

http://bethlemheritage.wordpress.com has sent me on a journey of thought through posts and comments. This person knows more than me and has graceously chosen to share. Bethlam is an interesting blog surrounded by a fascinating place and its passage through time. Bethlam has taught me that the way we see things now is not how they will be seen in the future.

I am most familiar with these individuals but if I have liked or followed you, there is admiration without words.

Something about me:

I enjoy woodturning. I am not a craftsman, I simply enjoy having a dangerously lopsided piece of wood rattle my lathe until I can tame and tease it into something I can put my keys in.

I have more good people behind me than have ever stood in my way.

“Worthy of the pay….”

This posting is some more of my psychotic thinking. For entertainment purposes only.

“I only want to help. I mean no harm so someone simply let me know what to scribble on my sign.

You give us political views and publish budgets and agendas and offer them as gifts. You elect to keep much of what you do a secret. We only want to know what it is you devise behind closed doors. A child does not leave their artwork in a drawer; we gladly display the work we are proud of. An employee does not hide in a box the fruit of their toil; they want their employer to know what they have done to be worthy of the pay. You are employed as my representative; it is I who employ you, why do you hide your efforts from me?

Freedom of Information should not be and Act, it should be a Right! When we learn of your blunders without you telling us first, what are we to think? You cling to innocence but what seeps from your mouth is always more lies!

We need to think why the government and how the government voted that governmental business was something to be uncovered. Where is it written that our elected should carry out OUR affairs and business in secrecy? The enemy will always have secrets; all I ask is should our government also? If it is to the essence of by the people and for the people, why are the people not given eyes to see what it is you do for them?

I can carry the flag from my car window and even pin it to my chest but it is only you that wraps it about your body as armor. Why are you protected by the flag but not me? If I can serve and even die for my country you have no right to lie to my country.

You pound into our heads “more jobs” all the while not doing yours!

I am a flea on the ass of government!!!”


I am officially home now after a dozen days away. I have seen family I haven’t seen in years and missed others who I have the privilege of seeing more frequently.

I am thinking about the saying “home is where the heart is.” My actual heart has been far from home at times but when I think about it, my thoughts were often found beyond the places I inhabited. I’m unsure of what actual presence I had among family and friends when I was unable to be with them. It would please me to know they thought of me half as much. It is interesting how when we are in one place our minds are in another. I get the idea of being present in the moment but there are times when to survive we must escape the moment and live where we cannot.

We all find ourselves in places we would rather not be whether it is in line at the grocery store or the waiting room of the proctologist. Maybe the sages who sit on rocks can find something meaningful to cling to when they are having their prostate checked but all I can think about is getting my ass out of there. There can be meaning in things that never happen or places we wish to be. Imagination is a gift and a tool. If I can make a fairy tale out of something unbearable I am no worse off than the one who actually enjoys the taste of jail toothpaste. I did embrace the puddles of sunshine rare as they were but it was what I carried in my heart and mind that got me through.

In jail it is forbidden to whistle. The story was that the guards would whistle as they led an inmate to the gallows. If you can carry a tune in your head, the wind across your lips and the sound in your ears can remain silent while the song rings strong. What we carry in our hearts is at times more magnificent than the scenes we actually play out. A melody in your heart can transport even the most withered soul to shore.

The Not So Great Lakes

I like to call myself a fisherman though I am less so than in my younger years. This past summer I had fair luck here on Lake Huron providing my family with several Bass and Perch meals. I do have my share of luck, for instance it was I who caught fifteen fish and my nephew one on one excursion; he’s two and a half. Outside of that I don’t carry with me any extensive knowledge or talent.

This year I was at the lake before anyone else and found myself on the water alone last night. The seas were rough relative to my light aluminum canoe. I hooked into a beautiful Smallmouth Bass after only three casts and was expecting a bountiful night. At the rate I started I was sure to fill my canoe. The odd wave splashed over the edge of my unnamed boat and I had to brace myself by knee to one of the gunnels to cast my beautiful lure with the wind. After a while I pulled out my smokes and enjoyed what would be my last from that pack. I also pulled out my Ipod. I have never fished to music and at the moment I am unsure of what possessed me to do so. I pulled anchor from the rocky shoal and was drifting quickly past the boulders that make the fishing so excellent. It really was idyllic but like many things in life – change is inevitable.

With a breeze on my cheek, a rhythmic motion to the canoe and music to tie the scene together I couldn’t have wished for more other than fish. In slow motion the boat listed to starboard, my heavy tackle box slid and everything entered the water to the side of the fish swimming on my stringer. The fish was as big as any I had ever caught and I am want to blame it for my capsize but there must have been other factors which lead to me with my head bobbing beneath my canoe. The song played on as I was banged by my floating tackle box, two paddles, a net and my Smallmouth Bass. None of it seemed real as the music floated through my head as if nothing was different. I quickly righted my canoe to save my fishing pole from the bottom and suddenly realized I had nothing to bail out the hundreds of gallons now occupying the inside of my canoe. I clung to the side and counted my possessions certain something had passed me and my life vest to the bottom. It seemed to all be floating in the canoe just fine. I took off my flip flops and tossed them in with the flotsam and made my way to the back of the canoe. I hugged what was either the bow or stern and tried to yank my life jacket from around my ears. And the band played on.


My fifteen minute paddle and ten minute drift had left me further from land and home than one would want to be in sixty-five degree water. Adrenaline kept me warm as I kicked my way to shore. I can’t say it was a pleasant thirty minutes but I was alive. Outside of expense I wished I had my Iphone rather than music, regardless, I didn’t have the Coast Guard in my Contacts anyway. It was a struggle kicking a canoe full of water through the waves but I had Lady Gaga for inspiration. I wouldn’t recommend this activity for aerobic exercise but I was without the sore ass that follows my yearly session on the stationary bike.

I could see figures on shore as I made my way in. One couple who I’m sure saw my low lying canoe with a head bobbing at the back seemed uninterested and carried on down the beach. And the music died. I intend to write Apple and commend them on how their non-waterproof Ipod actually performs quite well while submerged in a pocket underwater. I stowed my now defunct headphones in my pocket figuring they were shot with the waves that lapped at my head and also to ensure that in the event of rescue I wouldn’t appear as a stereotypical self-absorbed teenager lost in music.

I was keeping a close eye on my bobbing tackle box hoping a wave wouldn’t sweep it from my canoe. I was getting tangled in my fishing line and was too tired to enjoy any form of body piercing so I retired from my exercise and reeled in my lucky lure and stowed my pole underwater in the canoe. As I propelled closer to shore I had a good view of my bass, its fins were out of water like a shark and I was grateful to not have to deal with anything like that. I was however becoming resentful of my finned friend as it was clearly alive but made little effort in the direction of intention. When I finally hit a sandbar and could walk I was relieved but only momentarily as I passed over it and into the depths again. A family of several generations had gathered and sauntered over to my landing. “You’re supposed to ride in it.” My purple lips failed to form the curse that rose from my exhausted body. A man my age came a couple of feet into the water to assist me. He noticed my fish and was instantly enthralled. He tried to undo my stringer and asked his daughter to get a photo. I removed the fish and held it up for a picture. Neither of us was smiling and I was disinterested in recording the moment. I dragged my normally heavy and now completely filled tackle box to shore and tipped a few gallons from its seams. We removed everything else and tipped the water from my vessel. He asked if I had far to go and I replied “No, I’ll just walk her home.” And so I began to pull my mainly dry canoe and contents along the shore towards home. I was still barefoot and soon tired of walking on stones and bravely stepped back into the canoe. I was spent and probably looked like a three year old as I struggled by paddle against the wind. I was more than relieved when I made it to the beach in front of our place. ImageI pulled the canoe to shore forgetting about my exhausted fellow passenger. He slid across the sand as dead weight still having less intention of making it to the cottage. Maybe I should have offered him a ration of rum once safely home and he may have hung in there.

Back at the cottage I was beginning to tremble, not much energy remained. Mom helped me remove year’s worth of tackle from my box and we laid it out on newspaper. We agreed it was excessive as we punctured our fingertips. I followed through with my promise for breakfast and filleted my fish under the outside light. With that out of the way I took an inventory. I had lost my favourite hat, a half pack of smokes and two pounds of body fat. My Ipod was inoperable as was my lighter so I lit a cigarette from a new pack with the BBQ flame thrower. I soon after went to bed and spent my first hour and a half shivering uncontrollably despite blankets and a thick hoodie pulled over my head in the July heat. I awoke in the morning clinging to my pillow like I had the gunnel of my canoe. I heal quickly and I will probably head out again tonight if she calms down a little but I will not have music and I will take someone with me. These moments are best shared and two set of legs would be like owning an outboard motor.

30,000 feet

One of the strangest things I saw while in Newfoundland was a United cemetery and Anglican cemetery “side by each” but separated by a chain link fence. The Catholics were buried on a beautiful hill in town. Apparently a fence wasn’t separation enough. I was unaware that there were at least three heavens. It got me to thinking about how we draw lines and build fences between ourselves. I’m writing this on a plane at 30,000 feet and there is a curtain drawn between first class and economy. I’m not sure what this fabric blocks out but we weave our differences everywhere we go. We will all put our heads between our knees and kiss our asses goodbye in the event of a catastrophic event. These events seem one of the few times we realize we are each flesh and bone, tears and wind. The rest of the time we we draw lines.

Economy – First Class        Protestant – Catholic    Albertan – Ontarian

University Grad – High school drop out       Child – Adult          English – French

Hockey Fan – Soccer Fan                Rich – Poor                             Virgin – Stud

Musical – Tone Deaf                         Black – White                    Cyclist – Runner

GAP – American Eagle                     Classy – Crude                    Owner – Renter

Near sighted – Far sighted                Fat – Thin                           Swimmer – Sinker

Canadian – American                   Gay – Straight                           Married – Single

Rural – Urban                                   Sibling – Only child                     Pretty – Ugly

Right handed – Left handed         Sophomore – Freshman              Brunette – Redhead

Military – Civilian                          White collar – Blue collar            Teacher – Nurse

Leader – Follower                         Literate – Illiterate                      Funny – Boring

Popular – Outcast                          Amateur – Professional          Punker – Preppy

Tattooed – Ink free                           Vegetarian – Carnivore         Mentally ill – Normal

Politician – Honest

I’m sure one could write a whole book out of the lines we draw between one another. Some provide identity while others simply offer differences. Differences to be judged by and differences we can push one another away with. They are often differences we don’t understand or put into perspective. I love the saying ” we all put our pants on one leg at a time.” Most of our differences are not important enough to actually change us. Most of these differences are simply a way to paint each other into corners where we make the decision of whether to care about each other. But when the ship is sinking it’s a good idea to cling to each other. Death is the decider of difference and when you’re dead none of it will make a difference. As far as heaven for different religions I just hope they are connected like the oceans because there are some fellow passengers I wouldn’t want to have a fence to climb to be with.


We had the pleasure of touring and old Basque/French/English bastion here in Placentia Newfoundland. We also had the pleasure of knowing our guide whose services seemed above and beyond. On a rugged path through the forest between forts he pointed out the moss which grew on some of the trees. He mentioned symbiosis and how we depend on each other. Without the tree to cling to the moss would not exist.

As alone as we sometimes feel, we do depend on others for our existence. The tree does not think about or even notice its relationship with the moss. As humans we have the ability to foster and encourage growth in those around us. Even as we are connected we sometimes don’t have the perspective to see how what we do and say impacts and carries forward in the lives of others. I would probably only be known as the idiot who rides his bike all winter were it not for certain individuals. On one of my rides a vignette formed in my mind. When I returned to the hospital I immediately put it to paper. Soon after I shared it with the hospital chaplain. He saw merit in it and approached me later for my permission to have it shared by another therapist who was convening a group therapy session. The only thing about me that had been shared in years was negative. Had the chaplain simply said “well done” or “I like it” I would have soon forgotten about it. Instead I began to write. I began to tell my story and illustrate some of my experience with words. I ended up with a book. My stories were a form of entertainment for myself and another patient and I had no intention of sharing beyond family.

In walks another individual. After I was living on my own in the community my best friend during my forensic journey passed away. I used a portion of my book in a eulogy I delivered which this individual was present for. He pressed me several times to share more with him. I had no intention of sharing it with him but eventually I emailed my book. He thought it was worth sharing and organized my first speaking engagement.

Anyone can write a book and we can all speak in front of a small group but for my withered soul these were David and Goliath moments. For someone who was just as apt to be naked and writing on walls it was an “about face.” I’m not sure “about face” is the correct figure of speech but my gaze was turned upward.

These two individuals saw in me and my efforts something worthy of sharing and through their small acts and words my life has changed. Like the moss, I was allowed to grow at their sides. I might not have survived let alone thrived without them. When we see and cultivate worth in another they have a harder time denying it in themselves.

“Half Crazy” “Extremely Unstable”

I was having breakfast and noticed a gentleman across the diner wearing a hat that said “Half Crazy” “Extremely Unstable.” I’m assuming he wasn’t and was trying to be cute, funny or simply ridiculous. To actually be considered as such is not overly funny. Maybe I’m a little sensitive but I do find humour in my own plight because it gets me through. When others find my experiences funny it just gets to me.

I can never understand those who ridicule and joke about mental illness and those afflicted. Instead of sharing your derision why not share your secret? Possibly you remain quiet about your secret because you intend to patent it. You could market your secret seasonally even. I find the holidays especially difficult when I’m dealing with delusions. You could run commercials and hide your gift in Cadbury Easter Eggs. The rest of us could scratch our heads wondering how you got the gift inside. One in five would gladly pay to know what specifically you do to avoid mental illness. Please let us know what it is you eat or ingest to keep mental illness at bay. What Yoga moves can I practice to prevent mental illness? What is this secret you obviously possess? What shopping mall should I go to so I can purchase your immunity? It would be swell if I could pick it up at a garage sale. Used is better for me, many occupations seem off limits to me so money can be tight. Hopefully it fits into the shopping carts some of us push our lives around in or could I borrow your SUV? Maybe you and the many others who share your immunity can organize something like a blood donor clinic. Maybe it is something I can plant in my yard. Can I cultivate what you so assuredly posses? What will you charge for your secret? Do you take personal cheques? Maybe you keep it like some family recipe whose ingredients are only to be shared by those whose blood you share. It would be nice if you could open a drive thru. The one in five could order a “Double Double” dose of your formula. I sincerely hope it isn’t too complex. I have already been getting by using an array of medications and therapies. Please let it be a prayer or a pill.

Possibly you enjoy the disparity of power. You in your Birkenstocks reading the Globe at Starbucks and me mumbling to myself and or cursing at the sky down by the tracks. Is my plight not enough for you? Why do you add salt to my wounds?

This is all in jest obviously; if you had this knowledge, this power, there would be no need for you to take away what little I posses. There would be no need to label and denounce the mentally ill. There would be no need to stratify society by health or wealth because you would possess both. Still, it would be nice to know your secret to at least have health. Just imagine how popular you would be if you could help us dodge dementia, depression and delusions. You wouldn’t have to tell your stupid jokes; we would already be eating out of your hands!

If you do not posses compassion enough to share your immunity, have the decency to keep your misconceptions under your hat or at least off of it. Either that or wear one that says “Half Liver” “Extremely Jaundiced.” But that would be in poor taste wouldn’t it.

The Ant

I just brushed an ant from my patio table. I looked down at where I thought it might have landed. I did not see it and assumed it fell through the deck boards. I suddenly realized it might never arrive where it once was. I’m not sure how long an ant lives but it is a possibility.

I have been brushed from where I once stood. Unlike the ant I was quite aware of the fact. I felt the sting of my landing and had a clear view of where I had been. At first I only wanted to return to where I once was. I longed for most of what I was and had. Living without, my gaze eventually fell on other points. Like the ant I started my journey over. I can’t say I simply brushed myself off. I had many people help me to my feet and point me in directions I could not see. I am unsure of my destinations but I am satisfied with where I find myself most days. I could still have my eye on where I was but it would only interfere with seeing where I am.

What’s the Difference?

I was reading the story about the armored car heist in Alberta. There were no fancy headlines like those reserved for Vincent Li. Apparently we find it comprehensible that someone would murder three individuals for a little over 300 000 dollars. Possibly we can relate to crime for financial gain, while crime due only to a mental disorder is foreign. Could we fathom doing something we wouldn’t normally do for financial reasons? What would you do for money otherwise not attainable? It may be totally foreign for most of us to commit any crime but if it is for profit there seems some rhyme to it.

What does it say about us as individuals and as a society? Why can we comprehend someone whose value of life equals roughly $100,000 per person? Murder under any circumstance is abominable yet we only demonize the person suffering from hallucinations and delusions. The headlines that follow Vincent Li years later are “Crazed Bus Butcher”. “Baumgartner Nabbed at Border” follow the individual who is likely criminally responsible for three deaths and another seriously injured. This person seems to be in full possession of his mental faculties yet he avoids demonization by the media and possibly the public.

Why do we allow someone who knowingly murders for paper, dignity of sorts yet strip those who suffer from a mental disorder that same dignity? Should we hold the media to higher standards? Call a spade a spade and I will still buy your paper. Distort the facts and you are a sensationalizing letch. Are those whose occupation it was to distribute money to machines not worthy of our outrage? If we are going to spit on someone, greed as a motive for murder might just be worthy of it. Possibly we don’t want to demonize something that we could fathom ourselves? Is there an amount you might murder for?

It all seems senseless and Mr. Li did perform an atrocity but the courts and medical profession have proven and deemed him Not Criminally Responsible. Why is that so hard to disseminate? If Mr. Baumgartner is responsible in act and under the law should we not hold him accountable to the same extent we mistakenly hold those who are factually “not” accountable? If Mr. Li killed for an amount of money would it be comprehensible? If Mr. Baumgartner killed because he was ill I would expect headlines such as “Armored Car Abomination” or “Twisted Treasure Terminator.” We can understand one scenario because we would all do certain things for money under certain circumstances. The thing you have to realize is we could each do any number of things under the powers of a mental disorder. My outrage flies in all directions and my sympathy to those affected by both individuals.

Fool For A Client

I was clearly psychotic for much of my time in jail but I was at times in complete possession of my intellect. I might have looked and sounded bizarre but I made sense at times as well. I was at a disadvantage because of my illness. I was taken advantage of by certain inmates and often disregarded by the authorities. As much as they deny you in jail you also maintain certain freedoms. My case was still before the courts so I was allowed to cast my political ballot. I was in the medical cells at the time so I’m not sure what voter turnout was but I possessed my usual political will. I was resigned to the fact that none of the parties was overly concerned with me as an individual or population but it is a vote I will always remember. I was stripped of most of what makes a citizen but I stood tall with my golf pencil in hand.

About this time I was quite displeased with my lawyer as was my family. I was doing my best to dodge his services but he dragged me to court every other week to pad his pockets. It was a several month battle to have him removed from my case. The authorities in the jail were advised that I was representing myself; by myself. I did have a fool for a client but I was given a privilege above my fellow inmates. I was allowed access to the institution copy of the Canadian Criminal Code. After I filled out a form I would be locked in a lawyer’s room with my disclosure documents and the big book. I was a whirlwind of activity. Within a few weeks my papers were in tatters and filled with notes. My golf pencil had no erasure so I would use my shoe to erase my previous episodes of lawyerly notations. I was often in a panic looking over what I had written. Each time I would read the Canadian Criminal Code my defense would change. One day I stumbled on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I had never read them before. I couldn’t see any help for me in them but I read them intently.

During this period I was spiritually charged as well. Any time I had access to a phone or a pencil and envelope I would reach out to religious leaders in the community. I had regular visits from a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, a Muslim Imam, an Evangelical minister, the institutional minister and several lay-people from the community who offered religious guidance. Sometimes when Reverend X. was at the institution she would take me to her office in the basement and we would smudge. I learned to love the smell of burning sweet grass and was always moved by the ceremony and gesture.

To add to my religious education I got my hands on a copy of Malcolm X and started copying the customs he described involving his conversion to Islam. One of the guards was also a Muslim and I looked to him for guidance. One day I waited with my breakfast. When he came to the bars to collect my food tray I asked if I was permitted to eat. There was ham on it, he nodded and I woofed it down.

I didn’t have a clear idea what I was through all this. I even had some knowledge of Judaism to throw in the mix. One thing that became clear to me was that I shouldn’t be eating meat. I asked a guard if I could change my diet to Vegan. “You’ll have to fill out a request form.” I did and was denied. I asked to see a lieutenant. I was again denied. “I want to speak to the Warden.” “You’ll have to fill out a request form.” I did and within days he was standing outside my cell door. I made my request. “It’s jail policy that you can’t change your diet after being admitted.” “It’s not a security issue” I said. “If you had requested a Vegan diet when you landed here I wouldn’t have a problem.” “But it’s part of my religion.” “What religion is that?” “Well I might be Jewish.” “You’re not Jewish.” “I have a new religion.” “I don’t recognize your religion so as I said you’re out of luck.” “I have the right to practice and follow any religion whether you recognize it or not.” “I can even follow no religion.” He walked away.

Jails and those employed in them are overseen by the Ombudsman. If an inmate has an issue he or she can ask for a “Blue Letter”. It required no stamp which furthered my excessive correspondence and unlike our other mail it could be sealed to escape the censor system of the jail. I filled out a request form and asked for a “Blue Letter” and filled it out. About a week later I was notified and given a number to contact the Ombudsman by phone. The woman asked me if I had exhausted all internal measures. “Yes”. She said she would look into it. The only other person who knew of my battle was Rev. X. After another week or two I was again asked to call the Ombudsman. The woman was quite pleased to inform me that the Ombudsman had sided with me. I had the right to follow my religious conscience. I could practice any religion or no religion. It was my first victory as a lawyer. The Reverend came to my cell and was clearly pleased as well.

I was punished for taking things beyond the institution. The kitchen gave me some kind of meatless cabbage rolls three days a week. As much as I hated them they did have a certain sweetness:)  I could have created some havoc within the jail by passing on my knowledge to my fellow inmates but being a lawyer I steered clear since there was little money to be made. I never held it over the Warden. When I regained the majority of my sanity he went on vacation for a couple of weeks. He had a habit of walking around the entire jail and checking to see that our pillows were left in our cells when we were locked out. I saw him come around the corner and walked up to him with a huge smile and said “welcome back”, it was my jail too.

Two Sizes

We all want to feel wanted. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate what we do to get what we want and what we do to feel wanted. I have been in situations where neither option existed. When you are in the Hole you are lucky to have a Bible. I was always sure to ask for a Bible wherever they shipped me off to. I could be found with the regular population, with those in Protective Custody, in the solitary medical cells or in the Hole.

My first experience with the Hole was when I was asked the trick question. I knew the answer by morning. (Now I know it by mourning) The question is whether you feel suicidal. I said “a little bit.” I was severely stressed and without some or all of my medications. My whole life had just been yanked from beneath my feet. It was my first time in jail. They don’t have one of those maps like at the mall. When you’re not expecting to be there it can be quite alarming. “In here.” Flash! “Take your clothes off over there.” They already had my watch. “Lift your left foot.” “Right foot.”  “Lift your arms up.” “Open your mouth, lift your tongue.” “Turn around.” “Bend over and touch your toes.” “Okay here’s your gear, get dressed and grab a pair of shoes out of the bin.” It was a mass of used singles. “We have two sizes… too big, too small and too bad!” When only hours ago you were eating Doritos it suddenly seems a strange day.

It was a long night; half naked on a concrete floor in a tear proof suicidal gown that you would gladly throw off were it not for the drain in the middle of the floor. For some reason the drain scared me. Why was it there? Would there be trouble for me now or later? They have a 24 hour light on you so possibly you think more than your usual 3 am existence.

I wasn’t feeling particularly better when they guided me back to the nurse in what I assumed to be morning. “Are you feeling suicidal?” Hell Ya, I wanted to scream but I shook my head No. They do have medical cells with a mattress and the same toilet. Maybe they thought the Hole was therapeutic? I’m sure it is safer because we all know people who have died from eating their mattress. Peace be upon them!

Delinquent or Dependent

De-institutionalization was to be a huge step towards dealing in a progressive and humane fashion towards the mentally ill. The plan wasn’t as successful as hoped because the community services meant to replace institutions never came to pass. I would argue that we have essentially re-institutionalized the mentally ill. Hospitals and asylums have closed or been downsized while jails and prisons are expanding, if not in size and number at least in population. People caught up in addiction who could be treated are instead punished and incarcerated. I don’t have an issue with punishing those who choose to break the law but is addiction a choice? Who chooses to be consumed by addiction? If I steal to feed my addiction am I delinquent or dependent? What do we achieve as a society by punishing someone whose life is in chaos because of mental illness or addiction?

I remember the first spanking I received as a child. I was in my room waiting for my father to return home to administer my punishment. I was worried with fear. After I received my spanking I lost much of that fear. Incarceration is the same. The fear of punishment is lessened when one knows and has experienced the punishment.

It is probably more sensible economically to incarcerate individuals than to treat them but do we become morally bankrupt in the process?

You Can’t Ingest Its Nature

I think at least 117 people out of 100,000 have an idea of what it is like to be incarcerated. We have images of guards and inmates but like many things, unless you have lived it you are not in possession of a complete picture. Unless you have been wrestled to the ground you won’t understand the damage. Unless you have been stripped you will not understand what it essentially does to you. Unless you have been lead to and lived in a cell with nothing in it but a toilet and a 24 hour light, unless you were the one to not witness day or night outside of meals you can’t understand what it does to you to lose the orientation of time. Unless you have been locked down in a cell built to punish 2 men with a third you will not understand what it means to lose all value.

I know there are some who would have us chained to walls and flogged every breakfast. My suggestion would be to travel to such a country where such practices are upheld. Many of these countries may not offer you the quality of life you can claim in Canada. How we treat the disadvantaged and the least among us spreads through all our lives. Part of the advantage of a social net is the mental outlook we all gain from it. When you can look around and see people who need assistance getting assistance something in the back of your head relaxes. It’s the place where you actually know that there is the possibility that there is very little that separates you from their disadvantage.

I am one of a very small percentage and I became at times an even smaller percentage. I experienced the legal system, the correctional system and the forensic system. Many of my experiences involved me in full psychosis for extended periods. The conditions we accept as a society for those we wish to punish are in many cases the conditions we are choosing to accept for people who are mentally ill. They are your neighbours’ relative if not your own. If we expose someone with a mental illness to all of this it may be worrisome enough. When an illness carries you off to jail rather than a hospital you would hope your treatment is humane. You may be of the mindset that it should be therapeutic.

We hear about jails with capacity issues and we yawn. We hear about 3 men bunked into cells built as punishment for two men while we sip our coffee. These jails are often in lock down. To be in lock down is basically a suspension of all movement. I think it is not therapeutic to prisoners of mental health when you enter a cell as the third person. You can bet you are the one on the floor. It’s no less comfortable but you get to deal with the toilet and each man who uses it. Normal access to showers are also suspended which when mixed with the fact that you never have the privilege of entirely new clothes on a daily basis means you are living in your own stink. Normally there was a common area to relieve your bowels. It was rare that a cell toilet would be used. I can remember a guard entering our common area when the conditions were normal, “It smells like ass in here.” I’m sure it did. There are no windows in jail and no switches to pull for the fan to kick in.

If you own a tape measure lay out on your floor a space roughly 5 by 8. This is your “house”. Bring in a toilet sink combo and two people you don’t know, three mattresses and a set of bunks. Your movement basically consists of twisting in and out of bed. I can recall being on the top bunk. I was in possession of the entire atmosphere but the traffic was light. I knew the one man a little but nothing of the new man on the floor. He was a harmless alcoholic. When he was not on a park bench he was in jail.

To have a mental illness through all this in my case amplified some of the experience. There was a drawing on the wall which terrified me. I was at times directed to stare at it and other times I would be directed to lay on my left. It was like having the devil beside you as you lay awake on your cot. I was at times reading a book I was fortunate to have in my cell. I read it at night to help the other prisoners to sleep. My thoughts were being broadcast so reading to myself or any thought carried a long way. This was also a nightmare for me as I was possessed by thoughts that I felt I had no control over. I had enemies and tricksters and they were my cellmates at certain times. Even my food intake was being directed by something. We sometimes fantasize about a day in bed, when it is the only option and for longer than could ever be comfortable it loses meaning.

Unless you have a mental illness which was alive as you lived these moments you will likely not understand. I am a small percentage but as I was stricken, it can be unpredictable. Mental illness does not look into your wallet or dodge your fancy car. Mental illness doesn’t seep out of the ground in the neighbourhoods you occupy. Mental illness doesn’t look at your age or measure your Body Mass Index. You can’t open your mouth or touch some surface and ingest its nature. You can’t study books or plan a vacation to flee it in any way. It may strike any of us and will surely strike someone we know.

When we don’t care about people with mental illness who come in conflict with the law it invisibly ripples through all our lives. It allows us to draw lines as to who or what we care about. It’s like my hitch hiker theory. If you remove the option of picking up hitchhikers you are less likely to help someone with car trouble. When we totally disown our responsibility to prisoners it is easier to do the same to the mentally ill. When they are one and the same you might want to consider their treatment because we are all one and the same.


 January 25, 2007


Trees are accepting. They don’t ask for more or less or demand anything. They accept what they are given and grow. Truly some are spoiled, they receive all the light, room, nutrients and water a tree could hope for. Others are cast into impossible conditions where it seems none of the required elements exist, yet there they stand. They cling to the terrain unwilling to give up. They may grow slower or be spindly and misshapen but they seem to thrive where they should not. How do you explain the willingness of a tree to grow where it is denied that which would make it thrive? Who or what is responsible for its growth? The tree does not question or bemoan its circumstances; it just reaches out for the required elements. I see traces of humanity in the lessons of a tree’s growth. Some humans are spoiled and receive all that could be hoped for while others are cast into impossible conditions. From within these impossible conditions some people seem to thrive, they maintain a willingness to grow and reach out for the required elements. They branch out into the hearts and minds of others and root themselves in hope and faith unwilling to give up.

Not Criminally Responsible: The Burden of Accusation and Popular Misconceptions

This an essay I wrote while in college several years ago. It’s not my usual writing style.

On the surface, to be found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) would be more acceptable and advantageous than a guilty finding. However, responsibility and blame are placed on NCR individuals even though the law finds them not responsible, and they are subjected to punishment and a loss of liberties which is comparable to penal sanctions. The number of Not Criminally Responsible individuals is statistically overestimated in the judicial system and NCR individuals are thought to be prescribed shorter sentences. Being NCR also means navigating through a new world of social stigma which exceeds that of a common criminal. Individuals who commit a crime and are considered or found Not Criminally Responsible face more severe social consequences and punitive measures than criminals tried and or convicted without the Not Criminally Responsible defence.

NCR offenders are the recipients of additional blame due to the effects of the “just world hypothesis.”“The just world hypothesis (Lerner & Simmons, 1966) states that individuals believe that people have direct control over their fate and get what they deserve in life” (Murray, Spadafore, McIntosh 35). The just world hypothesis applies to victims whereby blame is placed on a victim to reinforce a person’s belief that somehow people get what they deserve. Since this may be an automatic process (Murray, Spadafore, McIntosh 35), it can be hypothesized that in the case of an individual losing touch with reality and acting unlawfully as a result, more blame may be placed on this perpetrator who in essence is also a victim. The law clearly states that such individuals are not responsible. To accept the fact that they are not responsible, one has also to accept that mental illness can strike an individual through no fault of their own with severe ramifications. Those found NCR are in fact victims whose existence threatens the ideal of a predictable and just world where we control our own fate. People are uncomfortable with mental illness because it is indiscriminate and has no apparent cause. Kay Redfield Jamison a well known author and psychiatrist who is bi-polar experienced the effects of the just world hypothesis in response to her book. She states, “I received thousands of letters from people. Most of them were supportive but many were exceedingly hostile. A striking number said that I deserved my illness…” (Jamison 533). Not Criminally Responsible individuals face the same hostility.

NCR individuals are not spared punitive measures. There are several purposes to punishment. People feel the need for retribution – some form of punishment comparable to the harm done by the offense. Society also believes punishment serves as a deterrent to the offender and others (Pollock 265). Both purposes are problematic. Retribution is not equal to the crime in many cases. Some people are comfortable in jail while others suffer greatly. For those suffering from mental illness, jail can be terrifying. Often the correctional response to mental illness is isolation, which can make symptoms worse (Kondo 255).Brad, whom the author interviewed and who suffers from schizophrenia, spent his 4 months in jail (waiting for transfer to a hospital), isolated in medical cells where there are no TV, radio, books or news, natural light, or cellmates. Mark, another interviewee, spent 8 weeks of his ten months between the “Hole” and medical cells. The “Hole” has no mattress during the day, 24 hour light, and “a four inch window with a view of a wall.” Kondo describes what it must be like for NCR individuals in jail; “to be in jail is a miserable, horrible experience. It’s full of shame, it’s full of defeat, it’s full of hopelessness, it’s scary. It would have to be 10 times more difficult for mentally ill offenders than for those without phobias, depression, schizophrenia, or other disorders” (255). The experience of jail without delusions, hallucinations, and depression invokes anxiety in most of its inhabitants.

People who are unable to appreciate the nature of their crime, specifically the fact that it was criminally wrong and probably morally wrong, many times through treatment come to the full realization of their act(s). For some, the extreme disparity between their actions and their true nature is overwhelming. Scott, stated “that not a day goes by when I don’t think about it.” Despite not choosing their predicaments and being victims of an illness, many NCR patients take responsibility for their actions and the burden of their illnesses. For those seeking retribution, reality and the memory of crimes committed can be a significant and severe form of punishment for these individuals.

As a deterrent, punishment is ineffective. If it was effective there would be no crime to punish (Pepinsky, Jesilow 122). Others would view the punishment and be deterred while those who were already criminals would be deterred and not re-offend. In 2004/2005 approximately 32,100 adults were incarcerated (Beattie 2) with minimal change to crime rates. Furthermore, one third of offenders re-offend within two years (Beattie 13). Allowing a very small percentage of individuals to circumvent the penal system has little effect on deterrence which may have minimal influence anyway.

Another purpose of punishment is incapacitation, whereby a person is prevented from committing future offences (Pollock 267). Those found Not Criminally Responsible are generally housed in maximum security units initially. According to Scott, at Regional Mental Health Care in St. Thomas, the maximum and medium secure forensic units have bars on the windows, security cameras throughout the common areas, metal detectors and a series of locked doors off the unit. There can be little doubt that while the patient is in the assessment stage and early stages of treatment and recovery he/she is no more capable of escape or re-offense than a criminal. Brad, who is under a community detention order, explained that individuals are monitored by a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, mental health nurse, and other support staff. Most accused are required to comply with drug and alcohol screening and have geographical limitations; all of these conditions can be considered forms of prevention.

A general misconception is that NCR individuals receive lighter sentences. If the individual is deemed to not be a risk to the public he/she may be released immediately, but this provision is very rarely exercised (Gray, Shone, Liddle 337). Individuals receive a yearly hearing whereby the Ontario Review Board reviews their status and either recommends that they remain in hospital, be released with conditions, or receive an absolute discharge (Gray, Shone, Liddle 337). There is no cap to the time an individual remains under a Disposition; therefore, patients are detained indefinitely and are often held for periods longer than what would be prescribed for a criminal who was found guilty of the same offence without a mental disorder (Adshead 302). Mark’s offence was criminal harassment, which is sometimes dealt with by fines (Statistics Canada). He spent 10 months in jail which, because it was pre-trial custody, would count two for one (20 months). He spent two years incarcerated in the hospital and has been in the community for two years conditionally. This example illustrates the fact that not all NCR patients “get off easy.” As McLaughlin points out: “Charter challenges to these lengthy incarcerations have failed…” consequently this defence is usually employed in more serious crimes (1).

Another popular misconception is that those found NCR are prevalent in the justice system. Using statistics from Baltimore, the data does not support this view. Of 60,432 indictments only 190 plead NCR and all but 8 dropped the defence. These 8 were unchallenged (Janofsky,Dunn, Roskes, Briskin, Rudolph, Lunstrum 1464). Janofsky et al also found college students believed the defence was used 80 times more than it actually is and they thought it was successful 3,600 more times than statistics show (1464). The American system varies from state to state but is comparable to Canada in most states making these findings statistically relevant (Viljoen, Roesh, Ogloff, Zapf 369). This severe misconception is a direct result of popular media. NCR cases are consistently reported because they are controversial and often high profile because of their severity. Because so many of these cases dominate the media, while similar criminal offences do not, the public overestimates their occurrence.

Those found NCR suffer from a double stigma. Not only are they labelled criminals but they also have to deal with the stigma of being mentally ill. For some, they have had no experience with either and find the labels humiliating and isolating. By demonizing and blaming those who are NCR, they can be labelled as insane. Blaming serves two purposes. Their actions and illnesses can be written off as aberrations that could never happen to normal people, which supports the just world hypothesis. And labels provide mental molds that can be cast for people so others feel separate and safe from them. If they are not stereotyped and compartmentalized they are allowed to occupy what comprises the “normal” world. Labelling and stereotyping negate the possibility that one could be as they are or that they could possess similar human characteristics. As a name and object of scorn or hate they are dissimilar and one could not imagine being as they are. Link and Phelan mention labelling as part of the stigmatization process . . . . “ the group doing the labelling separates ‘them’-the stigmatised group-from ‘us’(Link, Phelan 528).

McFadyen’s comment that there are more dangerous people roaming the streets than there are in forensic hospitals is logical (1436). In reality, many people fear those who are NCR. People fear the unknown and many know little about mental illness and this aspect of the law; most rely on movies and news headlines for their information. Many are terrified by the prospect of losing control of their minds or emotions and most pride themselves on being rational and in control. To think there are illnesses that can destroy what is essential for functioning, is terrifying.

To be found Not Criminally Responsible is not an easy way out. Responsibility and blame are still attached to these individuals, often by themselves. Most are subjected to jails and are forced to navigate this system and its inhabitants with the disability of a mental illness. NCR individuals usually serve time in secure hospital settings often for lengths exceeding traditional sentences. They are also a very small group of offenders who in no way exploit the legal system but are in fact prone to abuse by it. Most significant for these individuals is that society deems them as criminal and insane, leaving them to deal with stereotypes and stigma and the social isolation that accompanies them. Adshead sums up the predicament of Not Criminally Responsible individuals when he states, “it is hard not to perceive that the interests of mentally abnormal offenders come at the bottom of almost any list of priorities; partly because such patients are vulnerable and can be exploited, but also because they are ‘guilty’ individuals, and can thus claim less moral or legal protection” (302).

More On Stigma

Stigma does not have to touch you specifically for it’s existence to have an effect on your life. You don’t need to hear something specific about yourself to know what is being said. You can stay home and watch TV or a movie and know you are misunderstood. You can see something in a newspaper or magazine that easily reminds you of the attitudes that permeate society. If stigma invades my home it must invade yours. It affects us both. It diminishes me as an individual and creates an attitudinal barrier between us.

It is often hard to see individual attitudes but when they are shared they become more evident. The word crazy does not define me but when you use it, it strips me of everything I am. You might not fully understand cancer but it has no other names. Why do we use so many words when it comes to mental illness? Mental illness has many aspects but we seem only capable of using words like lunatic. What are we trying to convey when we describe someone as being a few bricks short of a load? Most of these words and phrases don’t describe anything. They are simply a way to devalue and cast aside someone who differs from us on some level. As long as I am crazy to you I can be little else. I will never be your equal when the attitude you carry is one of derision or disrespect. If I have a physical illness you would not think to demean me or my illness.

A person doesn’t walk out the front door naked because we have a fair idea what others will think and say. We hide our mental health problems and isolate ourselves for the same reason. Stigma prevents us from occupying a place in your world. The only place you allow me to occupy is beneath you.

When my illness is something to be made fun of or used to put me or others down what am I to think? I did not ask for my illness anymore than you asked for your height. Maybe if you see me as I am, without your misconceptions, we can both stand taller. Stigma diminishes us all.