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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


May 12, 2015

Dear Mr. MacKay,

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,
Brett Charles Batten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Say “Healthcare,” I Just Shake My Head and Cry

I have no “craving” to return to the issue of smoking on hospital properties and it seems a lost cause but I will. Let’s just consider it a “bad habit.”

I was on hospital property myself yesterday. When I left the architectural brilliance and heat of the building itself I noticed a gentleman in his 70’s hunched over in a wheelchair. He appeared to weigh something near his age and seemed somewhat compromised. I imagine his struggles are profound even within hospital but he was attempting to smoke in the wind and cold about 40 feet from the hospital entrance.

It has been minus “21 Forever” here in Ontario and yesterday was no exception. No exception seems to be part of the problem. This man was breaking hospital rules and even the old rule of not smoking within 60 feet of a hospital entrance. I don’t imagine he had a rebellious heart or complete disregard for rules, I think he may have been unable to make it off hospital grounds and the temperature itself may have been a further hurdle. If my ears nearly freezing are evidence of anything his wheelchair wheels may have been frozen.

There needs to be more communication between agencies in the region. When the Health Unit and police agencies issue a cold weather advisory and warn people to stay inside it may be prudent to apply this information to hospital staff and patients. It may even be important to ensure that 70 pound patients in wheelchairs have a safe and suitable place to smoke. Maybe the blankets were being laundered but this gentleman was under dressed for what I barely endured with half the exposure. This individual is unlikely to quit smoking in his 70’s or in his proximity to illness. It may be a bad habit or a long time pleasure.

We can all be proud of moving in the direction of a “Smoke Free Ontario” but my grandfather shouldn’t be run over in the process. He wasn’t my grandfather or I would have brought him home from the illusion of healthcare he was enduring. He is however someone’s grandfather, “bully for you.” I hope some idiot or at least the compassionate committees who have brought us this far find satisfaction in such an individual being tortured in the guise of health and healthcare. If you think smokers are going to hell it is no less sinful to expose them to anything similar here on earth. Perhaps we should pray on this.

I wanted to take a photo of this poor gentleman but I did not want to remove my gloves which he was without. I also respect patient confidentiality and it would have been a blurry shot as he was shaking so hard. Oh well, the rightless wretch will soon be dead and we will not be so uncomfortable in our conscienceless ideals. The grandchildren who attend his funeral will no doubt find peace that his last days were dignified and comfortable. They will hopefully find comfort that he was “exposed” to the most advanced and compassionate healthcare available.

I’m not saying hospitals are being heartless but providing a wheelchair becomes ironic and disingenuous when a 70 year old patient is allowed to suffer from exposure and near frostbite. I was in the same elements for a shorter duration and in an appropriate winter coat and I couldn’t wait until I reached my frozen car. This gentleman was under dressed and unable to access proper shelter or even stamp his feet to provide a sense of warmth.

I don’t know how we get around ridiculous rules but I would suggest those who are making them spend 6 minutes in a wheelchair, in a jacket, in minus 20 degree weather. It may provide enough exposure to uncover enough empathy to enable true compassion if not sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Can Find A Limp In Anyone But Especially When We Use Our Own Gait As A Measure

I was checking out Twitter and clicked on a link to:

“6 Things That I Have Noticed About People Who Change and Recover From Mental Illness.”

I was excited by the prospect of change and recovery. After I battled with the Pop-Up screens where Barry Pearman was flogging his free book, the wind was knocked out of me. Barry’s first life changing “great stride” was:

1) They make their bed every morning.

Just before I was about to flush my anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and anti-depressants down the toilet I thought about it for a minute. I started to wonder how many individuals Barry Pearman has seen change and recover. My next question was what the hell is Barry doing in all these bedrooms? Is he a sleuth or a slut?

According to Barry I shouldn’t “drift into the day” but like the Navy Seals who are renowned therapists in his world, I should start my day with “a drilled in positive habit.” I have had suicidal months and been immobilized by depression. It was not a matter of preferring to stay in bed; I in fact could barely get out. Had I owned a bedpan I would have used it. I have also been psychotic and my bed was as likely to have been a magic carpet as anything I would tidy and tuck.

Dear Barry,

If you are going to speak about mental illness please consider the vast array of degrees and diagnoses. What you consider positive may be worlds away from what I value or consider positive. I don’t make my bed for the same reason I do not do the zippers up on my pants when I fold and put them in the drawer. It is to me slightly illogical, a waste of my time and a pointless make work project. When I do not pull my sheets up and tuck them in each morning it enables me to refrain from pulling them back out each evening. You say illness I say efficiency.

I’m sure you’re sure I am destined to a state of illness but I personally look back at my life and see that I have “changed” my mental illness and I have enjoyed prolonged periods of recovery. Obviously this has nothing to do with making my bed.

I am as illiterate as you but in my estimation recovery is not always a destination. Further, it is my belief that recovery is a highly personalized process that can be different for each of us. I can look at another person with mental illness and “should” on them but their habits and efficacies can still qualify them as recovering or recovered. Some individuals with or without mental illness are comfortable to leave mustard on their shirts. We can find a limp in anyone but especially when we use our own gait as a measure. If any measure is to be used it must originate mainly in the individual. If an individual with or without mental illness is able to find meaning and arrive at whatever points of personal satisfaction they set out for themselves they are in no small way thriving. Is it “change” or recovery? I cannot answer that and neither “should” you.

Kind regards,
Brett

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.

Johnathan Sher”lock” of the London Free Press calls himself an “investigative bulldog” all the while missing even simple hospital signage.

“Health Care: Ministry wants more done to protect nurses, patients in psych ward” was the headline on the front page of the London Free Press yesterday.

I have been a mental health consumer for over 30 years and I have never been on a “psych ward”. Apparently writing at a grade six level isn’t enough for the London Free Press and they have reverted to making up their own words. Unfortunately, these words carry meaning for many.

I would like to ask Johnathan Sher”lock” or his exaggerating editor which hospital they have observed signage directing the public to the “psych ward”? If a hospital has enough sense to be sensitive and current the same should fall to any reporter. I would not fault a reader for such references but an award winning health reporter should be ashamed and admonished. Sher”lock’s” misconceptions and sensationalism unfortunately have an effect on the general public. There must be a scarcity of space in the London Free Press and words like psychiatric need to be pruned. We all know it is on purpose. Sher”lock” and his editors have made a cheap attempt at an attention grabbing headline and the casualty is everyone who has, will have or is on a mental health journey. The social impact and perpetuation of stigma are incalculable.

Do we refer to the ICU as the Intensive Care Ward? Is there such a thing as a Neonatal Ward? Governments, organizations and individuals spend an inordinate amount of time and money to combat stigma and we have Sher”lock” and the London Free Press printing phrases that all but dismantle those efforts. There’s an award for that right Sher”lock”?

Sher”lock” calls himself an “investigative bulldog” all the while missing even simple hospital signage. I have a dog and all I know is it is full of feces twice a day. Thankfully the London Free Press does not have an evening edition. Often people’s misconceptions are solidified by headlines. A headline is a means to grab attention but it should be factual and current. Sher”lock” the “investigative bulldog” has stopped at the hydrant of hype and drenched the psychiatric community in stigma.

Johnathan Sher”lock” of the London Free Press reports that “Ontario’s Labour Ministry has ordered London’s biggest hospital to do more to combat violence and overcrowding…”

When I was being admitted to a jail I was placed in solitary confinement because the jail was at capacity. One of the female guards said “a full jail is a happy jail.” This is, was and always will be an oxymoron. I have been in lock-down situations and stacked three men to a cell and if my experience counts for anything the Labour Ministry, London Health Sciences Centre, Johnathan Sher”lock” and the London Free Press only need to understand one thing. If you address overcrowding you have little need to address violence. They are near being mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, I can speak to the issue of overcrowding, segregation and the suspension of privileges and personal privacy and freedoms. Each and all have an effect on any individual but they are amplified by symptoms and serious mental illness. If individuals with physical symptoms were exposed to a similar environment we would see similar behaviors. The violence occurring at London Health Sciences Centre is environmental more than mental. Psychiatric units under normal conditions are not a breeding ground for beatings.

If Johnathan Sher”lock” was truly an “investigative bulldog” he would have sniffed out reality. Possibly Sher”lock” could have sniffed out statistics surrounding violence in Alzheimer’s patients and individuals experiencing dementia. The psychiatric community holds no ownership on violence. Head trauma can also result in personality changes and problematic behaviour but we paint psychiatric patients with a brush we would not use on other individuals in society who are also vulnerable and compromised for fear that they might be tarnished.

Sher”lock” reports that the “Ontario Nurses’ Association this week accused the hospital and the Labour Ministry of sitting idle while attacks on nurses last year surged 20-fold..”

Firstly, I am saddened by this as my mother was a psychiatric nurse and during my journey I have met dozens of nurses who deserve safe working conditions for themselves and to accommodate the great work they do. My issue again falls to language. Sher”lock” has a legal background and the word attack does not appear in quotations so I can only assume legal relevancy flew out the door when they brought in sensationalism. People are not charged with “attack”, they are charged with assault. Call a spade a spade. Surely not all of these incidents were “attacks.” Any logical person would assume some of these incidents are a harmful or offensive contact with a person. I understand there have been severe incidents but to call them all attacks is stigmatizing and sensational. To use this language to invite change is one thing but to use it to sell a newspaper is prostituting language. Only an overzealous crown attorney or a defunct defence lawyer would refer to an assault as an attack. In a court of law inflammatory inferences are often objected to and sustained. A lawyer writing for a newspaper should also be reminded of their contempt.

Is it really community integration when we have ghettos?

As a citizen of London with severe and persistent mental illness I am alarmed by the death of David McPherson and the displacement of a group of individuals with mental health difficulties.

We are giving these individuals our best when they are in crisis but we care less when they are chronic. Many surgeries are discharged prior to what would be considered good health as are mental health patients. What would we think if 25 post surgeries were displaced from a dangerous and disgusting dwelling? We can be proud of how hospitalization for mental illness has been transformed here in London but when I share my mattress with mites before and after it will be like Alice falling through the rabbit hole. Hospitalization will be a bizarre episode in a stupor of squalor.

It needs to be asked why so many individuals with mental health concerns are housed together. Is it really community integration when we have ghettos? When affordability means shared toilets and prolonged periods where privacy is extinct these dwellings essentially become a third world hospital with fewer staff. It should also be asked how much longer these individuals would have been allowed to be unsafe, unsanitary and defiled of dignity had there not been a tragic fire? Solitude is a human need, safety, security and sanitation should be absolutes.

If we are astute enough to recognize that clean and pleasing environments facilitate healing in hospital, why do we not employ it for people who are healing in the community? It all becomes mute when individuals are endangered, denied dignity and are made to endure circumstances and confines that would lead many to mental health difficulties. Possibly we would not remove the revolving door of hospitalization but fewer would need hospitalization if basic human needs were met in the community.

Many fine people and agencies came into contact with this tragedy far before it never should have been. Individuals with severe and persistent mental illness do not ask to be in these circumstances they simply need our assistance. I’m fairly certain it is against the law to do otherwise.

For Immediate Release: Documentarian John Kastner To Issue Public Apology

http://www.cbc.ca/q/popupaudio.html?clipIds=2547280251
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/forensic-psychiatric-patients-are-ill-not-evil%E2%80%94and-we-should-stop-hiding-them/article18205568/?utm_source=Shared+Article+Sent+to+User&utm_medium=E-mail:+Newsletters+/+E-Blasts+/+etc.&utm_campaign=Shared+Web+Article+Links

I am calling on one of Canada’s most respected and accomplished documentary filmmakers to issue a public apology to those he seems to advocate for. The four-time Emmy Award winning John Kastner should have no issue with saying sorry to the forensic patients he claims to care about.

I am not calling him out as someone who has been found Not Criminally Responsible On Account of a Mental Disorder (NCR); I am calling John Kastner out as the 2014 Canadian Alliance On Mental Illness And Mental Health Champion of Mental Health.

Please read and listen to Mr. Kastner. If his own syllables do not solicit indignation to everyone involved in mental health I can only assume you don’t mind using stigma for a serviette.

Mr. Kastner has not lived up to the standards of respect and empathy for those affected by the issues. His words are not only offensive but in their context they are thoughtless and a serious error in judgment. Using his own words they are “grotesque stereotypes.”

Many seem to be shouting about how great Mr. Kastner’s productions have been but we’re so busy patting each other on the back that we have failed to realize we are seeing John Kastner’s reality. Has anyone stopped to consider the cognitive bias, confirmation bias and facilitated communication that went into these films? I suspect the presence of all three when even one would undermine a documentary’s validity.

Thank the heavens for ratings and awards or the voice of John Kastner may never have been heard. The public would be bankrupt of his beneficial benevolence or is it barely bull? It brings a tear to my eye to have someone so informed and sensitive to my situation and experiences refer to me as a glassy eyed lunatic who spouts gibberish. Such a saint deserves recognition and awards from other incestuously informed liberals and cultural trendsetters. “Look what we did for the monsters and freaks.” I can hear the martini glasses clinking among the society that at least Sean Clifton is included in.

I don’t know about other individuals who are marginalized and disadvantaged in some form but I find it incredibly insulting to be considered not eloquent enough to defend myself. It isn’t exactly empowering to have someone who sees the world through an eyepiece speak for me. Further, even if I was tongue tied I don’t think I could do a worse job.

I can think of no other disability or minority whose self proclaimed spokesperson in fact has no personal experience or stake in the issue outside of wanting to be placed on a pedestal for personal promotion. Having Mr. Kastner speak for me is like having someone with two legs explaining the meaning of amputation and the problems of a prosthetic. It would be profoundly presumptuous for me to sit in a wheelchair and walk away singing the sorrows of being dependent on one for mobility. Further, to take that self-righteous responsibility on myself would denigrate that disadvantaged person and vanquish their voice which may be where they excel; where they dream and dance.

John Kastner is not a patient nor a psychiatrist, therapist or clinician. He has no relevant experience or education related to forensic mental health. It is obvious to me that while he was looking through his lens of presumptions he missed the entire reality of possibilities. When John Kastner speaks it is like asking the horse what it’s like to be a fish. John Kastner felt a raindrop and now he thinks he has gills.

John Kastner could make a dozen movies about NCR and never understand patients. He clearly doesn’t comprehend their feelings and is without any argument not even clinically trained to appreciate what is actually happening to these individuals. Awarding this author of stigma is an affront to my efforts and the abilities of all Not Criminally Responsible individuals. Thanks for the help but it is in fact harm.

I believe white people can advocate for African Americans but when they use any and all derogatory descriptors they become little more than a man on horseback with eye holes cut in a sheet. You may not be the one to lynch but you are doing little more than fueling the flames that allow the rest to fasten the fibers that tear my flesh.

I don’t need to speak to each of John Kastner’s stigmatizing statements. I could easily refute “glassy eyed“(should be in medical journals as a symptom) “monster” (meaningless and obtuse), “scary as hell” (like he’s even been to the border of it), “raving lunatics” (what constitutes raving and lunatic is an 1800’s misnomer) “spouting gibberish” (read my blog and letters from solitary confinement) but I will speak to his preoccupation with the “Jekyll and Hyde transformation.” This seemingly real transformation he shouts about from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Q” radio and the Globe and Mail should be easy for any documentarian to prove. I challenge Mr. Kastner to show me the factual footage of this apparently very real phenomenon. John Kastner spent 3.5 years in a forensic facility so it should be simply a matter of reviewing a few reels.

John Kastner doesn’t seem to poke his head from polishing his awards and promoting his victimizing views so in the meantime any of us should be able to find this transformation on Google if not in a dictionary. If it is a recurring phrase in ‘John jargon’ it is obviously a recurring event that anyone with an interest in psychiatry could uncover. It must be in every psychiatric and psychology textbook in the nation. Even pharmaceutical companies should have images of this remarkable transformation to promote their anti-psychotic pills or in John Kastner’s world, injections. I have mainly experience to fall on so I will eagerly wait to eat my words which is becoming easy when John Kastner thinks he’s the one who should be using them.

A fantabulous film should not excuse the damage John Kastner has done with his mouth. Mr. Kastner calls on forensic patients to “stop the apologizing.” And he should start.

Catherine Zeta Jones

An anti-stigma campaign I follow on Twitter sent me a message that “Actress Catherine Zeta Jones has been living with bipolar for several years and rejects any stigma attached to it.” Easy for her to say. It was further Tweeted that Catherine Zeta Jones says there is “no shame in seeking help.” For someone with fame and finances this might even be true.

For Catherine Zeta Jones, mental health stigma and treatment are vastly different from the experiences of many who also suffer from mental illness. For her being open about her diagnosis and experiences is at least unintentional personal publicity. As they say: There is no such thing as bad press. In the case of celebrities a personal persona and public appetite is created and nourished by being a news story. It would appear that Catherine Zeta Jones has thrown herself in front of an oncoming car for the benefit of many but I would argue that the car has already driven by. The lack of blood and guts, spell evidence.

Catherine Zeta Jones is portrayed as some patron saint of bipolar but what has she really risked? Stigma is at a point that it is rarely rolled out for the famous. I am not inferring that there is no such thing as stigma but little if any cuts through fame and favour. Call me cynical but these revelations don’t seem to affect these individuals beyond increasing their brand, public persona and popularity.

If I’m depressed in bed or manic at the mall, am I apt to seek help or find relief in Catherine’s revelations? The rubberneckers look but the rest of us are too busy trying to survive. These celebrities don’t give interviews in their underwear next to dust bunnies; they follow a loose script in their personal libraries in Bermuda. Speaking of which, what meds do I take to find myself in Bermuda with a maid?

I think “Catherine The Great” has been a source of conversation around mental illness but I would argue that her battle with stigma is similar to Don Quixote who mistakes windmills for giants and charges at full speed. My suspicion is that stigma is a word, for Catherine Zeta Jones. For many stigma is no windmill but a true giant. It affects self image, personal and family relationships, employment and status.

When I think about bipolar I don’t envision a person like Catherine Zeta Jones who uses overpriced shoes for bookends because they’re too cute for closets. In my world people with bipolar have their shoes taken away so they can’t asphyxiate themselves with the laces.

I imagine Catherine’s experience with mental illness has been challenging and difficult but in the scheme of things we are talking about First World problems in comparison to Third World problems. Did she have to wait six months to see a psychiatrist? Were the chairs in the waiting room plastic or leather? Did she have to wonder if she could afford her medication? Was she worried about missing work? Did she have to resort to disability assistance to feed herself?

I’m waiting for one of these famous sacrificial lambs to tell us about their hemorrhoids. That experience is the same for us all and if I knew Catherine Zeta Jones used “Preparation H” I could actually hold my head higher at the pharmacy. There’s little fame in swelling so I shall suffer in silence.

“It is a kind of cold and uncaring environment”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slightly Medieval Misconceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toronto Sun’s Failed Attempt at Facts Using Michele Mandel As A Moronic Media Mistress

It seems the London Free Press is not satisfied with their own ignorance and stupidity so they are borrowing from the Toronto Sun. It all reminds me of a group of children trying to find answers about the big world without leaving the playground. The result is a group of bedwetter’s who are confused as to what Santa Claus actually looks like.

Information mixed with ignorance and opinions are the things we find in schoolyards or typed up as an article in Sun Media. It is not journalism and it has to be dissected to be considered news. It all reminds me of some Conservative Action Plan sign where we have to discern what is real and what is simply political propaganda.

Michele Mandel seems to have fallen from the teeter totter and bruised her cranium. When your head is up your derriere these things happen. My condolences go out to her proctologist in having to figure out what is what.

According to Michele Mandel, jurors in the Luka Magnotta case “have the unenviable task of determining the murky line between evil and madness.” Evil and madness seem like simple words but beyond sensationalism they could mean anything. Evil could even be the person in the drive thru who gives me the tomatoes I decline but it seems Michele Mandel is the only one among us with a handle on it. We haven’t been able to figure out evil for eons but in this case it’s whatever Sun Media wants it to be.

Madness seems the more manageable moniker but it is not discerned in any fashion by Michele Mandel. Is she referring to mental illness in general or is madness a specific disorder? Is bipolar disorder madness? Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder madness? Is Depression madness? Or is, as it is being argued in the case of Luka Magnotta schizophrenia madness?

What exactly is madness? I have perused my medical library, Google and Wikipedia and I can’t find an answer but it seems some journalist with a phoney degree in jurisprudence knows what it is exactly. Do share Michele Mandel. The world needs your expertise.

Let’s assume Michele Mandel knows a lick about schizophrenia and because we are speaking about Luka Magnotta that she is referring to abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. That being said Nobel Prize winner John Nash and author Jack Kerouac must also be considered mad. As a side note and prediction I doubt Michele Mandel will ever be as accomplished or recognized. We will assume Michele Mandel’s mental health is directly linked to her mediocrity.

According to Michele Mandel’s schoolyard logic there was a murky line with regards to John Nash and he somehow narrowly missed being named evil person of the year or he was at least accidentally awarded with a Nobel Prize. I realize Luka Magnotta is not in the running for any award but if he is found to have been incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or of knowing that it was wrong he is neither evil nor mad, he has a mental disorder. Michele Mandel should be able to appreciate incapable as would most journalists recruited to spew for Sun Media.

I don’t mean to infer that Michele Mandel has a language deficiency as her article has an array of words for mental illness; it’s almost poetic. She gets quite technical and medically irrelevant with words like “crazy”, “insanity”, “ravings” and “diabolical.” For those with an IQ it is journalistic junk recorded in a rag.

If nothing else Michele Mandel is honest as she admits it is impossible to discern between madness and evil. Thankfully the courts do not depend on a journalistic joke and literary lightweight. Canadians don’t need to depend on people who are barely capable with a keyboard. We have forensic psychiatrists who use science to make their way through what to her is a murky line. For them it is not a political penchant but a matter of training, knowledge and experience.

Michele Mandel’s rambling recount of selective facts is thankfully not what the jury will use to determine a verdict and to utter such nonsense is a disservice to impartial journalism, justice and mental health in general. My advice to Michele Mandel is to keep your childish notions out of print so Canadians with integrity can better determine the line between guilt and Not Criminally Responsible On Account of a Mental Disorder. Your agenda and that of your employer should never find its way into print.

The Andrew Lawton Show = Stigma In Stereo

Here in London, Ontario we have several radio stations one of which is AM 980. For most that are unfamiliar with this branch of CFPL AM, it is a species of FOX. Normally when I want to hear something stupid I watch the parliamentary question period but today I was informed of a program on Not Criminally Responsible. The host Andrew Lawton seems proud to boast that his is London’s most irreverent talk show.

I completely understand the meaning of irreverence but a lack of respect for individuals suffering from serious and persistent mental illness is beyond irreverence. It is shameful and worthy of listeners or any who are affected by mental illness to make a complaint to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. As compassionate and informed citizens we need to take responsibility in not perpetuating stigma and for people with a public platform that responsibility is imperative if not implied. To vilify people with mental illness cannot be excused by claiming irreverence. If Londoners were subjected to this disrespect directed at any other marginalized and disadvantaged population we would be outraged. These individuals have no voice so it falls to those of us who can stand up to take a stand.

I call for a public apology from Mr. Lawton for the one in five affected by mental illness. This would be a significant and necessary step for Mr. Lawton to take in the discontinuation of mental health stigma. As citizens any apathy is a continuation of the destructive and irresponsible attitudes that have contributed to the suffering of all individuals with mental health difficulties. To see no harm is the foul.

The best part of The Andrew Lawton Show is the 40 second lead in where Andrew is mute. It is as the opening song states “the show that never ends” but if we care about mental illness it clearly should.

The forensic system is made up of highly trained and educated individuals who specialize in this often obscure area of mental health. I could call Andrew Lawton on not including a lawyer or psychiatrist but even I know these people would have to be further specialized to be of any significance to the exchange of proper and significant information.

Andrew Lawton is a liar. In a past show he tells us that a lot of work goes into preparing stories and lining up guests. Maybe for locksmiths but for the complexities of forensic mental health we have only the breath and brain of an ignorant broadcaster.

I’m not sure if it ironic or just sad that Andrew Lawton took the time to interview a locksmith who deals with door handles but found no reason to include anyone with forensic relevance to his so called show on Not Criminally Responsible (NCR). I don’t know whether to be angry or laugh at the fact that a show that involved the intricacies of the Canadian Criminal Code, The Mental Health Act and forensic psychiatry was sewn together with only Mr. Lawton’s delusions, while the segment that followed involving locksmiths actually involved a locksmith. I can in no way shine a brighter light on this man’s arrogance, stupidity and irresponsibility.

I do not believe irreverence or any other excuse precludes responsibility to the truth in airing publicly opinions or anything near information. Mr. Lawton begins his program in a mire or misinformation. He seems to want listeners to think that individuals found Not Criminally Responsible “never have to spend time in jail.” I spent 10 months in a detention centre or jail and was exposed to all the punishment and more because of my delusions. If Mr. Lawton wants to confirm my confinement he can ask the guard who refused me a shower and toothbrush for 7 days. He can look up in the records how long I spent in solitary confinement and he can even interview the other prisoners who took advantage of my illness. Mr. Lawton seems disappointed that I was sent to a mental health facility for treatment and not for punishment. Sorry.

To assist Mr. Lawton in his ignorance I would point out that guilt is not the act but the act of knowing. When someone is found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder it is because experts have found that they could not appreciate the nature of the act or omission. They are not sentenced according to a code of punishment but are placed under forensic mental health care. Forensic mental health facilities are secure, humane, progressive and therapeutic. Interdisciplinary teams are used to progress patients through rehabilitation and treatment. These facilities are hospitals and not jails because Not Criminally Responsible offenders are not criminals they are patients. They require not our judgement or fear but rather our assistance.

It is not a chosen path so it makes no sense to punish the traveler for being where they are. It is difficult for many to reconcile illness with atrocity. It needs to be kept in mind that without the illness there may have been no crime. We recognize the defendant but we cannot see the culprit. The culprit is mental illness.

Not Criminally Responsible in my case was not a chosen defense. If I had my way I would have been a brilliant lawyer at my own trial. It was a defense of default for me. I was incapable of any other defense. The courts and medicine intervened to protect justice and my mental health. If we are to be merciful it is imperative we do not punish illness. It is pointless and cruel.

If it is an eye for an eye, Christ`s words were wasted.

Mr. Lawton seems to think treatment is a “mentality” and rehabilitation is an “argument.” I would suggest getting off your high horse as both are in fact science and medicine. They are both carried out by people with years of experience and expertise. I suggest that Mr. Lawton is in fact deflecting his own inadequacies. He is in no way qualified so he assumes the same of others. Unlike himself, these practitioners are universally recognized as experts. Were he to give them this credit he would be forced to submit his conservative worldview to information and science which we know is like oil and water.

Mr. Lawton simply states the obvious when he says he has “very little place in my heart for people like this.” People like what? People with serious and persistent mental illness? People caught up in circumstances they never imagined? People who are marginalized and disadvantaged? I can only state the obvious and point out that people like Mr. Lawton have no heart. Theirs is a world of retribution where answers are only found in anger and indifference.

Mr Lawton seems proud of the fact that he covers stories that “you won’t hear from mainstream media.” Could it be because they have scruples, integrity and a responsibility to the public to present researched information or at least investigate a story rather than jumping from the horse with a mouthful from the one in front? Just because a thought enters your cowboy hat does not abdicate you of being responsible with your platform. I find it ironic that a whole story devoted to the distaste of people being found not responsible is carried out by an individual who is nothing more than irresponsible himself. Canadians spend millions to combat stigma and a man with a microphone sweeps much of it away with his own personal ignorance which he disguises as opinion.
Andrew Lawton seems to think it is some sort of public service to illustrate an individual case and circumstance and call into question broad and pointless arguments. Calling into question rehabilitation and treatment in general because of a mentally ill individual’s personal oversight is irresponsible and imbecilic. It is as logical as asking if police should be allowed to carry handguns after a civilian shooting. Each officer is unique as are the civilians and circumstances that bring them together. In case the analogy escapes you Mr. Lawton each person who is found to be Not Criminally Responsible is unique as is their treatment and rehabilitation.

With regard to Thomas Brailsford I can only use my own experiences to dispel Mr. Lawton’s ignorance. I was held on a medium secure unit for roughly one year before I was allowed passes on the hospital grounds and it was well over a year before I entered the community on indirectly supervised passes. Extreme caution is exercised in the issuance of passes and privileges. If Mr. Brailsford was released on a pass the public’s safety was paramount. If he was considered a danger or even a threat to himself or others he would never have been granted a pass. This news story is basically about a non-dangerous individual breaking a curfew.

I am taking Mr. Lawton to task because these individuals in most cases are disabled. We cannot see the limp but the disadvantage is obvious if we look beyond our misconceptions. Mr. Lawton can be proud of the fact that he devoted half his show to spouting stigma and disrespecting people who struggle with day to day life. Again, I call on Londoners and others to voice their disapproval of this man and his show. Would we stand silent if it was homeless people in wheelchairs? I think not and that is the slippery slope of stigma.

Mr. Lawton asks if these offenders “should even have rights.” I hate to be the one to break it to this man but as Canadians we all have rights in all instances and they are protected in the Charter and the Constitution. Even free speech which Mr. Lawton seems to have swindled someone into paying him for is a right until it becomes hate. You sir are close to that edge.

I would never call Mr. Lawton a moron so I will let him say it himself. “Just because someone is deemed in a legal sense Not Criminally Responsible, to me, does not mean we can deem them not responsible for it all.” In case this stupidity seems some typographical error I will once again type it word for word. “Just because someone is deemed in a legal sense Not Criminally Responsible, to me, does not mean we can deem them not responsible for it all.” One can only wonder which parts Mr. Lawton wishes people to be responsible for. The temperature? The day of the week?

Andrew Lawton seems to think Not Criminally Responsible is “not of the criminal code but of the justice system.” I hate to point this man to a book but in fact Not Criminally Responsible has been part of the criminal code for over a century. There are no illustrations but even Mr. Lawton could read the print if he was willing to expend the energy or had the intellect.

For Mr. Lawton the designation of Not Criminally Responsible has “gotten people treatment the community would not like to see them receive.” Only the community that is totally callous and without compassion which clearly includes Mr. Lawton.

Another lie made by Mr. Lawton is his insistence that David Carmichael who killed his son “did not know what he was doing and was then released.” In fact he was held in the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital for 3 years if memory serves. Should people in public broadcasting be allowed to promote lies to perpetuate their opinions and mental health stigma? I think we could ask the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that one.

To further Mr. Lawton’s ignorance he calls on his listeners. Adam believes, “the general public doesn’t know what is best anymore.” They never have which is why we have legal and medical experts. It might be fun to stone people on a whim but we have come to the conclusion that justice is best served otherwise. Emotions are not logic or legal and justice remains blind so that evidence precludes emotion.

Blinded by his own belligerence Mr. Lawton turns to Mark who digresses into some story about Nazi’s, the Japanese of WW2 and further peppers his ignorance with words like bonkers and crazy as though he isn’t. Mark states that he doesn’t trust psychiatrists to see the difference between a murderous mindset and mental illness as though he can.

For any who are not intimately insulted as they have not been found NCR take heart as Mr. Lawton “completely recognizes that, by the way, if you are dealing with mental illness you are not operating at full capacity, you are not operating in a sense you are completely responsible for your actions.” He must mean people like Churchill, Lincoln, or Patton. “I completely recognize that, by the way, but that doesn’t excuse you from doing whatever you want.” Like anyone would want to kill their 78 year old mother or their child? Mr. Lawton believes NCR individuals are not being called to account for their actions. Those actions are usually a result of delusions and hallucinations which are not asked for or rationalized. No one wishes to be involved in any of these sad circumstances. A tragedy is sometimes simply a tragedy.

Andrew Lawton wants to bring our attention to Thomas Brailsford who he claims ran away. Mr. Lawton believes he was handed an unsupervised pass. In fact it was first decided by a judge, a lawyer, a crown, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a member of the public and a health care team to grant this privilege and it would not have been issued outright but in incremental degrees as trust and health dictated. Mr. Lawton asks “what would have stopped him from hurting himself or others.” It is something that completely escapes Andrew Lawton; rehabilitation and treatment. Hundreds of NCR individuals are integrated back into communities without incident but thanks for shrouding one instance in stigma. It furthers your political agenda and perpetuates public misconceptions. There’s a media award for that right?

Dumb and Dumber

With the conservative government dragging their heels on anything proactive regarding the recommendations put forward by the inquest into the Ashley Smith homicide I must speak.

Sometimes surfing the internet is a vice but I have been fortuitous in stumbling on the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) Commissioner’s Directive. The Commissioner’s Policy Objective Regarding Health Services is:

1. To ensure that inmates have access to essential medical, dental and mental health services in keeping with generally accepted community practices.

From personal experience and more radically from the circumstances of Ashley Smith’s death I feel obliged to point out to the commissioner or anyone else who doesn’t care, that community practices do not include solitary confinement as a default. It seems individuals in corrections feel solitary confinement is a panacea. We leave medicine up to people who are trained to turn keys and push food carts. I can’t believe we pay correctional officers $50 000 a year to call surnames, inspect anuses, turn a key and distribute diets. In Canada we need at least two guards and a lieutenant to orchestrate the ordinary.

Please don’t assume I am a disgruntled delinquent. The same stupidity can be found in many public services. Last month the London Fire Department was experiencing some form of inefficient insomnia or doing some sort of safety blitz. On three separate evenings a full size fire truck pulled in front of my house. I tend to self-isolate and have a degree of agoraphobia so I ignored them the first two times when they knocked on my door. I finally relented and decided my discomfort was less important than the tax dollars that were blowing down the street.

It took two “blueshirts” or regular firemen and one “whiteshirt” or supervisor to canvas me about having fire detectors on each floor and a carbon monoxide detector. It was costing Londoners about $153.00 per hour to have these bored but brave men go door to door and that doesn’t count whatever the hell it cost to fuel a fire truck at $1.39 a litre. Get a Smart car dumbass! I may be an idiot but wouldn’t it make more sense to have a 15 year old who needs volunteer hours to pull a Radio Flyer wagon full of batteries and smoke detectors through the same neighbourhoods to hand out to citizens without? We could save money as taxpayers and probably save more lives. I understand the dilemma. What would fire services have to bargain with if they did less than less?

I digress but it is an honest diversion. While I was in jail I also had “blueshirts” or guards come to my door with the odd “whiteshirt” in the background making sure my captors didn’t screw up simplicity.

According to the Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner and their Response to Medical Emergencies: the primary goal is the preservation of life.

• Non-health services staff arriving on the scene of a possible medical emergency (like a ligature around the neck) must immediately call for assistance, secure the area and initiate CPR/first aid without delay.
• Non-health services staff must continue to perform CPR/first aid until relieved by health services staff or the ambulance service.
• The decision to discontinue CPR/first aid can be made only by authorized health services staff or the ambulance service.

Here I can only wonder why “whiteshirts” were making decisions they were not authorized to make. “Blueshirts” overrode the commissioner’s directive as well. Insubordination and insanity.

Any poor “blueshirt” or guard who can read or remember must have been pacing frantically at watching Ashley choke when we consider the following directives.

• Initiation of CPR by non-health services staff is not required in the following situations:
• Decapitation (i.e. the complete severing of the head from the remainder of the body)

Correctional officers must be known to be overzealous in administering life saving measures if they have to be formally called off when a head is not attached to a body. The correctional officers outside Ashley’s cell must have been convulsing with compassion when they could see she was not dismembered. “But Boss, her head is still on.”

Another instance that does not necessitate CPR is:

• Decomposition (i.e. condition of decay, deterioration, disintegration of the body)

This directive has a place in a correctional setting considering the care many inmates receive. One would assume that an ordinary citizen wouldn’t require i.e. and an explanation of decapitation or decomposition but apparently correctional officers are so thorough in their first aid they need “too far gone” spelled out.
Only in a correctional setting where charges are checked every 20 minutes could one find a corpse in a state of decomposition. “But Boss, I counted him for the past three weeks.”

Considering these directives it seems incomprehensible that Ashley Smith was watched by corrections officers as she choked to death. How is it that when she fell unconscious with her head attached and in no way decomposing no one intervened? It seems ironic that inmates are in these facilities for not following written rules but those who are charged with assisting and encouraging offenders to become law-abiding citizens can pick and choose or even fabricate their own. In Ashley’s case the result was both sadistic and sad.

http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/plcy/cdshtm/800-cde-eng.shtml

It’s A Plane Shame

“A plan by Correctional Service Canada to move female inmates who are mentally ill from prisons across the country into a new, specially equipped unit in Ontario’s Brockville Mental Health Centre is on hold because governments have yet to finalize a funding agreement.”

“Last May, Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney held a large news conference in Brockville to announce a pilot project as part of the government’s response to the death of Ashley Smith. The 19-year old, who was mentally ill, choked to death in October 2007 in a Kitchener, Ont., federal institution after tying a piece of cloth around her neck. Guards stood outside her cell and watched — they had been ordered not to intervene.”

Forgive me for referring to Minister Blaney as Minister Baloney, it’s just easier for me to read.

“Federal corrections officials have acknowledged that between 20 and 30 female inmates are in need of psychiatric care that can’t be provided in prison. Baloney said at the time the two beds in Brockville were a first step in addressing those needs.”

Minister Baloney said, “The death of Ashley Smith was a terrible tragedy. This is why we need to take action, so such a thing never happens again.”

A news conference and announcement are not action, they are advertising. Thanks for the propaganda.

Am I off base to expect leadership and integrity from my government? I can deal with avenues I do not agree with but basic human needs should never be politicized. When a person or government clings to a tough on crime agenda to the point where citizens are tortured in solitary confinement I take issue.

The conservatives didn’t have a problem finding monies for Minister Tony Clement to purchase votes in his home riding. Minister Cement was at the time responsible for cutting excessive expenditures. Ha! This jackass moved a good portion of $50 million into his own riding. I’m sure most Canadians are pleased or complacent in the fact that much of this money went into parks, walkways and gazebos. I suspect that those who sleep in parks and under gazebos are less impressed.

Then we have the Teflon Toupee himself painting his colours of shame on his plane. Every prime minister who preceded him in the age of flight was fine with the drab military grey the military mandated. The new design in conservative colours cost an extra $50 000.

“Hey Tony, what should we do with this $50 000?” I suspect Minister Cement’s first suggestion was to paint the gazebo but clearly the prime minister had higher aspirations for vanity.

When paint on a plane precedes and precludes social justice, human dignity, healthcare and the humane treatment of any citizen in need of mental health services it not only illustrates incompetence but it highlights conservative callousness and their complete disregard for a disadvantaged and vulnerable population.

I don’t even know all the prime ministers but have we ever had one as colourless, stale and stiff? He is like a Pez dispenser. His friends hold out their hands while he coughs up partisan gems while the rest of us would do as well if the candies just spilled on the floor. In short, do we really need him?

When a government plans and pursues policy that produces votes at the expense of compassion, re-election is not a mandate as much as an accusation. History books will fill pages about Prime Minister Harper’s abilities as a strategist. Harper may even find majorities in the future but in the minds and hearts of Canadians he will be remembered for little else.

The prime minister and his ministers in their rush to be conservative have failed to read the definition of compassion that even in a lifeless dictionary precedes the other.

In ending I think we could find the funding by eliminating the Protective Policing Service provided to the prime minister by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Stephen Harper has no vital organs, so what’s the point.

210 days until Christmas

I had an acquaintance pass away. He was in his late 40’s and a fellow patient in a hospital he and I lived in. I don’t know his history but I was on a forensic unit 484 paces from him on an adult ward which did not involve justice.
At certain points in my treatment and rehabilitation I was able to access areas which met my ears with “How many days until Christmas?” I don’t clearly remember the first time I heard Frank (a pseudonym) ask and reply with the exact number of days until Christmas.
Frank stuck out in my experiences as only a few have. On days I wasn’t sure what all the pain was about he pointed me to Christmas. Who doesn’t have at least one great Christmas memory? I never knew it but when he shouted it at me, it was piercing me with hope. I don’t know where hope gets you but thinking back to being without hope I can hear Frank’s simple words.
I didn’t watch TV or read a sports page for a few years but after meeting Frank I often knew the scores. Frank demonstrated that interest in anything can excite the soul. I didn’t really have a passion or so it seemed but it always cheered me that he was a fan.
I didn’t see many different faces while in hospital but Frank’s life carried lessons for me. Frank struggled but usually with joy in his heart. I say usually because I saw him cry at losing in the hospital BINGO once. I did not see a sore loser, I saw a man who put his whole heart into things. If disappointment brings tears it points to desire, it points to enthusiasm, it points to passion. If you can understand an Olympian weeping at loss you can understand Frank’s tears. He was giving it his all.
When I think of Frank I will remember that a voice and words can be the hand that pulls us past our disappointment, our losses, and our pain. Some days one of the few to speak to me would be Frank. Sometimes when you hear something it doesn’t take sprout until much later. I was impacted I thought by the repetition but in fact it was the distance between whenever and Christmas. There was always a measurable space between what I was enduring and what I would enjoy.
210 days until Christmas Frank, thanks for the gift.

 

Postcard’s To My Peers

The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is 3.2 million. When I was that age there were only a few.
Why is that? I’m not smart enough to know but I can talk about mental illness thirty years ago. Mental illness was not talked about as it is these days. I don’t recall a word spoken about it until it was I.
I was the only overtly mentally ill person in my high school. No one appeared to be anorexic and the only medication names on tongues were mine. None of my friends had a diagnosis or prescription for anti-depressants. Ritalin wasn’t in every classroom; it wasn’t even in the school. No one had Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in any of my classes from 2 to 12.
Stigma was mostly my imagining I’m sure. I don’t recall any specific disrespect but there were no anti-stigma campaigns, no celebrities with experiences. I felt fairly singular and didn’t have a lot of fun being me. I was a cutter before it was fashion and to place a tattoo over my scars then would have been as unusual. My symptoms were postcard’s to my peers from places they had not named yet. I would not be properly diagnosed for more than a decade. It’s difficult to find the right dose when you don’t know what you’re aiming at.
There were six or eight of us when I was 15 on the psychiatric adolescent unit at the children’s hospital in London. One of my roommates was a young boy who broke my Walk-man. At another time my roommate had bi-polar or manic-depressive illness as they called it then. There was a young girl with anorexia and a few other patients with varying symptoms.
Why is it that were I a student at any high school today I would find others with symptoms, diagnosis, hospitalizations etc? Why is my adolescent uniqueness now a journey for many more?
Today, 8 out of every 100 teens have serious depression. My high school of 400 would today contain 31 others similar to me.
Is mental illness in fact more prevalent and if so why?

Aside

I received my final grade 12 credits at an adult learning centre in St. Thomas. I was in my thirties and living on a forensic rehabilitation unit. I had been to college for a year but somehow without my grade 12. I don’t remember it being my idea to go and I found it tiring but it was good for me in many ways. I saw faces that were different and met some great staff and students.
It was a little awkward being a student who was locked up at night. The big white vans we travelled in were familiar to the community. They gave us bagged lunches which I never thought much of figuratively and literally. A young woman who was friendly to me commented on the sawed off juice containers they included. “Where do you get those, they’re cute.” They didn’t give us Costco cards or I’d have flashed one. I should have mumbled something about my aunt who was either in hospital or worked in one.
We would sometimes have to take a taxi back to the hospital. One day a fellow patient and I were in one together. When we got back to the hospital he asked me if I knew I was supposed to sit in the back. I would sit in the front when I was alone or not. That’s where the view was. I might not have had my grade 12 but I wasn’t stupid.

The Conservative Government of Canada Did Not Consult…

I was reading the testimony presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding Bill C-54 which is an Act to amend the Criminal Code regarding people who are found Not Criminally Responsible. Many of the arguments put forward are similar to those I sent to the Conservative Government in March of last year. (Just type in Brief in the search box).

I won’t make the same arguments but I would like to point out something as relevant. Bill C-54 is about the law and mental health. These are the groups the Conservative Government of Canada did NOT consult in the drafting of the Bill:

The Canadian Psychiatric Association,

The Canadian Psychological Association

The Canadian Mental Health Association

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada

The Canadian Association of Social Workers

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

The National Network for Mental Health

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada

The 19 members of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health

The Criminal Lawyers Association

The Canadian Bar Association

Not to mention individuals, and families who are secondary victims and directly affected by such legislation.

This list is not exhaustive but then again it is.

People throw the word stigma around a fair bit but this government and this Standing Committee have stood on the throat of an important and often ignored segment of the issue; the secondary victims who live with it. I have to forgive stigma else it drives me mad but when it is intentional and politically motivated it becomes less an issue of ignorance and it becomes abuse.

Mr. Robert Goguen shatters all faith I have in a committee that is somewhat of a safeguard to irresponsible government. The Conservative Member of Parliament from New Brunswick succinctly sums up his government’s perspective and perception when he says:

 “It’s making sure that these CRIMINALS are treated for whatever time is needed.”

 In all fairness to Mr. Robert Goguen I Googled his qualifications. Such a statement could only come from someone who has no clue. In fact, Mr. Robert Goguen is a lawyer. Mr. Robert Goguen is in fact the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.

I don’t possess a law degree, in fact I don’t even possess a degree but I feel I need to point out to Mr. Robert Goguen that a necessary element for a crime is Mens rea; a guilty mind. To put it more simply for Mr. Robert Goguen the act does not constitute guilt but the act of knowing does. Not Criminally Responsible individuals are not found guilty and are thus referred to as the accused. I’m not sure where Mr. Robert Goguen got his law degree let alone where he has stumbled about with it but in Canada, coast to coast the accused is not guilty and therefore not a criminal until proven to be so. Not Criminally Responsible individuals are not proven to be guilty because they could not appreciate the nature of the act or omission due to a mental disorder.

Mr. Robert Goguen has lectured on bankruptcy at Mount Allison University and the Universite de Moncton. Mr. Robert Goguen is well qualified in bankruptcy considering he himself is bankrupt of a basic understanding of the law.

 

What I Learned In Jail

Corrections in General

What we pass onto prisoners through the justice and correctional system returns to the street.

Treatment in = treatment out

If we expose people in prison to unsafe conditions why would they care to contribute to a safe society on the outside? If we are inhumane or uncaring how can we expect them to be otherwise? If we allow them the opportunity to be brutal on the inside of a prison it should be no surprise to find them brutal when they are released.

We can agree jail should be a place of denial and punishment but to interject humanity or respect only makes one more mindful of their shortcomings regarding the same.

When we separate a prisoner from society normally what happens is they create their own society. There is a separate code, culture and hierarchy and this would often include” heavies” (inmates who would control what they could). This culture continues to exist in the mind of many released inmates.

While at the Ontario Correctional Institute (OCI) there was no real hierarchy and no heavies. Our behaviours mirrored more closely how people would carry themselves on the outside.

Hierarchies spawn violence. People fight for the top, or peck at those unfortunate enough to be on the bottom. I also believe it would diminish a portion of recidivism. I am not educated in the psychology of crime but for some prisoners they feel they have a higher significance and importance in jail. Anecdotally, the returning prisoners I was familiar with were those who thrived in jail, those who were above others in the hierarchy. For some, being in jail is a status boost.

If you can eliminate the hierarchy there is less social and psychological benefit to risking your freedom through criminal activity. For some, crime becomes a no-loss scenario.

1)      Chance of gain in the crime

2)      Social gain in returning to a situation where power and control (that would otherwise be unattainable) are obtained

The institutional hierarchy is mimicked by the inmates. One person walks around like they own the place and the rest fall in line according to loyalty, familiarity or criminal charge. Rather than years or service or specialty a prisoner leads by force and manipulation. We use what we are charged with as the only means of status. The pedophile could be strong and smart but never will they have status which renders them powerless. At OCI the pedophile could be democratically lifted from their position. A charge had no bearing on whether you were in charge of TV programming or janitorial duties. It allowed each prisoner a means to be something more. When someone is elected to a position a personal best must also be a communal best. When inmates depend on each other they respect each other. The more inmates manage themselves the more they value their surroundings and each other. With a concrete system with which to build a society and community within corrections, inmates can maintain a workable humane safe system.

The “heavies” on the units need to be the Correctional Officers (CO). The COs must set the tone and rules. There should be no difference between justice and prisoner justice. In my experience some are fine with the idea of prisoner’s doling out justice on each other but it is inhumane. I am reminded of the Romans throwing humans to lions. Each unit has a lion, a heavy. All prisoners are prone to being beaten (or eaten) when there is unsupervised leadership among the inmates. Cut the head off the lion. The institution should be the leader and any leadership among the inmates should be democratic and supervised.

If we want prisoners to return to society and follow rules… the best place to teach them is in jail. Prisoners need a reality in jail that better serves their reformation and society as a whole. Prisoners need simple tools to better themselves. We have to impart on them a degree of self-worth or they have nothing to lose. We need to refashion some of how they relate and what they believe. Once they are released they are vulnerable to financial stresses, relationship stresses, temptation and addiction. If they exit without learning new ways of relating re-entry to jail is more likely.

Higher penalties while incarcerated

There needs to be more consequence for misdeeds while incarcerated. It is pointless to hold offenders to justice in the first place if there is none while they are in jail. We double speed fines in construction zones so why not double the penalty for infractions while in jail? A crime on government property could have a harsher sentence?

Safety and Surveillance

When a guard or correctional officer (CO) is among prisoners it may potentially place the guard in danger but it offers a degree of safety and security otherwise unattainable. Guards are more likely to intercept contraband and weapons. They will be able to identify problem prisoners and can administer to that individual. Having guards in close proximity would enable the CO to maintain order and identify prisoners with special needs. A CO could become an assessment tool in classifying prisoners and diverting those in need of more security, health services, treatment, segregation etc.

Preventing a fight or beating by being present to de-escalate arguments is safer than rushing onto the unit to break one up already in progress. The units I spent most of my time in were in the Sarnia Detention Centre. They were basically cages. When trouble was finally detected COs had to open two doors to separate a fight or end a beating. Most of it would have been preventable by simply having a guard on the outside of the cage to watch us. Instead, they sat in a hallway with the door to noise and news closed. In my opinion some COs are responsible for the violence that can happen through complacency. They understand the prisoner code and many are covertly supportive of it.

If a CO was closer they could overhear conversations and be able to immediately intervene or alert more guards to help them with the situation. We need COs trained in de-escalating and diffusing violent situations.

If two guards are present a signal can go out for extra personnel at the first sign of trouble rather than in the midst of it.

Prior to placement if an offender is classed as violent through conviction or past record they may be more appropriately placed.

The x-ray machines I saw at Toronto South Detention Centre ensure that no weapons enter. If there is no contraband which is achievable through these x-ray chairs, the unit becomes safe to both inmate and guard. My experience with jails is that the response time for additional officers is between five and fifteen seconds. With a guard viewing the inmates at all times a fight or beating should only last as long. Two officers become six quickly. If they can interact they will prevent even that.

Surveillance in jails should be complete. In the forensic system I was viewable on camera except in private spaces.  Privacy can be suspended in the name of security. If we have the right to strip an inmate naked do we not have the right to watch them do almost everything else? Cameras don’t eliminate violence but they can prevent it.

Toronto South seemed ideal from a security standpoint; two officers on the actual unit with one guard in the tower watching over the area.

No one has time to consider their wrongs or take responsibility and work towards improvement when they must remain alert to their surroundings for safety.

At OCI, I had a desk and felt safe so I was able to learn about myself. I devoured self-help books as I struggled with my illness. The pages didn’t alter my symptoms but I have been altered. I wrote part of my book in the form of letters from jail. If a unit is in any way unsafe I would not sit with my focus on words home. If we can make units safe we have an environment where programming and prisoner improvement can take place.

Prisoner Violence

If we are complacent regarding violence and prisoner justice it detracts from taking offence at crime to begin with. If we subject prisoners to a lawless community our communities are subjected to the same when the same attitudes and behaviors are released.

Many crimes are rooted in not relating well with people. When an inmate is exposed to inappropriate interactions it reinforces existing deficiencies. If an answer to argument is a fist it will land you in jail where the fist is still the answer to argument. We are releasing people with experience in further lawlessness. It should be the opposite if we expect results from our investment in their lives.

It makes no sense to process prisoners with the same disregard we fault them for. People learn best by being shown. It can be with words or more active. If we demonstrate a degree of respect toward inmates they can learn what it is, use it amongst themselves and share it with the families and communities they return to.

At OCI a democratic and just community was built by the institution. Most adhered to it and those that didn’t were simply removed. If we build a community where inmates can practice living thoughtfully they can recognize the importance of the same on the outside.

News from the street enters the jail and news of the jail enters the street. Prisoners can reach people regardless of which side of the bars they are on. A fight or argument in jail doesn’t always end there. The prisoner culture spills into our communities.

We want prisoners to have respect. To allow brute force and manipulation to run a unit proves our disregard and furthers the cycle of disrespect.

Privileges, Programming and Responsibilities

I spent roughly a year at OCI in Brampton. I will share some of my perceptions.

It needs to be said that had I not experienced detention centres I would be unaware of the positives I experienced at OCI. For me, a toilet seat and a real knife and fork were worth behaving for. I’m not being flippant when I say if you offered me a cheeseburger for every month I behaved, I would have waxed the deputy superintendent’s car every frosty morning. It doesn’t have to be much to encourage positive behaviour and behaviour modification.

With privileges, good behaviour can be rewarded and anchored to the positive. With increased privileges on the horizon an inmate has cause to do well. A privilege provides two reasons to comply with conditions and commands. An inmate wants to do well so they are not demoted to a lower level of privilege and they are also compliant so they can advance to the next level.

With the deprivation of incarceration comes economical and simple means of reward: the TV could be left on an hour longer; thirty minutes more sleep on Sunday; a jug of watered down coffee for the unit.

In Sarnia an inmate would sweep and mop the guard’s walkway for a jug of coffee. I cleaned an entire unit and moved mattresses just for the sake of having something to do. For me it was quite an honour. Normally a guard would choose the “heavy” and blindly reinforce the hierarchy.

A person can learn healthier habits through positive reinforcement. At OCI I was the secretary for a spiritual program that we crowded for. I kept attendance and if three or more sessions of the 16-week program were missed a person would not receive their certificate. I was a stickler for details at the time and had several irate inmates on my heels when they did not receive their certificate. I saw it as an interesting piece of paper but some viewed it as an accomplishment. Those inmates didn’t come to each session but they came to enough hoping for a certificate.

An extra hour of TV can be viewed as a means to escape hardship. It not only motivates the inmate personally if he wants to watch TV but he also becomes responsible for his fellow inmates sharing the same pleasure. If you are the one who fails to ensure the TV time – you have to answer to your fellow inmates. Extra TV time at OCI was the reward for smooth unit operations. If we failed cleanliness we lost the privilege.

When I spoke at Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) it was in an unused gymnasium. With the purchase of a basketball well behaved inmates could gain five minutes to themselves in the gym. The supervised solitude will diffuse tensions and for those active some testosterone could be expended.

Access to freedom is a tool of reform. To deny it is punishment enough and to measure levels of relief provides the opportunity to create co-operation. If inmates co-operate they can witness their own importance and the importance of others.

Privileges provide some hope and in terms of treatment the optimism alone speeds progress. Jail is often hopeless having little to do or little to look forward to. If an inmate has hope they may be less prone to violence.

When each inmate has a duty for the unit they can learn responsibility, gain a sense of self efficacy and a sense of belonging.

When the lower inmate is able to advance it is a signal to those who think they are better that all have value. If everyone has value it dissolves the hierarchy.

The use of protective custody (PC) and general population (GP) creates safety through segregation but also animosity. Inmates are within reach of certain inmates through communication and connections so safety can be compromised. The GPs considered those in PC to be rats, thieves and sex offenders. As such all were looked down on and in situations where segregation fails those in protective custody are in danger. At OCI there was no PC or GP and as such the hierarchy it creates was non-existent. In some form it enhanced the safety of the institution.

I was in PC for much of my incarceration. I ended up in cells with GP, they saw me and many would know what unit I was on. We were transported together and would see each other as we accessed the yard. Any prisoner is reachable.

I saw several fights in PC and was a witness to a beating so in my estimation it is already failing to be what its name insinuates.

At OCI there was no PC. The only segregation was between new arrivals in the assessment area and the offenders already classified to units. When I was in regular jails the threat of violence coated most days. OCI was safe because non-violence was a condition of the privilege of inhabiting humane, respectful and progressive living conditions.

No one comes clean in dirty water.

We need to dismantle how inmates gain their self-esteem and replace it with socially acceptable measures. We want them to gain their esteem by behaving not by bullying and manipulating. We want them to gain their esteem by cooperating and contributing.

Portions of my mental health and corrections journey included the use of privileges. When medicine and the law intertwine privilege can be a level of security and is progressive. Inmates that are a risk can at any point be placed in the most secure setting and inmates who are doing well can be advanced.

OCI and the forensic hospital in St. Thomas (formally Regional Mental Health Care St. Thomas, now Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care) were the safest and most humane of the institutions I experienced. OCI had a zero tolerance policy regarding violence. OCI had many amenities worth behaving for. If a prisoner violated a certain rule they could be transferred back to a detention centre. Detention centres are the harshest to be in and have less comforts, opportunities and treatment.

Another rule at OCI was participation in programming and treatment. We had Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, General Addictions and an array of spiritual services administered by permanent staff and supported by volunteers. Participation in spiritual programming was widespread, though voluntary. It was a change of setting or a break to the monotony for some but for others seeds were planted. Personally, spirituality was one of the most important aspects of my rehabilitation and recovery, something that I didn’t have when I entered the system.

More importance could have been placed on programming. It is unlikely the rooms I saw at Toronto South for programs such as AA will work. There is no anonymity with windows into the room and the children’s chairs are humiliating in themselves. If programming can be mandatory after sentencing all sentenced inmates could begin with AA. Those without substance problems will learn about and appreciate the struggles of those who do. Participation in programming is an escape from the monotony and is often embraced for that alone.

Volunteers are a link to the “outside” and I found self-worth in the fact of their presence. Volunteers can be a link while incarcerated but connections can carry into the community providing continued supports when the prisoner is released. Most of the programs at OCI were maintained by volunteers.

A six week exposure to anger management will not benefit every inmate and others would resist but numerous others would benefit.

Spirituality

I would be little of what I am today were it not for being ministered to throughout my journey. I gained my faith within institutions and if I have nothing else this would be enough. If an inmate has faith they face and overcome what they might not otherwise. We should not push religion on this group but if we make access to spirituality attractive the nectar will stick to some and change lives.

 

 

Early Intervention

I am the million dollar man. I have spent three years in correctional facilities, two years hospitalized and five years monitored in the community. The five years I spent incarcerated amount to approximately $550,000 dollars and that gets added to the cost of my community treatment. In my estimation it would have been cheaper to have a worker follow me from a young age and it would have been advantageous for me and the system to have had intervention before I cost over $300/day. A mental health worker paid $60,000/year could have spent over 18 years seeing me for four hours a day. That same mental health worker could spend one hour a day with me for 70 years.

I think if there was one person who was assigned to my mental health journey I may have avoided the courts. I didn’t receive the intensive treatment I required until I was in my thirties and there were periods I was not in receipt of treatment or oversight.

I sometimes wonder if that time and money was spent when I was younger if I would have avoided everything.

Educational Supports

In my experience many inmates struggled with various degrees of illiteracy. I personally assisted a couple of inmates with reading and writing letters. It is sad to sit next to someone who hasn’t the ability to experience such an integral part of existence. I’m not sure how these adults navigated the educational system without procuring the ability to read.

When an inmate is incarcerated it presents the state with another opportunity to teach literacy. Possibly volunteers could be called on to assist in passing on this basic skill. Literacy could be conditional for those who need it and it could be encouraged and advanced through the issuance of simple privileges.

Inmates could be called on to assist each other in literacy creating cooperation and self-worth in both teacher and student. We can poke and prod this segment of society to become gainfully employed and contribute but illiteracy is a hindrance at best. These individuals are not stupid and could embrace society and normalcy more easily if they could navigate the written word. A criminal record is difficult to overcome but illiteracy is an obstacle that will only be moved by education.

Inmates need access to the raw materials for self-improvement. I took Bible correspondence courses during portions of my incarceration. I don’t see why these voluntary programs couldn’t include secular members of the community. One suggestion may be teacher colleges including marking inmate attempts at equivalencies. My exposure to schooling while incarcerated included a woman who came weekly to the Sarnia jail. I was quite psychotic and she assisted me beyond academics. While at OCI I mainly attempted to gain a typing credit with a teacher who worked half days. While we have prisoners in our grasp we may as well mold them. What if for those who have failed the public system we now take the time to instill knowledge and the ability to gain skills; skills that pay taxes and build communities. Lack of education and skills may not lead to criminality but they anchor most inmates to the cycle of crime.

If I am a better person I can’t help but be a better citizen. I was twice confined to Sarnia Detention Centre and I saw several familiar faces on my return. Many of the guards were familiar with about a third of the detainees. The repeat offender may hold less promise of participation and success but there are few beyond hope.

Better citizens add to public safety rather than perpetually compromising it. If we are paying to house these inmates we might as well do something with the housing and food we provide. There would be less educators teaching in other countries if they could safely do so within corrections. Make it a paid internship. They gain experience and the province economical labour. Obviously I’m just spitballing but there must be ways to institute inmate improvement in an economically feasible fashion. Even at an expense it might prove profitable in the long term. I understand fiscal responsibility but if a government doesn’t invest in the longer term they will balance a broken society.

Some inmates will not amount to much on the street. Corrections could incorporate measures to change this.

Uniforms

I can identify a guard as being similar to myself when they are out of uniform. Many inmates associate and resent the uniform regardless of who it is on. I can imagine a guard as having a life outside of the jail. If an inmate can view a correctional officer as more of a person they are better able to identify with them. Prisoners recognize that other prisoners have relationships and family but a guard is a guard to them. Just as the guard judges us as criminals we judge them as something even less. There is a barrier between guard and inmate which limits the amount of respect that passes between the two. If guards become caseworkers their assistance will be recognized as that. They will still be the ones with the keys but they will unlock the potential that lies within many inmates.

This places more value and respect on them in my opinion. When we see the uniform it is a reminder of where we are, when see clothes on a person, they are exactly that. Clothes on a person. If a correctional officer is also recognized as a person not just an authority figure the respect and cross identification between inmate and guard might create a more secure and safe environment for both guards and inmates. If a CO becomes someone I can know, they become someone who can set an example for me. I will not mimic that which I despise.

The majority of the justice system wears a uniform. If I was dealt harshly by someone in a robe or bruised by a badge, your uniform is part of the same and if I am looking for any revenge it might often do. You become part of why I may be suffering. The pain, stress or confusion involved with the system is taken out on uniforms. Without the uniform the officer becomes less a beacon of my plight. If most prisoners have no respect for the uniform why are they worn?

At OCI the COs often wore street clothes. It was the first time I fully recognized them as quite like me. I was wearing an orange uniform which offered enough of a distinction between us. They were as visible among us and in the same sense stood out in a different way. I saw each officer in both street clothes and uniforms and my respect did not differ.

At OCI we were encouraged and at times mandated to speak with our correctional offer/caseworker. The person with the most potential of being a positive influence is the correctional officer. In a regular correctional facility to be seen speaking too much with a correctional officer creates a dangerous situation. Other inmates can infer that they are being “ratted on”.

Keep in mind there is usually an underlying mistrust of most correctional officers.

Corrections and Mental Health

Mental illness is an illness

Mental health services in the community are not always accessible because of funding and or stigma. When an individual with diabetes enters the justice system he or she will have access to medicine. Their blood will be tested as required etc. When an individual with a mental illness enters the justice system they should have equal access to treatment for a medically identifiable illness.

When I was found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) my treatment became law. Equal access is the right thing and would be a healthy blow to stigma. Not many people lose the ability to perceive reality and are found NCR. I do believe mental illness is enmeshed in many other crimes. We need only consider crimes to which alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor.

We can still punish the offender but it makes the most sense to treat them. I saw a fellow rearrested within several hours of his release. He was an addict. He was an intelligent upbeat and humourous person but he was a prisoner on both sides of the bars. If he entered a 30-day drug or alcohol treatment program as he served his sentence he may not stay sober but it might help. These are fallen citizens who may never vote but whose hand we must grasp because we will be called to account for knowing that hand was there.

We do not tell those with diabetes they must suffer because they are a criminal and we mustn’t say it to those with depression, schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder. If there is any link between mental illness and the crime we have cause and duty to treat the illness.

Assessment and treatment of mental illness and addictions in jail

We don’t have to build hospitals to treat a significant number of citizens with mental health challenges. The correctional system provides an opportunity to assess and treat mental illnesses which are becoming too costly to ignore. Mandatory participation in treatment is easily enforced. Individuals are observable 24/7 to better assess and treat. They are being fed and housed already. OCI in Brampton would be suitable with minor modification to deal with mentally ill inmates. Mentally ill offenders should be treated regardless. To not treat them is costly, irresponsible and contributes to stigma. We can’t deny a prisoners access to therapeutic measures and proper mental health care.

Even a 30-day sentence would provide enough time to assess. Community supports and conditions could be incorporated through the probation system. Probation is often a three year duration which might provide the teeth to institute and carry on with treatment beyond the facility. While I was in the hospital forensic system I could be called on at any time to submit to drug and alcohol testing. If a dirty urine sample sends you back to jail it is reason to remain clean. If we conscript participation in community programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and can keep an inmate clean for three years I suspect it would contribute to public safety and provide a sober person to incorporate back into the community.

If one in five probation officers is versed in mental health they could administer to community treatment adherence and be a regular assessment tool.

We owe it to our communities at least to ensure that when an inmate is released whether they suffer from schizophrenia or addiction that they have been treated.

If my mental illness was better assessed and treated while I was at OCI I may have not entered the forensic system. The year I was there would have been ample to get a better handle on my illness.

Accommodations can be minimal for any offender but the mentally ill offender requires the opportunity of solitude and a degree of mercy and compassion.

Segregation

Segregation should be a last resort – not an only option.

Segregation is used as punishment for misdeeds in jail – but an extension of a prisoner’s sentence would be more impactful. Even those who do well in jail look forward to and count on release. Many would not risk further time. Those that do are a problem prisoner and could be managed otherwise. Most do not experience segregation so its threat is obscure. To be given more time is comprehendible as a threat.

I often lament the use of segregation but my personal growth, in part, sprung from the deprivation I experienced. Deprivation gives rise to insights otherwise difficult to obtain. It is punishment and can be used as such where appropriate but the mentally ill offender is better served in a different setting. Seclusion can alleviate acute symptoms in the short term but is detrimental in the long term.

From a prisoner’s perspective justice and corrections is a maze no one in particular cares if you make it through. If I can see a correction officer’s purpose as that of assisting me it lessens animosity. An inmate may resent someone having authority over them but if the correctional officer is helping that too can be overcome.

Corrections should be an avenue of reform and rehabilitation.

 

 

Diversion and Community Supports

Mental Health Courts and Diversion are necessary but mainly tinsel if they do not bring about the services and treatment necessary to in fact divert the offender from further contact with the justice system. Had my diversion lead to something remotely like the hospital forensic system in terms of treatment and compliance I may have never entered the correctional system. The money spent could have been a better placed $30,000 hospital visit.

I believe it is in the public’s interest to administer more in community support to individuals on a mental health journey. If I was prescribed a worker to follow up on me I would have more likely been truly diverted from the justice system. It could have been a daily phone call. If it was a person I already had a therapeutic relationship with I would have trusted enough to convey what was happening to me and I would have a ready contact for how best to get help. If I could access supports through this individual it would coordinate care and supervision of that care. One person could have access to my complete history to best determine what was presently appropriate.

Portions of my incarceration were inappropriate and at times no one was aware of my challenges. People who are psychotic/deemed NCR, or otherwise acutely ill, should be in a hospital setting as they would be for an acute physical illness.

Hospital Forensic System

When I look back on my mental health experiences I see compassionate well trained professionals but some of it seemed haphazard. The forensic system was the best worst thing to happen to me. It was the exception. It has flaws but it was the first time I was exposed to intense and comprehensive treatment.

I can understand not wanting people occupying hospital beds but it makes no sense to provide the care when a person commits a crime – the care should take place before it happens.

Accessible and proper mental health care could reduce the numbers in the forensic system. If an illness is being monitored and managed it is less likely to result in some of the tragedies we hear about. Forensic patients are not punished so the fact that their recidivism rate is so low can mainly be linked to the fact that deterrence lies in treatment. If treatment can be used to deter future conflict it only makes sense to provide it as early as possible. For some it is far too late after the crime.

If we continue to do as budgets allow and be fiscally responsible, we will not progress. In the short term it appears as fiscally responsible but when I consider the repetitive nature of my mental health journey and of the many others I have witnessed it is only truly fiscally responsible to properly address the problems to begin with.

With the use of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, those at risk can be managed in their own homes with little call on the taxpayer. Community treatment is more therapeutic and it allows the client to remain enmeshed in their families and communities; both assist in immeasurable ways and further reduce leaning on the taxpayer.

If we could compare a typical mental health journey to a boat with a leak – what I experienced was like taping up the hole. When I was in crisis I had a piece of tape placed on my life and I was returned to sea. It is expensive to take the boat from the water and properly fix the damage but until that happens we will be buying tape and citizens will suffer individually and collectively. Tape doesn’t fix the hole.

NCR offenders will never be eliminated but they can be reduced if comprehensive treatment is applied to those most vulnerable. Most of the forensic patient stories I am familiar with included the application of mental health services before the offence. If these individuals are coming into conflict with the law after and or during the application of mental health services it points to a gap.

Early Education

In my youth psychiatrists were secrets. I was taught how mountains were formed but not how emotions are formed.

I believe we can convey to youth what stigma is, how it is perpetuated, its consequences and we can challenge them to be the generation to eradicate it.

In the 70s and 80s we had exposure to some health curriculum. We had dental hygienists come into the classroom to teach us how to brush our teeth but I don’t recall information about the mental side of my health. A mental health worker could stand in front of the same class to inform youth about mental health.

If we are exposed to the correct information at a young age we are able to filter future truths. Stigma is an attitude attached to distorted thoughts which are anchored in misinformation. If the proper information is presented much of the fear which feeds stigma will be eliminated. If the emotion of fear is challenged by knowledge it can be lessened so when we are exposed to mental illness in our neighbourhoods and communities we can be more rational about what we are witnessing and those experiencing it will be more apt to find help. If fear is eliminated it leaves room for respect, compassion and empathy.

We can teach youth mental hygiene.

If youth are exposed to various mental health professionals and other knowledgeable citizens they will know where to turn if they or a friend need assistance. With education they may recognize their own difficulties and seek early treatment. When mental health is talked about in the classroom it is talked about around dinner tables. Youth can carry information to people who may have passed by the pamphlets.

If a mental health worker is a regular visitor they become a familiar face for someone who may need mental health services in the community. The mental health worker can be the link between our schools and mental health services in the community.

Most of my exposure to mental health information has come from experience and self-education. Knowledge doesn’t alter symptoms but it relieves the stigma which is at times worse.

I do not think we would create a generation of mental health hypochondriacs any more than a Heart and Stroke Foundation presentation would lead to strokes.

I believe mental health education can be presented in a meaningful and interesting fashion. The more that is done to inform people about mental illness the more stigma is combated. If stigma is reduced it creates a more therapeutic environment for all mental health consumers. The results will spill from our classrooms into our homes and communities. If a gate is left open something will get through. Education is a gate that needs to be opened to mental health. When we educate our youth we educate society.

Lack of mental health education perpetuates stigma. If a government makes mental health education a priority it brings mental health itself to the forefront. It is a signal to all citizens that mental health is a priority and that your approach as a government is to expose mental illness for what it is. Making mental health education a priority fights stigma.

It is achievable to create a generation which spreads accurate information and the understanding, compassion and empathy that it enables.

To not educate our youth has costs as well. People resist seeking treatment because of the stigma. Illnesses progress untreated increasing social and economic costs. The cost in terms of suicide alone is incalculable. If we can get people to seek help early the chaos that springs from illness can be managed.

Mental health knowledge strengthens the fabric of communities by incorporating the legitimacy of mental illness. If my illness is understood and accepted I can contribute in a more meaningful way and find support in the community. Understanding undermines the isolation of mental illness.

This Is What Stigma Looks Like

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Manitoba’s senior federal cabinet minister Shelly Glover seems to think her expertise extends to and should influence decisions made by a Review Board. I Googled Shelly Glover and noticed discriminatory dimples but no association, affiliation or education regarding mental health let alone forensic mental health. She doesn’t appear to be a lawyer, a psychiatrist or anyone who might be informed enough to comment on a decision made by a Review Board. Like the other politicians who have jumped on the decision her only qualification appears to be ignorance and stigma. Stigma is everywhere but when it becomes entrenched in a political party its effects shift from being individual to being systemic and collective.

MP Shelly Glover is a patrol sergeant with the Winnipeg Police Service on leave to promote conservative rhetoric. I’m assuming when she was working she left the application of justice to experts. She seems to have not been involved in the arrest of Vincent Li and I can see no formal footing to involve herself now. It is politically advantageous to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong but it is a public disservice. Her words are stigma. I rather doubt Shelly Glover had much to say to crown attorneys, judges and psychiatrists when she knew her job. Her influence as a police officer was to gather and present evidence. As a police officer she served everyone not her specific ideas, interpretations and in this case miscalculations.

The Manitoba government, specifically Premier Greg Selinger said he is opposed to the decisions made by the Review Board. Mr. Selinger made his comments from Toronto where he was attending an energy conference. We need experts like Greg Selinger here in Ontario. We need politicians with enough knowledge and expertise in energy matters that we can also call on to question complicated medical and legal proceedings.

These politicians are tripping over themselves to denounce a single extraordinary case not because of any failings in the rehabilitation of Mr. Li but to garner votes. Unfortunately, many Canadians are as informed as Stephen Harper, Peter McKay, Shelly Glover, and Greg Selinger. One day politicians will do what is useful for Canadians rather than their political aspirations. If these individuals cared about stigma, mental health or even justice, they would calm constituents rather than rally their misconceptions and ignorance into political gain.

Discrimination can be policies, ideas, practices and laws. Mr. Li has a mental disability. He has schizophrenia. How we view and adjudicate to Mr. Li is not only an act towards him but an act towards his illness. Mr. Li’s crime was disturbing but we must step to the side of our reactions and separate the individual from the illness. We can see the crime but we must recognize what is a symptom. A symptom is not a choice and guilt is not the act but the act of knowing. It has been proven Mr. Li could not appreciate the nature of the act. When we can recognize the symptom it enables us to see the person.

Mr. Li has been receiving comprehensive and intense treatment from a multidisciplinary team for 6 years. It is possible that he has improved to the point where small privileges and freedoms do not present a risk to the public. Hundreds of others have progressed in the same way. The circumstances of a crime have no bearing on the effects of rehabilitation. If the disturbing circumstances influence or interfere with rehabilitation it must also hold true that the non-disturbing circumstances also influence and interfere with rehabilitation. The time, location or even what a person was wearing must also influence rehabilitation.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay is quick to point out his involvement with victim groups. Has he ever met with anyone found Not Criminally Responsible? Has he ever sat down with their families? When a government is making laws around any issue it is our right as citizens that the entire situation is considered. There are few votes among the individuals and families who are linked to the accused. The Conservative government must recognize that justice is not politics. Justice is not a vote.

Tomato

When I was allowed off the forensic unit I lived in, one of my accompanied destinations became the greenhouse. It was always a pleasure to be in the greenhouse. It was connected to the hospital so it was like Eden at the end of a hallway. I`m not sure how I didn’t bump into anything on early occasions as I glanced through windows each with a new view. New horizons. I tended many plants and grew many of my own. I can recall the warmth of the area and the light but some of the experience was lost on me. In some sense of reality the dimensions of the building itself added considerable square footage to my world. I don’t recall the scheduling of visits but I wouldn’t be surprised if I mentioned to my therapist that the plants were due for some water.

I could forget myself there without the cameras and as a good friend might say avail myself of meaningful and fulfilling occupation. I was doing something that didn’t have to be shuffled and dealt. I was blind to the balm but can remember the face of the staff member who applied it.

In the spring we reclaimed an area of weeds and weeds. I planted some tomatoes there that I had started from seed. I remember one sunny day taking the shortcut across the grounds as we were only there for tending the tomatoes outside. There were three of us. A clinician and a female patient who was newer to the unit. She seemed a little bewildered and was very quiet. There was one ripe tomato and I held it long in my hand like a hungry man and handed it to this woman. I watched her tear into it like an apple. It is a little hard to enjoy a tomato from three feet away but in this case it was a little hard not to. I smiled as she devoured it. I wanted that tomato and it may have even been a first but I`m glad I gave it away. Before I gave it to her I didn’t know her hunger.

Mustard

The media perpetuate stigma because the stories they posses and seek are the sensational. As consumers of media we are part of the problem. We don’t care much about the mayor of Calgary; we want to see the mustard on Mayor Rob Ford.

I was at a restaurant with friends and our seats were elevated next to a window looking down on patrons eating outside. I was glancing out at their plates as I was somewhat seized with hunger. A table with pasta belonged to a man in a tie and the back of a woman. On a future glance my friend looked out with me and sighed at the fact this man was eating alone. My friend is not wrong for the assumption; they simply do not possess enough information to draw an accurate conclusion. The conclusions we are given by the media contain the history of our appetite for the sensational.

We make conclusions because they keep us safe but they are not all factual or complete. We make mental shortcuts and apply the smallest of information to anything of resemblance. Not Criminally Responsible is likely about three images for many people. The term for some draws only information from the media.

Guilt is not the act but the act of knowing. When someone is found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder it is because experts have found that they could not appreciate the nature of the act or omission. They are not sentenced according to a code of punishment but are placed under forensic mental health care. Forensic mental health facilities are secure, humane, progressive and therapeutic. Interdisciplinary teams were used for my progression through my rehabilitation and treatment. These facilities are hospitals and not jails because Not Criminally Responsible offenders are not criminals they are patients. They require not our judgement or fear but rather our assistance.

It is not a chosen path so it makes no sense to punish the traveler for being where they are.

It is difficult for many to reconcile illness with atrocity. It needs to be kept in mind that without the illness there may have been no crime. We recognize the defendant but we cannot see the culprit. The culprit is mental illness.

Not Criminally Responsible in my case was not a chosen defense. If I had my way I would have been a brilliant lawyer at my own trial. It was a defense of default for me. I was incapable of any other defense. The courts and medicine intervened to protect justice and my mental health. If we are to be merciful it is imperative we do not punish illness. It is pointless and cruel.

If it is an eye for an eye, Christ`s words were wasted.

Touch

I sat in on a presentation on sexuality among mental health patients. The whole topic is a little like making love to a Porcupine. There are many points to consider. I wasn’t as fortunate as some patients but there was certainly sexuality among us. I can remember smoking and drinking coffee while people rolled on a blanket in front of me kissing. I enjoyed the coffee more. There were certain stairwells that were considered intimate no matter the weather. We were also blessed with a well treed knoll on the hospital property. We called it “Pecker Hill.” Even when I was not well the naming was evident and amusing. I know of one poor individual who didn’t quite make it to the hill and found ecstasy among the long grass not far away but apparently far enough.

We can laugh or shake a finger but I was without an intimate encounter for 7 years. I don’t know about the 7 year itch but I wallowed in the 7 year rash. Had the opportunity presented itself to me I’m not sure I would have made it to the long grass.

The World Health Organization defines sexual health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. Being on a locked ward for me was just that. If my footsteps had boundaries you can imagine the same on my sexuality.

I can remember being on the Forensic Assessment Unit on a vacation from jail. One day I walked by the common area and saw a hairdresser giving a patient a haircut. I was months without a trim and was eager to find out how this all worked. I paced by a few times and finally asked if I needed an appointment or money both of which I was without. I needed neither and when I sat down I was astonished by being touched. Usually you check how much hair is falling on the floor but each time my scalp was touched that’s all I could focus on. All my visits for months were from behind glass and my fellow prisoners were not known for hugging.

If we are placing individuals in situations where touch is unlikely it becomes imperative to introduce a healthy replacement. Some in the psychiatric community are unlikely to encounter touch because of their symptoms and or resulting circumstances.

Part of sexuality is a connection. Consider what it would be like to go for months and years without being touched. Even those of us who have the benefit of touch can recognize its power and importance when we visit a massage therapist. The social, mental and physical benefits can only translate into improved mental health and overall well being.

Segregation; the Hole is deprivation of everything. I was psychotic for most of this deprivation but pulled an important truth from the experience. I had a cheap French/English dictionary in my pillowcase. I wrote a note from the Hole to one of the guards who were bilingual. In choppy French I wrote the following:

“I need love and touch I beg you, more.

I’m not crazy or madness, truly yours

I’m tough and strong angel.

Please mention it nay not what

In any manner that push me by heart and has your friendship; we shake on it.

Please mention it nay not what.”

Will The Pharmacist Wag His Finger?

“A new study out of Ohio State University shows there is a cyclical relationship between casual sex and mental health – poor mental health contributes to more casual sex, which leads to more mental health problems.” This springs from The Christian Post dot com, Last Generation Network News Christian Edition, Baptist Ministries dot org. and Brazo Valley Ministries dot org.

If casual sex is linked to poor mental health what a sinner am I. Judging from my psychiatric history it would be a wonder I found time to eat being busy with the other. If we must extrapolate from a study it is worth looking at the findings with some common sense. If there is a link, please explain childhood mental illnesses. My first contact with the mental health system was at the age of ten. This I can now clearly link to me playing doctor with that girl from kindergarten. There is a long list of disorders which afflict children who are most unlikely to be sinners. To use one study to perpetuate perceptions of morality is irresponsible and possibly manipulative. What do you tell the virginal anorexic? What about the biblically sound schizophrenic?

I was under the impression that sin was no longer considered the cause of mental illness. We have long since ceased trying to cast out evil spirits and in fact the chastity belts that were used on psychiatric patients have proven ineffective. I guess it does offer some hope; if I can keep my knees together quite likely this cloud of depression will disappear.

I was seven years celibate while dancing with justice. I would like any of my readers who can relate to being thirty something to imagine a drought such as this. Maybe we should extrapolate that the worst years of my mental health were a result of not getting enough. If anecdotal evidence is worth anything I longed for touch when I was in jail and hospital. I’m not condoning casual sex but to link it to mental health only adds to the shame many experience as a result of their illnesses. When I walk into the school following my hospitalization what are the assumptions and attitudes of my classmates? When I walk into the pharmacy for my medication will the pharmacist wag his finger?

Death at E.M.D.C. (Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre)

I heard a man being beaten badly once. It started out as jail shoes squeaking frantically on the cement. There were many feet involved. If there was someone you wanted to get sent to another area; to not live with them, the easiest way was via hospital.

Guys would talk and an initial option was to attack the problem as a group. A sheet would be pulled over the man about to exit. Five or six guys can lay a fair beating on a person. At times it was the strongest who found themselves beneath the sheet and in this case in the hospital.

I could hear blows landing and from the remaining silence a pleading. In this instance the sheet was pulled tighter and the thick hard plastic cups were unleashed. Why we were given these cups but not a toilet seat that could be used as a weapon only illuminates the importance of degradation over actual safety and security. Doctors and nurses were the logical solution in some minds but staples and stitches are often preventable.

The pleading turned to screams as the cups tore into his face and scalp. The end was near. The guards on the other side of the steel door heard what was going on. They entered the area and unlocked the doors of the sally port. I heard even more feet.

The point of sharing my story is that the guards sat on the other side of a closed door. Had it been open at least one of them would have a clear view of a significant portion of the area. Even if they missed the first few seconds they would have heard the commotion, the pleading, the first scream? We listened for at least a minute.

If as citizens we sit behind the same door of indifference nothing will change. The issues at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre need to be better addressed and further uncovered. To not see a blood splattered cell, a trail of it across the floor and a body in the shower for hours points to more than missing cameras.

The Dance of Decay

I enjoy wood turning. I learned a few skills in the basement workshop at the hospital I lived in. It was a reason to get out of bed when I most wanted not to. I use different chisels these days but it is a similar passion. My mother was a potter so I grew up watching things spin. I think what most impresses me is how pressure from one point affects the entire sphere in an instant.

I have shown people my wood turningImage skills and most cower in the furthest corner as I tame a lopsided piece of wood that due to speed and momentum is capable of walking a six hundred pound lathe across the floor. I recently had a rather large piece break through the ceiling and I suddenly considered my teeth.

Most days I turn rotten bowls and vessels. I am humble enough to admit that some of this is my fault but in fact I often start with rotten wood. Some of my disasters are due to the weaknesses in the wood itself. When a piece rolls across the garage floor I curse the monkey with the tool in his hand but I am seldom surprised. As often as not, it is just as things are going well; the final cut, the last grit of sandpaper.

I am learning but it is a fool’s pursuit. One day I only walked away with one of six attempts. The rest is special firewood. One would wonder at my brains or laugh at my skills if they looked only at my failures. I have gained skills on each bowl that flew past  my face shield. Without my failures I would in many ways be less.

I should have learned on some easier wood but there is magic in the dance of decay. The struggle creates brilliant colours, lines and patterns. Nothing I could do with the best lathe and no tool in a (wo)man’s hand could copy, match or compete with what nature itself does. I attempt a pleasing shape and burn my fingers sanding out my gouges but all I really do is uncover the dance of decay.