I Often Find Myself Where I Was Never Expected

I’m not sure I have ever been afflicted with writers block but I do suffer from long silences. I may not put pen to paper but I am usually thinking and as a writer it is always in sentences. Even in my thoughts I manipulate language in my mind. I am often shy about posting and am minus the motivation to speak my truths. Who am I to think another would care what I conjure?
I have a scapegoat for my most recent drought. I have been without paid work in over a decade but of late I am a member of the workforce. I was employed this past decade with speaking, writing and blogging but I am closer to conventional employment these days. I’m not sure milking 1600 goats is conventional but money for manual labour is.
The majority of my work history involves sweat and most recently stiffness. I was going to write sooner of my endeavor into employment but I wasn’t confident of my commitment. For me a disability pension has been a disgrace; I always felt less or worse, lazy. These past few weeks have convinced me again that I am neither. I challenge any twenty something to outperform me in a milking parlour. I’m not bragging, I’m crying.
Writing is a sedentary lifestyle or at least mine was. I sat and smoked organizing my passion into phrases. I have been a month without tobacco and officially a goat milker. I am also officially stupid as I have found a farm where it is my responsibility alone to feed and milk over 1600 goats. That’s two barns full of frustration. Goats are fairly friendly and docile but definitely devious. A goat can see an unfastened gate from a quarter mile and any and all will squeeze through a four millimeter gap.
I’m still trying to figure out if they like to be milked. Feeding is part of the process and though it is a distraction each and every goat knows how to kick off the milking mechanism with a mouthful of food. You might ask “how do you milk 1600 goats in less than five hours?” and some day when I have five seconds or more I will figure it out. The word exhaustion will have to be a clue for now.
When I found the help wanted advertisement I thought, “That might be interesting. I like goats or the three I have met.” I now realize intense is closer than interesting when you’re talking about 1600. I want to quit for the first half of my shift which morphs into I want to finish which is followed by a 35 minute commute where I can say I just milked 1600 goats. I revel in the fact that no other driver on highway 401 is saying anything similar.
It is an agricultural assembly line of sorts but no two goats are the same. Each goat looks different from behind. I don’t have much time to compare but I am recognizing the odd rear end. One goat is freakishly bowlegged and unequivocally the only cooperative goat in the whole flock.
I bought a quart of goat’s milk as a form of job security and I encourage all my readers to do the same. I am giving a one year free subscription to my already free blog for any who mail in proof of purchase. I as yet don’t know how goat’s milk gets distributed in the area but I wouldn’t be surprised if any litre had a spoonful from “my” goats. I can’t say these goats are sweet but a lot of love goes into a gallon.
I use a staff to herd the goats from pen to parlour. I bang it on the gates and walls to speed them from place to place. One goat calmly ignores me. Number 208 waddles along and scratches herself on any and all surfaces. She reminds me not to rush in my fever of frenzy.
Another goat inspires me. It is a young buck who has a triangular wooden yoke fastened around its head to prevent it from escaping from its pen. I find myself confused about six times each night as it defies its constriction and enters and mingles with each pen of goats. I too dislike being told where to be and though not as adept as this bugger I often find myself where I was never expected.

Pridefest: If it is a campaign of conversation “Stop It” is no way to begin it

When you constrict the tongue so too does the mind. The community of London is being encouraged to pledge to not be bystanders to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language. In reference to this pledge the slogan is “If I hear it. I will stop it.”

If it is a campaign of conversation “Stop It” is no way to begin it. ‘If I hear it. I will explain’ seems a more attractive slogan. ‘If I hear it. I will speak.’ It is easier to start a conversation than to institute a conversion.

I don’t have a problem with the tone of this endeavor but I do have an issue with the type. As an individual who experiences a double stigma any effort in the direction of civility and ending stigmatizing language has my support. I also support any and all sexualities and points of gender in or out of a parade.

I was told I could research before I went down to Pridefest so I would be informed enough to avoid being “stopped”. Should people need to be educated to attend an event or should the event educate people? You can’t control ignorance. Stigma does not disappear with the end of insensitive references and terminology. Much of the stigma I experience has nothing to do with insulting words.

We have to let people catch up with their minds before we can make a lexicon let alone enforce it. Not every tongue is tied to the same point of appropriateness. Why would a celebration of variances of sexuality and gender want no variance in expression? This campaign creates a barrier for mindful experimentation in exposing old ideas and perceptions to new information.

Having a faction who has declared to “stop” some hurtful reference or word erodes the inclusiveness LGBT… are trying to create even for themselves. Isn’t not tolerating intolerance, intolerance itself? The individual who may not be up to speed risks some form of public correction of what in essence is a collection of experiences, upbringing, exposure and more.

It seems Londoners are being called to conform to some yet unidentified lexicon. To unleash even a small team of enforcers to the vagueness of insult is worrisome if not more. I don’t think you can argue that an acceptable reference to LGBTQ…“members” is an evolution. The problem with offensive language is it can be anything to anyone. Further it is always changing. It wasn’t many years ago that LGBT was an appropriate short form. Today I don’t even know since it has been altered to be more inclusive. I’m not sure it progresses dialogue to point out a failing of being up to date with each sensitivity in a group of individuals with differences themselves.

How do you define let alone defend a collection of varying sensitivities? It seems this campaign will have an array of individuals with a series of sensitivities correcting and “stopping” an array of individuals who may voice beliefs that have been determined by circumstances they may have not chosen. In essence the most sensitive individual dictates discourse and dialogue dies.

I don’t think you can take a point in time and expect the linear processes of thought and thus speech to equally reflect some unidentified line of right or wrong. You are essentially pulling a rope that will miss those who are better informed while sweeping the feet out from your fellow citizens who may not be at the point you desire.

I don’t get out much but my impression of this festival would be one that allows. Are we at a point where groups demand tolerance? For some Londoners the LGBT… community would be one they know little about. Is it much of an invitation to them to expect each and all to know the parameters of some code of language? Is it fair for those not in the know to research to find your demands? Can’t they just show up? Why throw a wall up for someone who does not totally understand you? Shouldn’t individuals who misperceive be welcome to express themselves freely? The police cannot “stop” what can come from our mouths other than what is codified as improper. The rest falls to free speech.

LGBT… reality and references cannot be imposed on people. Stigma comes from the mind not the tongue. Some Londoners may have more experience in past prejudices than present progressive phrases. Some Londoners are not up to speed with what might be appropriate presently. Should we expect that individual to conform with language that others institute as not publicly permissible at LGBT… events and across the city? Surely with this petition those who sign their names are given a list of what exactly they intend to “stop.”

If you are inviting Londoners to witness your humanity so must you witness the visitor’s. If there is a group in London that is walking around scouting sentences it is a duty to provide a list of what it is this force deems as inappropriate. If such a list has not been compiled already then what is being enforced is at the discretion of each individual pledged. This is unfair. Have the pledged been informed officially how to respond? Have they been told to ask questions first or simply correct? Are Londoners to expect a defined response to something they could invariably say or is that at the discretion of the pledged? If the parameters are black and white they should be printed. Promising to point out offensive remarks on the spot is only fair if the attendee is aware of what is considered offensive.

This campaign focuses on the tip of the iceberg. The tongue is built on a mass of information, experiences, exposures etc. If you cut a person’s tongue out they can still bleed hate. This seemingly innocuous gag order will provide an illusion of respect but create little. If we keep our streets safe for any terms presently legal the opportunity to make an impact on the submerged portion of the iceberg is possible. The tongue is only the tip. Change people’s minds and you don’t have to change what they say.

In my own experience with mental health I have experienced terrible insults but I cannot control where an individual is at. I cannot change their childhood. I cannot change the year they were born. I cannot change what they witnessed or did not witness in media, school etc. The insults I hear are connected to years of misinformation and correcting a word or phrase does little to alter the mass of misunderstanding. It stifles the dialogue when we pounce on phrases and there is the risk the offender will retreat and we will never learn about each other.

Are the pledged pure of speech? Has a lesbian ever made a demeaning remark about mental illness or one with it? It becomes a maze of sensitivities for us all to wander through. There is a point where the offended must provide an element of resilience. To single out an individual for their perceptions, prejudices, and experiences is also unfair and slightly counterproductive.

Individuals who use inappropriate language are often a product of society. Perceptions and prejudices need to be altered before language evolves to the point where it reflects inclusiveness and acceptance. If you want others to accept where you are at then it is only fair to accept where others are at. Insults often arise out of fear and a sense of being threatened. I see this pledge as creating more of the same. When language and opinions are tolerated they can be changed. When you attempt to “stop” language it curtails having opinions and in some cases ends the conversation.

What if an individual with mental illness is at your event and speaks inappropriately? What if this or any individual does not comply? Are there instructions to walk away? You know, enjoy the parade. If you’re looking over your shoulder at what I’m nattering about you will miss seeing the floats. Some of these individuals may be part of your community or transitioning into it. You are going to scold them on the street? I was assured that intent would be taken into consideration but I was not set at ease imagining each and every pledged being a mind reader. I don’t believe you can uncover intent on the sidewalk or at the mall. Legally it can only be proven in court.

If you want others to be tolerant so must you be. Open dialogue is preferable to vows of intolerance. It is unfair not to accept Caitlyn Jenner but it is equally unfair to expect people to transition mentally and socially overnight. If someone I have been exposed to for years showed up as a different or altered gender would it not require time and dialogue to adjust to the new information?

Creating an open and accepting environment becomes difficult when people sign a contract to “stop” anything. It would be hypocritical of me to sign such a pledge without also ensuring I am sensitive to every other individual who is different from me. I would need a PhD just to keep track. It is impossible to end intolerance and stigma by attempting to ban it.

For some Londoners attending Pridefest requires leaving their comfort zone. This pledge is a poor replacement. We all have prejudices however slight. Much of a prejudice is not intentional thought. People don’t purchase “Intolerance for Dummies” and study ignorance. It stems from a lifetime of information. I’m not sure we should fault people for what they may or may not know.

There may come a day when everyone is sensitive to TGBLQ… individuals but to force it will only create a semblance of change rather than real change. My sense is that Pridefest has changed and evolved as have Londoners in general even over the past five years. Did this evolution occur with a pledge campaign? Will it not continue to evolve without a pledge?

LGBT…individuals have millions of supporters, are organized, have political influence and presently a friendly government. Many in our community do not have any of these things. Celebrate what you are but be grateful for what you have been able to obtain. They are privileges some do not have. As far as this pledge I would firstly question my own mouth before I vowed to refashion someone else’s.

Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally.

I read an article in the London Free Press regarding policing and mental health. In a survey Londoners were asked :

“What do you think is the most important crime-related or policing problem facing the community and London police?”

Mental illness replaced downtown safety/bar issues in the top five. Why do Londoners believe that mental health is a police concern? If physical health is not a police concern why is mental health? If diabetics deserve doctors from start to finish why wouldn’t people with mental illness? If we are ever going to view mental illness differently we need to insist on medical interventions rather than law enforcement interventions. Part of the problem is the widespread perception that mental illness is synonymous with dangerousness.

Less than 3% of violence is attributable to mental illness in the absence of substance abuse. If ever we notice someone we suspect as hearing voices or disoriented in their thoughts or actions or somewhat delusional we might cross the street. The truth is that on both sides of the street 97% of our vulnerability to violence comes from the people who have no mental illness. People with mental illness are more often the victims of crime than the perpetrator.

When we allow law enforcement to administer to a health concern it is little wonder that the health concern becomes stigmatized, related to crime and associated with violence. If the police escorted diabetics to the hospital we would all have similar impressions about diabetes. Consider what we visualize, assume, think, feel and understand about mental illness. Now imagine having similar perceptions for a cancer patient. It would be unfair to the diabetic person or the individual with cancer but for the mentally ill it is as it would be for others with other illnesses; a barrier to treatment and a difficulty of rehabilitation.

Five years of my life have been spent under 24 hour care 7 days a week in an institution. Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally. If a tenth of that money was used for comprehensive treatment in my youth, I might not be writing this.

A mental health clinician paid $60 000 dollars per year could have treated me for one hour a day for 70 years.
If we continue to fund and access policing and correctional measures to deal with mental illness we will forever feed the wrong end of the cow.

We do not fight cancer by building more cemeteries.(King)

When I first started living in the community after the forensic hospital I saw a psychologist once a week, a specialized therapist once a week and my psychiatrist at least once a month. Those supports were needed initially and they would have been expensive but it was nowhere near the near $350 dollars a day it cost to keep me in an institution. People can be monitored and treated in their own homes.

I could simply say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure but people might miss the point.

We leave mental illness unanswered and instead we deliver services mainly in times of crisis. Figure out the cost of an ambulance, two police officers and a truck or two of firefighters to respond to a suicide call and with any luck deliver that person to an emergency room and possibly a psychiatric unit for an indefinite period.

Now figure out how much it would cost for a therapist to prevent it in the first place.

If the financial realization is not enough for you consider letting heart disease progress to the point where invasive measures were necessary. With every other illness we prescribe the greatest amount of medicine at the beginning because to let any illness worsen is more devastating, difficult and expensive to treat. The social costs are immeasurable.

If you were ask a child how she feels about her father finding the best treatment for his heart she would likely answer the same for helping her father with schizophrenia. The best medicine at the beginning is not rocket science.

We are stupid to continue as we do but we are wrong and inhumane to do nothing.

People line up to test their bodies but we flee the very thought of having to do so with our minds and emotions.

I came close to not being here a couple of times. The last and more serious time was before my since ten year struggle with justice. When I came to from my comma I was seeing perfectly clear double vision. My eyes cleared up within hours but I still keep a form of double vision.

Since I awoke that night I have survived solitary confinement, abuses, humiliations, abandonment, illness, betrayal, loss, terror, prejudice, stigma, hate, and poverty to degrees that would make them each significantly difficult on their own.

If I knew what I was going to be experiencing for over a decade I would have employed a method closer to a moving train. When I look at my experiences since my last suicide attempt I see great pain, untold sorrows and defeat after defeat. I also have the perspective to recognize the unique mixture of love and friendship that is woven into these experiences as well.

My best friend for a few years was a 330 pound forensic patient. Ed had been shot by the police in a fairly justified manner. Some people were afraid of Ed. He wasn’t pretty, sometimes smelled and had a huge voice.

Ed died about this time years ago. He was living in an apartment, practicing to get a new driver’s license and he drank coffee and smoked too much. I miss Ed but it doesn’t hurt much when I think of him these days. When I think and try to balance all the bad things that have happened with the good, I can’t. There is too much of each.

Maybe it’s like a marathon. People endure taxing the limits of their physical capabilities for a ribbon. People line up to test their bodies but we flee the very thought of having to do so with our minds and emotions. When I think of Ed he is so much more than a ribbon. I had to endure and struggle to subsequently meet many individuals. Ed was one and I am sharing the Eulogy I wrote about and for him at his memorial service:

His name is Ed and he’s my best friend. He’s been my best friend since he gave me his apple the first meal I had on the Fallen Angel Unit (Forensic Assessment Unit). At that time apples meant love and he gave me his. We didn’t say a word to each other as we ate our replica meals and I probably should have been afraid of his three hundred plus pounds but he gave me his apple. From that day on Ed has been nothing but generous to me. As I write this my belly is still full of the soup he made and shared with me in his apartment and my veins course with nicotine from the pack of cigarettes he gave me tonight. I visit Ed most days in the community. He has a small apartment and it is a great getaway for both of us. We are both weary of hospitals and nurses and cameras and crappy food and shared toilets and little or no privacy. Ed and I share more than meals, we share our experiences. We talk about what has happened to us sometimes, usually he more than me, but we share it in silence always. We sit together and know we have each been in Holes and siderooms and handcuffed and shackled, he more than me. Ed’s story spans twenty-five years; his last battle has been seven years. My whole experience with the law has only been seven years. Ed reminds me of how good I have it, literally at times.

When I was on the Fallen Angel Unit for my Assessment Ed and I would sit in the smoking room and rule. We were two that truly had our heads, or so it seemed to me, and we were both personable. Ed would give me his pouch of tobacco and let me roll cigarettes whenever I wanted. Every morning we would be the first two into the room. I would have a huge manic smile on my face waiting for him. We liked each other for some reason or maybe for no reason. I think because I don’t talk much and am fairly quiet Ed likes me. I am generous back to Ed. He has no wheels so I run the odd errand for him getting groceries or Thursday night fish and chips.

When I came to the Forensic Treatment Unit Ed would become one of my dorm mates. Ed would lie in his bed on his back and rock his head back and forth for about an hour. This was his stress reduction and I think he picked it up somewhere in his twenty odd years of incarceration. Ed was a good dorm mate; he always had food to share and a pair of shoes to sell.

I could write a whole book about Ed, he is full of stories. Ed spends his days smoking and drinking coffee and knows everything about everyone and if he doesn’t, he is not shy about asking. “Where are you going Brett?” “Where were you Brett?” What did you have for supper has to be one of his favourite questions. Sometimes I resent the invasion into my privacy as I don’t know how to be rude and say mind your own business. I also realize he doesn’t go anywhere or do anything so news is his only entertainment.

“Well you got out of here for the weekend, that’s the main thing, good for you.” Ed is always genuinely happy for me and any progress I make as far as privileges. He also gives me hell for not pushing for more. “When are you going to ask for ‘Live in the Community’ Brett?” “Soon” I answer. He says I should be out of here and we both know it is true but the system is what the system is. It is like a cold, there is no cure it just has to run its course.

Ed befriended me when I was most ill. When everyone else pulled away, Ed was my friend. I wasn’t aware of the fact that I needed anyone but I think he was. Ed didn’t look compassionate but he was. Ed lived in the present and appreciated things as simple as a cigarette, a coffee or a burger.

I have learned more about generosity from Ed than from any combination of people in my life. He really didn’t have anything but what he did have he shared. I was definitely on the receiving end of more meals and coffee’s than I was able to repay. I don’t think Ed kept track but I regret not being able to repay some of that generosity.

Ed used to call me every day. What did you have for supper Brett? Ed was a little preoccupied with food but it was one of his few pleasures. Food becomes a very important part of your life when you are incarcerated. Most days the high point of your day or a significant marker for time is a meal. To receive little or no satisfaction from that meal, undermines what little morale you can muster at times. I sometimes enjoyed telling Ed about my culinary habits when I shifted from eating out of a can to actually preparing meals. I think Ed’s cooking inspired me to do some myself. I’m glad Ed was able to eat what he liked in his final years.

Ed was an outgoing and friendly person. He knew many names and felt emotion for what he perceived were injustices in others circumstances. This is empathy. Ed was rich with friends and I was blessed to be one.

Ed seemed obstinate and defiant towards what he would deem as his oppressors, many who would say they were simply helping Ed but we don’t know exactly how Ed perceived things and it is his perception of events that coloured his actions. If a man feels truly wronged as Ed often did then it is in his right to pursue some means of remedy. Ed usually went within his rights and sought out legal avenues to remedy the wrongs he perceived. Some would argue he wasn’t always rational in these pursuits but imagine the emotion involved in defending your rights as a person. Ultimately Ed wanted autonomy, he didn’t want to be needled, literally, he wanted to be left in peace. I don’t find this to be anything but rational and it is unfortunate Ed is not here to enjoy the peace he now has. Ed has finally received his Absolute Discharge.

I have an apple for you Ed, somewhere, somehow I will get it to you.

To put Bill C-51 in perspective, these measures and powers would have prevented the American Revolution

As someone who speaks freely and at times controversially, Bill- C 51 has me worried. I have no terrorist ideals or sympathies but I am afraid the width of the net the conservative government is casting over us will not filter out legitimate discourse and dissension.

To put Bill C-51 in perspective, these measures and powers would have prevented the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin would not be on a currency he would currently be behind bars and Paul Revere would have a hard time mounting his horse with handcuffs. The dissenting churches of that era would have been without the ministers who preached revolutionary themes. American defiance would have been defined as terrorist activity. Closer to home the Red River resistance and the Metis who argued against and stood up to the transfer of their territory would have been unable to defend their culture. The province of Manitoba may have been something different.

We can find complacency and comfort in the conclusion that such resistance has no place in a civilized and democratic nation but we can look at history and other locals and find grievous governments. A belief that nothing of the sort should happen in Canada is now being guaranteed by Bill C-51.

It appears that Bill C-51 furthers the agenda of conservatives more than the agenda of all Canadians. If it did not fit neatly into conservative vision we would be seeing something different. It raises red flags when the government is resisting in depth analysis, expert testimony and open comprehensive debate. Many prominent and professional citizens are questioning aspects of Bill C-51 and are openly being ignored or silenced with trimmed meetings and hearings. Why would a government ignore and muzzle individuals with expert testimony and who are calling for more oversight provisions? Shouldn’t a government embrace oversight to ensure fairness and prevent abuse? Is the need to push Bill C-51 through pragmatic or political?

I can see in Bill C-51 a remedy to a degree of terrorist activity and I embrace that but as it is vaguely stated I also see the ability of government and government agencies to quell legitimate though unfavourable or disruptive democratic dissent. Organizations, individuals and activities that we would rationally recognize as being non-terrorist can and may be exposed to scrutiny and impedance. What would have been previously recognized as problematic but not sinister or threatening to national security or public safety can now be categorized, contained and diffused using Bill C-51.

Individual freedom and the right to communicate, organize and express dissatisfaction with government, government agencies or even corporations can be suffocated if they threaten economic activity. Many will consider themselves unaffected in their conservative comfort but what would happen and how would democracy operate or be disabled if we find a distasteful or fanatical government at the helm. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities for an overbearing faction to find itself in power. There are those that enjoy Stephen Harper but what if the NDP formed government and their leader lost his or her marbles? Would we have the ability to rise against or resist the potential chaos?

Presently, we can collude with others and organize and implement civil disobedience and even enact a degree of economic disruption to further our message and gain support or bring about the change we seek. Following 3 days of debate you could find your phone tapped or be detained because of your efforts. My fears are not for terrorists or for myself; they are for any citizen or group of citizens who may be unable to avail themselves of dissension, assembly and demonstration.

I am uncomfortable with security and police agencies under the direction of government deciding what is inherently dangerous. The potential for abuse exists and perceptions of what is terrorist activity can change according to time, place and circumstance. Further, it can be influenced by government. We can find some comfort that judges may be given this oversight but judges are not elected.

I do not advocate violence in any form but under Bill C-51 if I argue in favour of violence without directly urging it I will be the subject of a cavity search and more. If I say the Ukraine should resist Russia with violence does not directly threaten violence. I would simply be expressing an argument and leaving others to decide on its merits. This is not terrorism it is free speech. If you believe these measure will only be used on cowards who behead innocents I think you have lost yours.

We can argue that in a democracy we have the power and ability to remove unsavory governments using the voting system. What if government alters that ability? What if a term of office is altered by the government itself? Stephen Harper has done these things. No? What if waiting the length of the term would be catastrophic? Consider the changes a moderate party and government can enact in a term of office. Someone or a group in power could be mad and do more. Canadian’s don’t elect madmen but sometimes power itself corrupts and one is created. Should Canadians have the ability to overthrow a government?

If the ability to demonstrate and apply pressure on government is removed or impaired to any extent democracy itself is undermined. One person, one vote is a premise of democracy but protest is a promise that propels change and even if disruptive can be a protection for us all.

Ontario Hospitals Need to Give Their Head a Shake

I wonder what goes through the minds of patients who are pushed off hospital property to smoke in the cold with the public driving by.

Am I to believe I am valued as a person when certain aspects of myself are banished? It is quite like making a child stand in a corner to contemplate their unacceptable behaviour. It becomes difficult to see the love and respect for patients when they are relegated to the road and rain coping as they know how and finding pleasure and escape in a cigarette. These individuals have serious and persistent mental illness and we are worried about them smoking? Privileged individuals are instituting their values on marginalized individuals. Some will never quit so I suggest we stop shaming them.

When I was a forensic patient I really didn’t want people knowing I was such. I found it humiliating having to ride in the “big white vans” because most people in St. Thomas knew where the “big white vans” were from. They were part of the community consciousness and on more than one occasion I heard the “big white vans” used as amusing putdowns.

Privacy is a premise of dignity. When I am placed beside the road like a pathetic pylon I eventually become recognizable to repetitive travelers and commuters. This scenario makes community integration difficult and it compromises patient safety. What if a prospective employer, landlord or lover recognizes me from standing beside the road five times a day? It makes what is already difficult more so. Will I find employment or a date if I am publicly exposed as belonging in a forensic hospital? Nobody deserves a scarlet letter let alone for an unhealthy habit. Are we compromising patient confidentiality by placing these individuals beside a public thoroughfare?

At the old forensic hospital a friend and I ordered a pizza on a summer’s evening. We decided to eat it at a picnic table in front of the hospital. We were well back from the highway but a car full of fools drove by yelling obscenities at us. Not all motorists are mature or well meaning. Some motorists barely know the meaning of a STOP sign but we expect they will comprehend and be sensitive to STIGMA? Forensic patients are prone to abuse and discrimination and placing them beside a road is nothing more than facilitation. Having these individuals within distance of garbage being hurled at them is dangerous and unfair. St. Thomas is fairly accepting of Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care but it only takes one.

When I become a fixture standing at the end of the lane leading to a forensic facility I become recognizable. If and when I am allowed to wander other avenues I am still recognizable. We might as well dip these smokers in orange dye to further accommodate their prospective discrimination. These individuals are already compromised and marginalized and I find it shameful that an organization with a mandate to assist them is in fact harming them.

Unfortunately, these well meaning but overbearing boardroom bureaucrats fail to fathom the positives and pleasures of smoking.

I had a friend put a bee in my bonnet. It could be argued that it was always there but I shall defer a degree of credit to him. The issue is hospitals making smoking illegal for psychiatric patients.

My health or lack thereof is still “my” health. When we crowd individuals with serious and persistent mental illness off hospital grounds to smoke the message is, “we want to make you healthy and we refuse to enable non-healthy behaviours.” It appears to be an admirable avenue but it is still a slippery slope. If non-smoking initiatives are embraced it enables preventing patients from any behaviour including ingesting pizza and pop.

Obesity is as problematic as smoking. Will it be next or can we continue to consume chocolate? A serious and widespread side effect of some psychiatric medications is weight gain. If it is prescribed by a psychiatrist there seems to be no dilemma but if I thrive on soda pop it is unacceptable. I knew individuals who were policed for their pop consumption. The one individual I recall most was allowed to drool uncontrollably but liquid running in the other direction was monitored and measured.

If your argument is that second hand soda doesn’t affect others I would have you stand at the side of a highway or avenue and measure the cocktail of car exhaust you breathe in. When I first arrived at the forensic hospital in St. Thomas we had smoking rooms with cushioned chairs and TV’s. I quit for a period and don’t recall any smoke in the hallways. The smoke was contained in a humane way using air exchangers. The smoking rooms were closed while I was there but the asbestos and lead paint didn’t seem problematic.

Unfortunately, these well meaning but overbearing boardroom bureaucrats fail to fathom the positives and pleasures of smoking. We can all relate to the benefits of joining friends for a beer or meal and smoking is no different. Should relative health supersede happiness and free will? Even the executioner has the mercy to offer the beneficiary of bullets a cigarette as a last wish. Smoking is unhealthy and slightly disgusting but for a depressed patient it may offer four minutes of pleasure. It can be a reminder of normalcy and freedom in a situation of caregiver custody.

There are more productive pleasures but who doesn’t choke on other people’s ideas of what they should be doing with their Loonies, lungs or legs? Autonomy must be complete and absolute wherever possible and practical or else patients are essentially prisoners.

I was in Stratford Jail when the province issued a smoking ban in those institutions. I remember a notice in Admitting and Discharge:

“The jail will be smoke free as of November 22nd. We suggest you either quit smoking or stay out of jail.”

Hospitalization is not a choice or a poor decision. To deny a patient a pleasure they are likely addicted to on the street is punitive, cruel and misguided. If you choose not to smoke I admire you but don’t deny me the dignity of my own decisions. Don’t put me in the cold and rain on the side of the highway in the guise of care or because of your self-righteous beliefs and behaviours. Others are not stupid or wrong they simply have other priorities, likes and habits.

To deny an individual dependent on tobacco as a coping pleasure is nothing more than institutional primacy which places patients beneath the institution.