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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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?

Found In Translation

I attended a birthday meal for a septuagenarian this evening. I wasn’t the cook so it was this side of better. It seemed a breeze was breathed on us continuously which was relief from the humidity I seemed to experience everywhere else I was present for the day. We were sitting talking before the meal which for me means listening to predominantly Chinese phrases. I am sometimes isolated by my vocabulary which consists of ‘xie xie’ or “thank you” and ‘dou bu qi’ which means “I’m sorry”. I have had a six year relationship with my Canadian Chinese fiancé knowing nothing more and needing not much else. There is some English when we visit her family which provides me the opportunity to put my foot in my mouth and say ‘dou bu qi’ and practice my Chinese.

Someone asked what time it was. My initial reaction was to suggest it was time to eat as BBQ almost everything was already on the table but something struck me. Someone reached into their pocket and siphoned the time from their cell phone while I turned my wrist and glanced at my watch. If I want to know the time I look at the microwave, the oven or my watch before I even think about the cell phone in my pocket. As far as I’m concerned cell phones are for music, EBay and confirming how few of you read this blog. I don’t even use mine to make calls as I have one of those old phones you have to travel half way across the house for. I would like to argue that I like the exercise but there are people I know who do read this blog and they could only laugh at such an argument.

Time means something different to each of us. To the 8 year old at the table it was an eternity until we cut the cake. The chef at the BBQ toiled for hours marinating and turning several forms of flesh and I ate most of it in a fraction of the time it took others. This slight failing falls squarely at the feet of my parents who birthed four hungry boys. Last one to the table scrapes the bowl. My swiftness to swallow was further fine tuned among inmates who would ask “are you going to eat that?” If it was on your tray you didn’t want it.

Like time, life experiences are subjective and subtle. Money for someone who experienced the Great Depression is something different from the 13 year old with the X-Box, IPod and Dr. Dre Headphones. Homelessness is a foreign concept to one and a reflection and reminder to the other. The 8 year old waiting for the cake will likely never fathom his grandmother passing her portion of rice to her children.

If you were to ask one about food, the stories, memories, impressions, meanings and experiences would be as far apart as the years themselves. I hope neither know hunger again or ever but there is nothing like it to add to appetite and to colour food with flavour and celebration. It becomes not something we do three times a day but something we are blessed with in the moment.

I’m Not Sure How You Screw Up 140 Characters But It Seems The Best Way Is To Elect Them

I’m trying to lose weight and have tried numerous diets as I am allergic to activity. Recently, I have been having some success by viewing various Conservative Party of Canada candidate, MP and ministerial communications. I can’t keep down most of what I eat as a result if and when I even have an appetite. Stupidity is for me at least mildly nauseating.

Today I had a hankering for a double cheeseburger and a milkshake so I visited Minister for Public Safety Steve Blaney’s Twitter account. Fighting what seems like the flu I will forward a few words.

If compassion had anything to do with conservatism minister Blaney would be all over the twitterverse with photo’s of himself towering over individuals with mental illness in a healthcare setting. Instead Minister Blaney allows individuals under his charge with serious and persistent mental illness to linger in solitary confinement. It seems with this government security and healthcare is like oil and water.

As contrast we have the Conservative Party of Canada tweeting “We are the only party who will protect gun owners. Retweet if you’re with us.” I was ignorant of the fact that gun owners were a marginalized and vulnerable population. Minister Blaney’s twisted tweet includes an image of a semi-automatic rifle and his own quote: “Owners of the CZ-858 and Swiss Arms rifles that were ‘impacted’ can now use their private property once again, as should have always been the case.” I don’t know about my readers but I feel safer knowing this government is protecting gun owners. Guns don’t kill, governments do. If gun ownership is proximal to safety or security we are a nation of idiots.

When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) issued the prohibition of these semi-automatic firearms, gun rights advocates were up in ‘arms.’ According to them 10 000 Canadians became criminals overnight because they now possessed prohibited firearms. Apparently they had difficulty looking up amnesty in the dictionary. Considering ammunition is the word preceding it I can see the problem. They may not even have come that close as they fixated on Americanize.

Firearms lawyer Ed Burlew filed class action suits against the federal government and RCMP. Burlew’s lawsuit was seeking $10 million in punitive damages and $20 000 for each owner of the firearms in question for mental distress and anxiety. While ignoring the mental distress and anxiety of people with serious and persistent mental illness the conservatives capitulated. The only time this government is capable with mathematics is in measuring votes. Gun owners are organized and vote, people with serious and persistent mental illness don’t. Polls trump human decency and social justice every time. I was aware of the fact that this government doesn’t give a damn about mental illness but when their compassion is placed on pistol possessors the double cheeseburger becomes a distant thought.

I know what you’re thinking. “Brett, you have no empathy or compassion for people who wield weapons. What about their distress and anxiety?”

In fact I may be the only citizen in this country who has experienced serious and persistent mental illness in solitary confinement and was once a gun owner. Following one of my hospitalizations I was advised to surrender my shotguns. Possibly it was too traumatic and I have blocked it out but I have no recollection of mental distress or anxiety from the experience. Burlew’s lawsuit was both superfluous and humourous. This government takes on legal battles which they should submit to but capitulate for 10 000 votes.

I wanted a sense of who these gun owners are. Google guided me to the Alberta Magazine Outdoorsmen, Alberta’s only hunting, fishing and trapping magazine. The forum I found was full of indignation. None of these outdoorsmen seemed to have names but are clearly nincompoops.

‘recce43’ said “do not turn anything in. laws only work if the public complies.” These words seem to fly in the oft repeated mantra that gun owners are law abiding citizens. ‘recce43’ did in fact know how to use capital letters as he explained at the bottom of the post “LIFE IS TOUGH…TOUGHER IF YOU’RE STUPID” He should know as he followed with “women have the right to work whenever they want, as long as they have the dinner ready when you get home” Minister Blaney and the prime minister must be proud to be able to accommodate and cooperate with such citizens.

‘Mistagin’ explains the reason the prohibition was repealed while solitary confinement remains a solution for mental illness. “I just sent off a letter to MP Blaney and PM Harper.” I can’t be the only one to get a chill thinking these individuals actually influence conservative policy. You are who votes for you.

I understand that a minister responsible for public safety would be involved in firearm policy but how is it that Canadians are kept safe by allowing more semi-automatic firearms? Children who don’t own BB guns are proportionately less likely to have their eye penetrated by a pellet. It’s not science, it’s sensibility and common sense but that revolution has died.

According to Canada’s National Firearms Association (NFA) prohibiting firearms has nothing to do with preventing bad behaviour. Possibly not but it minimizes the damage done in many of those instances. You can’t control the criminal but it’s tough to pull a trigger when the gun is with the government. The NFA is lobbying the government to eliminate prohibited categories of firearms, rescind clauses on barrel length and caliber that classify firearms and regulations affecting magazine capacity. They also want to eliminate ‘punitive’ safe storage and transport requirements, the Chief Firearms Officers and remove the administration of the Firearms Act from control of the RCMP.

Basically the NFA would like to see shotguns next to six-packs at convenience stores. We need to ask ourselves if we want ‘recce43’ running around with rifles without rules.

I complied with the recommendation to relinquish my rifles because as crazy as I was I was also insightful, responsible and conscientious.

It is criminals who carry out offences using firearms but many of these illegal weapons were and are obtained legally initially. Minister Blaney and Prime Minister Harper need to pull themselves from the polls and decide if the freedoms of gun owners should trump true public safety.

Just because you can lobby, write letters and make phone calls doesn’t make your influence or interests just. In this case it just makes for poor policy. I don’t believe I am the only Canadian who finds comfort in being different from America. Two important differences worth protecting are healthcare and gun control. This government is too busy aiming for votes to adjudicate ethically to either.

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.

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.

 

Irony

The troubles with regards to Corrections Canada and the political apathy that has hung like a cloud for decades over the conditions inmates with mental illness are exposed to has been put in perspective for me this morning. I feel a little foolish having for so long gone on about people like Ashley Smith and the recent coverage by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation of inmates with mental illness kept in solitary confinement. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation delivered to my plate a headline that almost makes me want to eat my words.

“Turkey farm video shows “gaping hole” in government animal welfare oversight”

“’The birds are not being properly monitored’ said Ian Duncan, an animal welfare expert with the University of Guelph.” I checked for a comparable expert somehow connected to Corrections Canada but he or she must be out to lunch.

Don’t get me wrong, the treatment of turkeys is important to me. Turkeys deserve dignity and respect if we are going to smother them with gravy. There can be no doubt that these are “disturbing images”, unlike a solitary cell with a mentally ill inmate shackled to his cot and his toilet full of urine and more.

“Mercy for Animals Canada has also filed a complaint with the Ontario Provincial Police, which has launched a criminal investigation. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) is also investigating.” My Turkey a la King will be much easier to swallow knowing we have these agencies and that they have powers and are so willing to act on behalf of turkeys.

“There’s not much being done right now and it’s a major concern” says Geoff Urton with the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The turkeys themselves must be buoyed knowing something is being done and we have agencies and police forces in each province able to advocate and intervene.

“Ultimately, there should be some kind of proactive inspection and monitoring compliance system in Canada. Otherwise, how can anybody know how these animals are being treated?” Seemingly, words right out of my mouth.

“A 2009 Harris Decima poll commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society (I forgot to mention that many cities have their own agencies in case the provincial ones drop the ball) found that 72 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were willing to pay more for meat that was certified humane.” I wonder what the numbers would be regarding humans that are kept in cages. Human and humane seem to go together but we seem quite concerned when it is denied what is and always will be a bird.

Duncan says:”…the general public, I think if they see something like this, they’re going to be absolutely horrified. Horrified that this is how their food is being produced.”

I’ve been advocating for the humane treatment of inmates with mental illness for a while now. I guess the answer is to have those with mental illness fill their pockets with peas and pour gravy over themselves.

Enjoy your supper but be careful not to choke on the irony.

4:20

This excerpt is from an article by Scott Taylor from Metro news on the legalization and taxation of cannabis.

“Ivey School associate professor Mike Moffatt said the tax works out to about 40 cents for each of Colorado’s 5.2 million people. “Assuming the usage would be similar among Ontario’s almost 13 million people, the tax the government would earn would be around (a) lofty $5 million,” he said. That’s for a single month, equating to $60 million a year.

“A lot of this tax money is money that would otherwise be going to drug dealers and organized crime,” Moffatt said. “Instead of financing that, why not finance schools and hospitals and all the things our society needs?”

He cited a Fraser Institute report that stated the federal government could realize over a billion dollars a year if pot was legalized.

But London West Conservative MP Ed Holder said he couldn’t disagree more with the figures. Price, he said, will still create competition between the legal outlets and drug dealers.

“That does not go away because it’s been legalized,” he said. “The underground economy does not go away.”

Plus, Holder said, he’s never known of a situation in which a person using hard drugs didn’t start off with marijuana.

“If you ask our local (police) chief if he thinks marijuana should be legalized, it would be interesting to get his reaction to that. I imagine he’d say no. The previous chief said no … because it leads to other things,” Holder said.  “At what point do you put money ahead of principle?” (I would suggest Mr. Holder look to the oil sands which many consider putting money ahead of principles.)

Mr. Holder’s comments are unfortunate because there are some who read the article who put weight in his words because his ass is in Ottawa when really he’s just an ass in Ottawa. If you want to shovel something try the end of my driveway Ed.

Ed Holder tries to argue with an economist not because he possesses the correct information but because of his convictions and those of his party. He needs to put empirical evidence ahead of his intuitions which were cemented in a Grade 5 health class and driven deep by the Harper Hammer.

Mr. Holder fails to back up his claim because it is an institutionalized myth and perception rather than a fact. You can still be tough on crime while making cannabis legal, probably tougher because you can actually allocate more resources to true societal ills. Tough on crime is part of the foundation of conservatism but for the Harper Hooligans it is more about perception. When we can open the paper and see thousands of dollars worth of cannabis (worth that amount because it is illegal) and see people crowding courtrooms it seems law enforcement and justice are working. Interestingly, drug busts are one of the few photo opportunities available to law enforcement to demonstrate the need for ever increasing tax consumption in the face of declining crime statistics.

Mr. Holder actually believes people will make the rational decision to avail themselves of illegally produced cannabis when a safe and legal alternative exists. Lay off the moonshine Ed.

“The underground economy does not go away.”

No, the underground economy does not disappear but it does shrink to the extent that a legally regulated market displaces it. If taxed at 25% the 60 million in taxes would shrink the underground market by $240 million in Ontario alone. Seemingly recreational users are a target while organized crime is not. Mr. Holder’s approach to the underground drug trade is to throw his hands up. Would he throw his hands up at drunk driving laws because someone is always going to drive drunk?

We can estimate the tax dollars but as important are the tax savings from unrealistically enforceable laws. Petty marijuana offences siphon resources from violent crimes which may end up neither prevented or solved and legalization creates safety for users and allows more control.

This government wants us to believe that because their opponents are in favour of decriminalization they are in some way irresponsible to youth development and safety. Outside of political manoeuvring I don’t see the point. Many young people are protected by and adhere to the laws governing tobacco and alcohol; why would marijuana be any different?

Justice is blind so it is administered fairly. When we create and continue with laws with the same disability we create conditions more conducive to catastrophe. In my opinion current drug laws have failed society. The war on drugs has been raging since the seventies. One wonders why after half a century we cling to this misguided approach.  It’s like putting a Band-Aid on dust. Can we not be rational? Fifty years of failure requires me to question what is happening. The conservatives keep swinging with a broken bat which makes them fools who hopefully will soon see the field.

To gain an idea of what has been happening for decades consider the resources we would require to institute alcohol prohibition. If that seems undoable consider we are doing just that for a drug that is less likely to be linked to violence through usage. I realize there is violence surrounding cannabis but it mainly spawns from its criminalization.

Plus, Holder said, he’s never known of a situation in which a person using hard drugs didn’t start off with marijuana.

For over a decade science has told us that “there is no conclusive evidence to suggest the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

If marijuana is a gateway drug as Mr. Holder suggests it needs to be considered if this correlation doesn’t come about from contact with the illegal market. If marijuana is decriminalized people won’t be dealing with people who can procure heroin, methamphetamines etc. It becomes harder to find butter when it is not next to the milk. If marijuana can be considered a gateway drug it needs to take its place behind tobacco and alcohol. All three are mentionable mainly because they are accessible and somewhat acceptable. Caffeine is the original stimulant.

Thanks in part to people like Ed Holder it is all a myth that won’t die. Tobacco is both legal and lethal as is alcohol yet marijuana with few if any deaths directly attributable remains an enemy of the state. We have prescription drugs such as Percocet and Oxycontin which ravage lives but for some reason Doritos eaters are demons. For youth the entire message becomes nonsense.

I think the largest failing in the war on drugs has been the inadequate application of services that do fight drug use…addiction services. We pay well over three hundred dollars a day to incarcerate addicts while pennies trickle into programs and solutions.

Addicts don’t always see things as they are. The madness of addiction disappears in the folds of the habit. What is sad, harmful, wasteful and senseless becomes a rationalized series of repetitive and self-destructive behaviours. Addicts are occupied in the behaviour or those that enable it to the extent that they cannot recognize the absurdity. Current drug laws are an expanding and similarly sad, harmful, wasteful and senseless use of resources. This is not a policing failure, it is a political failure. When looked at from afar is a societal shame.

You can take away the substance but the addict continues in some form. In jail tobacco was a rarity and some inmates would smoke dried orange rinds and banana phloem. We covet what we can’t have. There is a degree of being dared when we make something that is socially regarded as harmless, illegal.

This will all happen despite Mr. Harper. Generations to follow will scratch their heads that we took so long to figure out a manageable path.

We need to look at the social consequences of criminalizing marijuana. What effect does a criminal record have on an individual, a family and a community? Criminal records are a cause of employment discrimination which is a gateway to financial disempowerment which can be linked to some financially motivated criminal activity. A criminal record places an individual on the fringe of society where it becomes difficult to contribute in a meaningful way. We shake our heads at people who are “wasted” but how many lives have been wasted by criminalization?

If we keep myopic morons in parliament it becomes a mirror for the prison system itself. Problems in and problems out.

Mr. Holder seems capable of reading the chief of police’s mind so I will take a crack. I think despite the job security the whole affair provides he might call it an economic and social failure. Even if the chief hasn’t drunk the same blue Kool-Aid I can imagine he might agree it is pointless and expensive to police recreational marijuana use. How unbiased is an officers opinion on legalization when their livelihoods are threatened by the abolition of a portion of their powers and budgets?

It’s fun to watch the conservatives straddle this dilemma. On one hand it is politically advantageous to appease public perceptions but they have a handbook they must adhere to or voters who vote for the party will shrink. There is a solution, open your eyes to solutions. “Just Say No” has a place. It should be used at a polling station. If you make me walk for my mail you can walk as well.

My advice to Ed Holder and Mr. Harper it to inhale deeply of some common sense; hold it in and it might even go straight to your head.

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.

Goof’s

Criminal charges have been laid against two correctional officers and one supervisor at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ontario, Canada, in connection with the October beating death of 29-year-old inmate Adam Kargus. All three staff members were charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life. They are 47-year-old Leslie Lonsbary, 55-year-old Gregory Langford, and 52-year-old Stephen Jurkus.

It surely must have been a strange day for the three to spend some hours in jail. I suspect unlike Mr. Kargus, they were not placed with a historically violent offender. They probably weren’t bullied for their meals and I would be surprised if they even had to show their rectums like the rest of us.

I’m not sure who to swing at first. The provincial Liberals even after inquests have ignored systemic and specific problems at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC). There is blood on their hands. The Liberals and ministers have a societal if not legal duty not to endanger lives. The Liberals have not performed their duty and are negligent. They should be held responsible but will receive pensions rather than prison. They have shown complete disregard for officer and inmate safety. It may not be criminal negligence but it is clearly political negligence. They won’t find themselves in court but come election time they may not find themselves in office. Being in the provincial legislature should be an honour, not a defence. In court it is not necessary to show intent regarding negligence, it is enough to show indifference. This story involves an incident but the situation and conditions have been presented to this government for over a year and a half and it has been mishandled as long.

Don Ford who is a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU) is quoted as saying “The ministry hasn’t fixed the problems in there and now we do have a tragedy, the death of this inmate (his name was Adam)(sic)and officers being charged.” If officers being charged is a tragedy it must also be a tragedy that the murderer was charged as well. “That is just heartbreaking to be honest.” said Mr. Ford. Funny, I don’t recall OPSEU or Don Ford being heartbroken until officers were charged. That’s the problem right there. Respect and concern can be found in spades amongst guards but it is extinct in many instances between inmates and officers. It is probably a good thing that Corrections doesn’t have their own Special Investigations Unit made up of correctional officers like we have for police forces. We know that track record or is it a broken record – “found no wrongdoing.” Don Ford is also quoted as saying the murder “did not happen in isolation of conditions.” Isn’t that like saying the driver wasn’t responsible for going 100 miles per hour but rather rain slick roads were the cause of the crash?

Adam Kargus was beaten and died on October 31st and discovered at 10 a.m. on November 1st. So much for checking on your charges every 30 minutes. It will be argued that only two officers were working in a situation that required three. I would be curious to know if union breaks and meals were taken. I was a business owner and often duties fell to me that required two people. It was a flooring business but I was conscientious enough to ensure the job was done. People had kitchens and bathrooms they needed back and now a family has a son they need back.

We are talking about a minimum level of care. Can we not expect that at least from our government, its ministers and civil servants? The necessities of life are a societal standard, unfortunately correctional officers sometimes use personal standards. Hopefully Adam’s death will raise both.

Since I am calling out people I will also call out the inmates themselves. One inmate who was on the unit at the time of the murder said in court that “he was screaming for help.” The prisoner code is animalistic, immoral and perverted. Anyone who heard those screams for hours should be haunted. Your silence was the fatal blow. Your code and infantile rules such as never to call someone a “Goof” has become a nail in a coffin. A Goof is as a Goof does.

90 Days

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

The conservative government thinks they are dealing appropriately with the mental health needs of inmates by ensuring “proper” mental health screening takes place within 90 days. Would a similar time frame be acceptable to Canadians if we were speaking about a physical illness? An inmate with diabetes, heart disease or many other conditions could in fact perish with the same concern. Mental illness seems less fatal but within the prison population it can easily be just that. I was two steps from being beaten with the symptoms and delusions I experienced while incarcerated.

Some prisoners are prone to manipulation and bullying and the mentally ill make for easy prey. Thankfully, I was taken under the wing of prisoners who ruled the units I was held in. They let me sit at their table and were instrumental in my weight loss program. My meals were divided and through delusion my liquid intake consisted of licking my hands when I washed them. Weight Watchers was financially not an option so I am forever grateful.

It seems incongruent that members of parliament almost end up with a pension after 90 days while those with mental health care needs are exposed to the same time frame for assessment. It is further incredulous that after 90 days solitary confinement can be considered treatment. MP’s would wet themselves after two days but the mentally ill are expected to endure as they hold no value after the handcuffs are fastened.

When an inmate is first processed they are given a Tuberculosis test within the first 24 hours. If the overall health of the prison population can be compromised by a physical illness is it not realistic to assume mental health matters are as important? As Canadians we would be alarmed if a broken bone was considered important within a 90 day time frame but we go about our merry way when mental health concerns are dealt with in this fashion.

We can be pleased and comfortable that these issues affect prisoners but the stigma leaks into our communities and infects and affects all who are touched by mental illness. The conservative approach is a display of unhealthy and unacceptable attitudes; it is stigma in action cemented in policy. It is an affront to Canadian values and it is disgraceful. There are hundreds of organizations and countless individuals who devote resources to combating what the conservative government institutes as policy.

Some would say I have gone too far in calling conservatives immoral. If it is moral to expose individuals with a mental illness to conditions which exasperate their illnesses, I stand corrected. We are not mending the broken bone but insisting prisoners walk with fractures. A tough on crime policy is misguided but when it becomes a tough on mental illness policy it becomes an affront to every Canadian affected by mental illness.

Canadian Human Rights Commission

The treatment of offenders with mental disabilities is in the news again. The use of solitary confinement for mentally ill offenders has been going on for decades in Canada and our standing government has been made aware in dramatic style but prefer to use rhetoric rather than humanity. Some will say I hate conservatives. I don’t, I just don’t suffer fools well.

I met one of Mr. Harper’s men through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and I feel like I had an enema. These people scare the crap out of me. Member of Parliament Mr. Blake Richards was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and I was sure I was watching “The King’s Speech” with all the stuttering. I Googled the man and I don’t think he’s the minister of anything. Thank God for that. It seems if you can move your lips and dance the Harper Hustle they will put you in front of a camera. Mr. Richards’ tie was straight but his answers were not. There must be a 7-eleven behind parliament because all I seem to see is a brain freeze. Seriously Stephen, there should be a Bill outlawing the Big Gulp during parliamentary hours.

It’s become a bad habit for Conservatives to discount good advice. If it come from a scientist, an association or even the Human Rights Commission these guys think its wrong because it isn’t part of their platform. I know Prime Minister Harper and company can run the country but I would feel better if they at least listened to people who are experts and not politicians. Just because you sound good in the green seats doesn’t mean you know a lick about what you’re talking about. There’s no shame in asking for directions when you’re lost especially if you’re guiding a country. If people who know what they are talking about use big words try Google.

Here is what the government chooses to ignore:

“It is the position of the Canadian Human Rights Commission that people with serious and acute mental disabilities should be housed in a treatment facility or hospital. In addition the Canadian Human Rights Commission continues to express deep concern over the practice of placing people with mental disabilities in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement should never be used for inmates with serious or acute mental disabilities.”

Apparently, Prime Minister Harper and Mr. Blake Richards find the advice of the Canadian Human Rights Commission superfluous. As a Canadian, as a human, I find importance in their words. We may not be prisoners but there may be an instance where their words affect us. If you had to choose someone to speak for you would it be the Canadian Human Rights Commission or an MP from Alberta?

According to MP Richards, Correctional Services Canada is the best place to determine how to deal with certain TYPES of offenders. Mr. Richards said I, I, I, I ah can’t speak specifically to decisions being made in terms of the proper course for offenders, that’s the job of Correctional Services of Canada  and the experts there. I have met these experts and in fact been deeply impacted by their proper course. The Deputy Superintendent at the detention center I was held in administered to my needs. When I made a disturbance one evening in the medical cells I was delivered to the Hole. This man may have had community college but he didn’t look that smart. I outmaneuvered him while psychotic and he had no comprehension of the legalities surrounding being found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder. I’m not saying everyone in corrections is stupid but when I see this man in a management position it makes me wonder.

Mr. Richards’ makes me wonder as well. Possibly he was the last student in the halls of democracy and pushed into the interview but he and the prime minister assume Canadians are stupid. The entire story revolves around the only dedicated psychiatric unit in Ontario being closed but he actually tried to tell me this government is ensuring proper funding is in place and that they are investing in mental health care for inmates. This government was warned by people who are experts not to close the Kingston facility but they closed it anyway. If this is investment what does a cutback look like? You can dress my dog in a tutu but she will never be a ballerina even if you call her Karen Kain.

MP Richards was asked if legislation is required to prevent solitary confinement of mentally ill persons. I went outside and kicked the snow off my satellite. The answer was from the Disney Channel to which I don’t subscribe. Mr. Richards stated that serious crimes need serious punishment and victims’ rights should be a priority. Is it actually a victim’s right that inhumane conditions and treatment be delivered to mentally disabled offenders? I rather doubt that is their intention and I’m sure they are ashamed to be linked to a government that hides behind their pain to the point of indecency and inhumanity. Isn’t that the problem to begin with? Does victimizing someone enhance, support or serve victim rights in any way? It’s easy to say what about the victims but it’s paramount we minimize their multiplication.

Offenders in general need to be rehabilitated if society is to benefit from their incarceration. Mentally ill offenders should be rehabilitated not only to enhance public safety but because it is moral. A broken bone in jail will receive treatment. When mental illness is recognized by this government as deserving of comparable treatment they will in fact represent a moral majority.

Mental illness should not be warehoused in an abandoned segregation unit no matter what colour you paint it. If Mr. Richards and Prime Minister Harper are so proud of their stance and policies they should paint the unit blue. It is a conservative crisis and the only reason it is a crisis is that there are no moral men sitting on that side of the house. You can point fingers and call it an “over dramatization” or a “politicizing of an issue” but until you have been locked in a 5 by 8 for 24 hours with delusions and more you can shut up and do what’s right. We don’t need your words.

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.”

Ashley Smith Homicide

Ashley Smith was a troubled young woman who was allowed to choke herself to death while Correctional Officers looked on with orders not to intervene. I use enough words so I will leave it to Google for the details. This note addresses those responsible for what a jury has now deemed a homicide. One of these people needs to relinquish their uniform for an orange jumpsuit.

It appears you are in a pickle. Those people you thought had no rights are still recognized as human by law. Those being detained are specifically mentioned in the wording of failing to provide the necessities of life. I think you all might want to duck on this one. It is a heartless concession to have those responsible transferred or even terminated but it is poetic justice if you find yourself asking for a request form from the other side of the bars. You will come to appreciate your influence on conditions within institutions. You will also have sense for the regard the justice system will give you. On your journey consider what those same experiences might be like for someone with a mental illness.

We see the Correctional Officers outside Ashley Smith’s cell but the orders come from faces quite hidden. If an officer follows such an order he is compliant in his own submission to hierarchy. That person is a mindless pawn and is sadly led by authority through the curtain of the inhumane. Their adherence to the chain of command even as it means the death of a fellow human is insanely sad. This game of crests, badges and colours is worse than childlike if it results in inhumanity. If you respect your boss to the point of letting someone die you deserve none yourself. And your wage is worthless as it will never buy a lawful excuse for doing so. There should be no chain of command when it comes to decency.

Here in Ontario we have a Humane Society to prevent and prosecute the mistreatment of animals. I could call them tomorrow and say my neighbour has a starving dog tied to a tree and they would send out an officer to investigate. In jail when an inmate is being mistreated they can obtain a “blue letter”. It requires no stamp and can be sealed to override the censor system of the jail. Ironically the guard you have an issue with could be the one who sees it into the mail. This letter goes to the Ombudsman in another city and at times action is taken. My dance with the Ombudsman was weeks in the works and would have been most pointless for someone like Ashley Smith. We need an effective way to ensure mentally ill offenders are dealt with the protections we gladly apply to animals. And we need to come to terms with the fact that an offender may be broken but they are not worthless. Furthermore, I would suggest that those involved trade their uniforms for underwear. It’s the best place for what you most resemble.

Prison beatings caught on video at Ontario and Quebec jails

Does this headline surprise me? No. I have personal experience with the underlying attitudes that create such events. I was never beaten by a jail guard but I can recognize in some of my experiences an attitude not far removed.

My hands were chewed up from punching the yard wall several times. I was in medical isolation and in the yard alone. I was taken to the nursing station and my wounds administered. A day or two later I asked a guard when he came into the area if I could have something to wash my hands with. He grabbed the cleaning solution used for toilets and sprayed my outstretched hands. I’m pretty sure I thanked him. I can be a pain in the ass when I’m psychotic but I’m usually polite.

I have encountered dozens of guards over the years and there are none I wouldn’t shake hands with. Many were fine people and the others only caught up in perceptions that gained footing in the attitudes we all posses. We can be shocked that prisoners have been beaten by guards but in our indignation it is only fair to consider our own hearts. We each need to ask ourselves if a person becomes something less than the rest of us once the handcuffs are on?

What we find in our own minds may be the answer to the riddle of abuse.

Some inmates are nasty; I have lived with psychopaths. We can’t do much about who ends up in jail but it is obvious we need to do something about who works there.

Justice Is Blind But We Needn’t Be

When I read a news story I can expect something out of the ordinary in quotes but it is rarer in the measured words of a journalist. Last night I read the online CBC coverage of the Guy Turcotte case. He was found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) in the stabbing deaths of his two children. There was public outcry at this finding and even more when he was released into the community a few years later. It is now again before the courts on appeal. I do not know the case, the man or much else to comment so I will return to our journalist.

The last couple of lines I read the author referred to the conservative government’s reaction to this and other high profile cases as they introduced legislation to make it more difficult for “criminals with mental illness” to be released. I hung on the words criminals with mental illness. Therein lay the misconception. I can forgive the author for being ill informed but I am alarmed that the CBC allows individuals with a rudimentary understanding of mental health law to report on it.

There are criminals with mental illness but most do not make it to the forensic system. A person who is depressed or bi polar is usually processed and administered to the same as any. Someone who is found NCR has been assessed and found that their mental disorder rendered them incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.

NCR individuals are not found guilty because they did not possess mens rhea, a guilty mind. They are referred to as the accused. It can only be stigma to refer to such an individual as a criminal with mental illness. To be referred to as a criminal one has to be found guilty. The journalists few errant words convey a larger sentiment. Many would use the same words. Some of the public outcry is a result of the perception that these people are criminals. One comment I read at the news of appeal was “finally, justice for these children”. That may be the case but at this point in fairness we must also entertain the idea that justice was already served.

We are indignant when someone “gets off” with this NCR “defence”. NCR is in fact a protection for us all. It is a safeguard. We all sleep better knowing if by some terrible fate we find ourselves mixed up with the law unaware of reality, we will be treated rather than punished. An eye for an eye is great unless your blindness is the reason for offence. When we can only find satisfaction in a person being behind bars, we are prisoners ourselves. We are shackled to retribution and a sense of justice rather than justice itself.

“Jails top ombudsman’s concerns”

This headline is from an article I tore out of The Toronto Star on Tuesday, June 25, 2002. I would have used scissors but they were not part of our “kit” at the correctional facility I was incarcerated in.

The article by Richard Brennan begins with “A mentally ill, deaf woman was confined to a segregation cell in an Ontario jail for two months without regular access to a shower or fresh air the province’s ombudsman reported yesterday.”

Within two years I was in the process of being found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder and faced the same. I guess I could be angry looking back on it and the fact that the ombudsman was powerless in her role. I could be angry society saw little need to address the issue. Instead I am saddened that eleven years later we are dealing with the same issue.

Is the problem systemic or societal? The system is seriously flawed if in 11 years we are unable to change. When a mentally ill woman in a jail is subjected to segregation rather than mental health services and society does not scream for answers it smells of stigma. These situations have persisted because our attitudes persist. We still do not perceive mental health as the pivot of overall health.

What is the benefit of making mental illness a joke or using it as a putdown or slang?  We stumble on our own stigma and twist uncomfortably in its shadow when we or a loved one is affected. We are careless with our attitudes and we become prisoners behind the stigma they create.

The ombudsman said the Tories’ hard-line, no frills approach to prisoner care has only exacerbated the problem. The then Public Safety and Security Minister Bob Runciman said jails are not meant to be fun places. These are not county club settings. We’re not the federal government…you do the crime, you do the time. Many of the complaints are frivolous.”

I guess at that time it was acceptable to wash your hands of individuals once they become involved with the justice system. I guess at that time if there were frivolous complaints all could be ignored. I guess back then mental health care was a frill.

Ombudsman Clare Lewis was a voice ignored but I will quote her anyway.

“I’m not asking that people be mollycoddled. But, by golly, if we are going to incarcerate people – and we do in large numbers – then we have an obligation to see that they are treated rationally, with dignity and with some degree of respect.”

 We continue to leave politicians with enough indifference that they do not act. Indifference is stigma in action.

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.

Blind Spots

http://www.lfpress.com/2013/11/03/london-ndp-mpp-says-latest-death-shows-crowding-staffing-other-issues-unresolved

I don’t know about the issue of overcrowding at Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre. Most of my experiences took place in Sarnia. On weekends we were locked down in our 5 by 8’s with three men. The floor space not occupied by the toilet was occupied by a mattress and a man. All we could do was lie on our mattresses and hold our bowels. No violence occurred in my experiences but all it needed was a spark; one word, one look.

One has to wonder why with the installation of 300 surveillance cameras there still exist blind spots. Did they buy a case of them and when they ran short decide to forgo the expense of purchasing another case?

If a recommendation from an inquest into a previous murder at Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre lead to the installation of cameras, there was recognition of the danger not having them constitutes. Blind spots create an area where anything can happen.

Leaving even one blind spot in a surveillance system seems not only stupid but dangerously neglectful. It`s a little like allowing just one knife into the institution.

For the sake of a few cameras someone has lost a son. He may have been imperfect and a statistic to many but he will leave a gaping hole in someone`s life.

R.I.P. Adam Harvey Kargus, 29

Seven Geese A Laying

July 10, 2002

Dear Mom,

I was awakened at 6:30 instead of 7:00 with an angry guard staring at me. One of the guys from my dorm got up for an early cigarette. They smelled it and my consciousness was met with accusations and questions. They didn’t know which one of us it was but they did catch the right guy.

They moved him up to “A” Dorm where they have a window looking out from the office. It’s essentially an observation area so now he’s screwed. I don’t feel too sorry for him. He was starting to smoke in my bed area because I am near the end which best exhausts the smoke. It stunk and he left ashes which is incriminating but also a reminder of my smoking days. He does have a strong addiction. The poor guy chews Nicorete like its jelly beans. He was smoking about five times a day which is considerable in here.

I have actually seen guys use the electrical sockets in the wall to spark toilet paper for a light. Possibly I have a different view of the addiction when I see sparks fly five feet across the room. It’s usually only a matter of time before a person gets caught. This guy is now a bug under a microscope until he figures out another way, possibly during yard.

I saw the geese again this morning for the first time in several weeks. Three weeks ago I enjoyed seeing them, this time it wasn’t so. What has changed in those weeks is that I have been elected as the patio representative. I am in charge of cleaning the goose poop from the pavement. Seven geese can soon make a patio man cry.

Love Brett

CBC Documentary ( Doc Zone) Not Criminally Responsible

Last night I watched the CBC documentary on Not Criminally Responsible. I hope many people watched it in its entirety to see forgiveness and the transformation of both the victim and the patient. To be caught unaware in a delusion and end up in the reality of jails or nurses is an unlucky event for all involved. No one calls out for these events. On some scale it is similar to a lightning strike. To be struck by lightning does not hold out any more promise of the same happening again. One could consider Forensic mental health care as getting off the golf course.

In a very measured and cautious way most Not Criminally Responsible individuals find themselves regular people again. The underlying perception that these individuals are susceptible if not likely to re-offend is faulty. For some it is their first exposure to intensive mental health care. One of Sean Clifton’s nurses said he saw an “amazing transformation in the gentleman”. I have seen symptoms I would have considered hopeless diminish and disappear. One of the gentlemen I was in hospital with for months had benign but unusual obsessions and references to reality. One day I saw him in the hall and spoke with him, usually it was only nonsense but on this occasion he clearly saw what I did and I could recognize his speech and he mine. There seems to be a link in some people’s minds between a psychopathic mind and one affected by an Axis 1 mental illness. Psychopathy is considered presently to be untreatable and is diverted away from the Forensic System.

The violence in our communities is seldom tied to mental illness but for many minds that is the main connection made. I heard the other evening from someone more than capable of deciphering medicine and math that roughly 3% of violence in society is attributable to mental illness. I dropped out of biology, never took chemistry, was held back in math and ran in boredom from physics but that piece of information means that roughly 97% of all violence is committed by persons with no mental illness.

I’m not sure why our concerns lay with the 3% outside of misconceptions and stigma. CBC did a nice job on one case but to call the show Not Criminally Responsible is like holding up a cup of water and calling it Lake Huron. I realize one hour would have detracted from certain important aspects but if I consider the news story from the perspective of someone who knows little about Forensic mental health I might consider I have seen Lake Huron.

When calling a story Not Criminally Responsible I would expect to find broader information. It was an interesting story but only slightly representative. One can find themselves in custody for a wide variety of charges. Many Not Criminally Responsible incidents do not make it to the paper let alone the front page. For someone who knows little about this specialized area where medicine and the law intersect, I might think Not Criminally Responsible is proximal to violence.

In fairness and clinging to the title of Not Criminally Responsible this documentary failed us all by providing nothing for contrast. An opportunity to inform fell to the need for entertainment. One of Sean Clifton`s nurses from the Brockville institution he called home for eight years highlighted this fact when she said Sean was “one of the illest (sic) we’ve had through”. The CBC ought to know that even when doing a show on Not Criminally Responsible their coverage should be responsible. Canadians deserve no less.

Toronto South Detention Centre

I would rather chew nails than drive near Toronto. I don’t mind Toronto drivers but I am not the best among them. I was quite prepared to drive there this morning but was offered a ride from a fine friend. Our team of three included two who to my surprise had never been to a jail before. This was important as their view was as significant as mine. We took the public tour of Ontario’s newest and largest super jail, Toronto South Detention Centre. It is rather large with over 1600 eagerly awaiting occupants; I’m just not sure it is super.

 

I met with and spoke with several correctional officers and my guides were accomplished administrators. My main focus was on how this new facility addressed the mental health needs of Ontarians. I was also curious to know how the new facility differed from what I experienced. I have nothing against corrections. I shook several hands today in familiar uniforms and would gladly do the same to each officer I have known.

 

The one correctional employee I spoke with seemed proud of how the new facility addressed mental health. It was he who mentioned the importance of mental health among the incarcerated. He informed me of the mental health professionals who would actually be inside the building. It must have seemed to him a novel idea to have on premise mental health care for a population where 24% have major mental illness. Do we laugh at the fact that this was not the case miles away at the old jail or cry at our utter disregard for the mental health care of a segment of society? We can point fingers and make judgements but we are all on trial for this sadness.

 

I was pleased to hear that the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) was part of the onsite mental health care. I was disappointed the tour included little information let alone a view of how Ontarians with mental health care needs are dealt with within a correctional facility. It is unfortunate most Ontarians assume it has been dealt with appropriately in the past but sad that some do not care in any case.

 

 “So that’s 24/7 right?” “No, the mental health area would only be fully staffed during the day. It cost 600 million dollars to build Toronto South; let’s go all out and have a psychiatrist on site 24/7. It would seem a great place for business. If things are slow maybe one could talk to someone in segregation. I loved those house calls! Mental illness does not pay attention to a clock. I have had too many depressions that ignored months and have gripped the bars of a jail screaming when it was more quiet than dark but surely night. I hope I am misinformed because I find worry in the fact that correctional officers and administrators will have the night shift. If the administration of this facility has the ability to intercede in the care and treatment of people with a mental illness, the same design flaw exists that was harmful to me. Psychiatry is medicine so to give the prescription pad to corrections at any time of day seems foolish if not unethical.

 

Human decency can be denied in the name of security but the humane treatment of those with physical or mental illness is the right of not only Ontarians but Canadians. Not everyone expects to be in jail but you should be able to expect humane treatment while there. For those immune to arrest, rest assured these individuals will be treated like cows at times minus some of the dignity. For those of you concerned about mental health care within the correctional system I say there is still reason to be concerned.

 

I applaud the advances and me more than anyone hopes my concerns are only misinformation. One aspect of the tour that stood out as different was the accessibility to spirituality. I hope it takes root. In truth what I saw was more of the same thing. In the processing area or Admitting and Discharge the person with Schizophrenia is delivered in handcuffs by police and directed into cells where 20 men mingle in an area most of us would find distressing singly. Commands and hand signals direct them through a “public” strip search. All identity and attachment is relinquished to a stranger. A ring removed from a finger can be devastating within a delusion. Within a half hour I am lucky enough to see a nurse who I can inform I have schizophrenia but by this time my world is forever altered. If mental illness must be stripped upon entry it must be done with the mental state of the offender in mind. It can only be as important to security to have knowledge of mental illness immediately. If the police are not passing this information it needs to be discovered before processing becomes mistreatment.

 

Today I experienced what the general population can expect from this facility. I wasn’t moved by the machine that can x-ray my every orifice. I’m sure it’s easier on their eyes. Good for them. I’d have figured out a better way of searching ass when they invented radar for planes. 

 

Fresh air for these prisoners will come from the top grate of a 30 foot wall. Outside of temperature the area one would consider yard is in fact indoors. As part of containment, the minimization of staff and in the name of security visits will be held by video. We all like Facetime and Skype. It’s hard to defend what are often prematurely referred to as criminals but from a mental health perspective this seems alarming. I realize in jail they don’t put you in the sunshine with your cast even if it helps but to be out of the sunshine doesn’t make the break worse. They don’t allow open visits for people in wheelchairs but we would be fools not to if it helped them stand. A prisoner is a prisoner but if your treatment or conditions cause a deterioration of an identifiable illness it kind of takes the correct out of corrections.

 

I had a thought and wondered who the representative for those who have been incarcerated with severe mental illness was at the planning stage. It seems silly to ask but pure stigma if we don’t. If we do not look to those who are affected how can we assist those affected? The very problems we address are in fact mute if those with them were not consulted. We stumble blindly when we make mental health facilities without asking individuals with mental illness what is helpful and what is harmful. A correctional facility is more severely advised to consider the experience of those with mental illness as security must be worked into treatment. It is a challenge to design around mental illness but madness not to attempt.

 

I saw this facility through the eyes of my experiences. From what I can understand the periods I spent psychotic in isolation may now occur in a more hospital like setting with mental health professionals on site. I will be able to experience outside temperature at times but I am not allowed in the same room with a friendly face; someone I know and possibly the only one I do or can trust. I find some comfort in this facility but I would experience her worst regardless. I was high functioning at times and my only complaint some days would have been depression. My sense was that depression was welcome in the areas I toured.

 

If as a society we are going to accept that mental health care is administered at the point where the justice system becomes involved it must become a point of proper mental health care. If we accept that corrections are the deliverer of mental health care it must be recognizable as mental health care. If I get my prescription filled at Costco they don’t give me toilet paper.

 

I wonder if anyone has ever asked an inmate what might be most helpful to bring about the change all this punishment is supposed to elicit. I can stand in awe at the design, technology and security features but if they continue to accomplish the same things we’ve experienced for 50 years its tinsel on a toothpick. Is it really a feat to have a facility environmentally designed and constructed if it is only going to be filled with recycled ideas and ambitions?

 

The Spank of Equality

Now that many Canadians are aware of the inability of the Correctional Service of Canada to administer mental health care to inmates, I wonder what concern is in the minds of citizens. Many news stories pass quickly from our minds if they seem to enter at all. It is my assumption that few are talking about it around water coolers if indeed the prime minister has one.

They are criminals and mentally ill at that; they don’t show up on polls. Maybe if mental illness did show up on a poll, government could recognize its importance.

As individuals, we try to build ourselves up as something. Unfortunately, in this endeavor it is easier to be something if someone else is nothing. If we stand tall because others are below us, it is really just an illusion. Concern, care and compassion can be eroded by judgements.

Can we really say we have compassion and respect for others if these individuals are excluded?

What exactly are the miraculous changes that occur in a person to make them this or that? We dance about becoming, forgetting about the being…human being. We are all human despite clothes, location or position. We do not all get the same birthing spank of equality. The arithmetic can be simple when we look at another’s misfortune: ‘if they were as smart as me or worked as hard they wouldn’t be where they are’. When another’s difficulties are simple, we can absolve ourselves of involvement and have little need to stand back in awe of our complex good fortune.

It will take political will and money that many would rather see in a road but if a car is empty of understanding and compassion, it might as well stay parked.

I guess like any news story, it is only one if we make it so.

Certain Rights

As a mental health advocate, I am pleased to see acknowledgement of the need for change in how mentally ill offenders are cared for. If the Correctional Service of Canada were setting broken bones the nation would scratch its head. When they administer to mental illness we seem not to be alarmed. Psychiatry is a specialization of medicine. People who are mentally ill need to see mental health professionals not Correctional Officers.

While severely mentally ill in jail I experienced the correctional response of solitary confinement. I was not prescribed this by a psychiatrist but summoned by a Deputy Superintendent. When prison officials are making decisions that exasperate mental illness we can only hope the reins are taken from them.

When a person looks at mental health statistics I would think polls would be positive for any government intervention that made mental health a priority. This government has the ability to fight stigma by taking action. Possibly they are already behind the blueprints of solution. A dragging of feet can only indicate this government does not take mental health seriously. Procrastination will be stigma itself.

When we reflect on mentally ill offenders it can only be fair to consider the mental illness as much as the offence. The line of the law is crossed by the sons and daughters of a nation. They are citizens without certain rights but they are still citizens with certain rights. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms tell me a government must not discriminate on the grounds of mental disability in its laws or programs. Providing prompt and proper healthcare to physical illnesses while providing solitary confinement to mental illness seems discriminatory.

Volunteers

It was my honour to be the guest speaker at Elgin Middlesex Detention Center this evening. It was a dinner and awards banquet for the many fine people who volunteer there.

For me it was like entering jail for the first time in a way. Everything was pleasant but I had never been in the front door. It was full of the same uncertainty. What’s beyond that door? How long before this one opens?

The gymnasium was decorated and had a theme; there was live music and great food. A lot of time and enthusiasm went into honouring the volunteers. When I went up to speak I felt somewhat small. Prior to my words, awards were given for years served. Thirty-years are a tough act to follow.

I had intended to write some words specific to the volunteers but had a speech land in my lap weeks before. A family friend returned a stack of letters I had written years ago from a correctional facility. I spoke words I wrote years ago with a voice I hope conveyed the same gratitude.

October 19th 2002

Dear friends,

I am including a copy of a speech I delivered. I ended up speaking in front of 200 people. The Volunteer dinner was an even bigger deal than I imagined. It was all amazing to me. I was among people who don’t dress in orange but more importantly didn’t seem to be bothered that I did. I was eating olives, deep fried veggies, bacon wrapped pineapple and sausages. It was a smorgasbord of special foods I won’t see again for half a year. They even brought in the Honour Guard. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I first saw them. I thought it was six OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) wading through the reception area.

How is it that a jail becomes a place of contemplation, transformation and insight?                Volunteers.

What astounds or confounds me most about volunteers is that we are not judged. You give your time to the barely sober, the unsuccessful, the lost, the poor, the uneducated and the lonely; there are no exceptions. You include us in your lives and share your experience, strength and hope with people who sometimes have none.

Why do you give of yourselves? Is it some moral duty or obligation? I can only guess it is a form of love; a love and respect for yourselves, a love and commitment to your community and love and compassion for us here at Ontario Correctional Institute.

Volunteers break our isolation from the world and give us a glimpse of what we can look forward to. You provide a link with normalcy and the outside as well as with reality and the future.

Collectively what goes on here is amazing. Lives are saved and many more are changed to a point where we can progress in health within society. What you do here has no ending. You will never see how I am with my children or how I treat family and friends. To those of you who have spent years as volunteers I am very much inspired. To have not grown tired of our stories, to see the same attitudes once again and yet walk forward with hearts to help. As a group we are in dire need of an example – thank you for providing one.

With your help I am not ashamed of myself or discouraged by my mistakes. I can see that these mistakes have been an important factor in my life`s progress. I would have loved to forgo some of my journey. I would have gladly turned away from my problems and denied their existence. You have helped me confront myself, to see myself. To see the warts on the man I was and the light on the man I am becoming.

By talking and sharing I heal. You make my experiences more real by listening to them, and give me something to contrast them with. You lead me beyond myself. Equally important you show me. You show me what it means to give, to be human. You lead me with your example. I can see now that my purpose in life is collective, it is community not individual. You have helped me with a new view of life; insight by insight.

I`m not sure how you view yourselves but I think a principle of physics applies here. It is that the greatest effects come from the smallest causes. We are in critical moments of our lives and some days everything hangs on what to you may appear to be a mere nothing but from which great things spring. Volunteers are the hidden sources, the smallest causes. I have had the good fortune to find my own guilt and have gained a sense of spiritual dignity from it; a sense of acceptance. I now believe the saying `Nobody can fall so low unless he has great depth. I am inspired to do my best.

I have some peace in here that I never had on the outside and am free in ways I never have been before. How is it I can find this in jail?      Volunteers.

The greatest gift to give a man is to give him Grace to live again.

Thank you for your time; thank you for your efforts; thank you for your Grace.

Link

Solitary Confinement

Please read the included link regarding the use of solitary confinement in prisons.  I can’t speak about prisons as I have only been incarcerated in jails. Most were Detention Centers. They are basically holding facilities for people before the courts or awaiting sentencing. My experience was that there was little done to, for or about me. Both prisons and jails have areas for prisoner segregation. I have heard it referred to as solitary confinement, the hole, administrative segregation and the digger. When I raised my voice to one of the jail nurses at being denied a medication that my mental health hinged on I was asked if I wanted to go to the digger. “What’s the digger?” “The hole, you were in it your first night.” I understood the threat when it was referred to as the hole. I was quite sane on that first visit to the hole and had my fill of it in mere hours. My next visits were while I was psychotic. I can’t substantiate my length of stay as a whole but I have a couple of letters which refer to five day stays. I was moved between the medical cells and the three isolation cells. My sense of time during this period is basically nonexistent. While in the hole I was subjected to a 24 hour light. I would awaken at different times and be surprised to find it was night. I was for certain periods oblivious to the hour, day of the week or date. I do measure my exposure to this period of isolation as a season.

The medical cells were larger or the bars and their spaces included something beyond. The hole was near 5 feet by eight feet with all concrete minus the toilet in the corner and the solid steel door with a window smaller than a fist so it couldn’t be punched out. My view beyond that was a concrete wall as the hall turned leading to another steel door. The guards sat 15 feet beyond that point. Silence. The only noise was the industrial flush of your cold, hard, seatless toilet. You might catch a piece of a face but mainly you see hands as your meals are slid through a slot in the door. Faces are common until they become uncommon. To see eyes was an interesting phenomenon when my only reflection came from said toilet. Isolation made navigating simple requests next to impossible. It seemed the jail bureaucracy barely made it to the area. In a regular area you could call a guard. In isolation you could ask for a request form. I was unable to use a phone, had little access to a shower and my mattress was removed from my cell during the day.

 Corrections Canada’s response to my psychosis was isolation. My psychiatric care often consisted of taking my temperature and weight which though important are usually not correlated to psychosis. When I was isolated in the medical cells another inmate had a broken hand from a jail fight. He wore a cast which I surmised to be beyond the abilities of most guards. He was isolated with a bed, the ability to interact, an area telephone and an area shower. He also received the best modern medicine has to offer.  As a society most would be aghast had he been denied medical technology, treatment or emergency care. This is my question: why when an inmate has a “mental” condition do we prescribe administrative segregation with its 24 hour light and total deprivation outside of nourishment and sanitation. If only we could distill such treatment into a pill. Is this discrimination or is it merely stigma on its hind legs?

 A dog runs in circles after being left alone for a few hours. Are we not as social? I think it’s time to let mental illness out of isolation. It’s the least we can do. An easy solution shouldn’t be considered the only one when it is nowhere near best medical practices.