I Often Find Myself Where I Was Never Expected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) They make their bed every morning.

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

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

Dear Barry,

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

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

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

Kind regards,
Brett

Since my neck was not in a noose (though he had no way of knowing) he didn’t know who to call or what to do.

Some names have been changed or omitted to protect the idiotic.

As some of my readers will be aware I was not in a good place mentally last week. One of the individuals who reached out to me asked around for some assistance for me. I ended up with a number to a local agency who provides a Crisis Response Line. I am feeling somewhat better and it is counterintuitive for me to reach out as assistance has not always been so.

I called the Crisis Line and ended up speaking to Barney. I explained my recent difficulties and was inquiring about what services I could access. I wasn’t crying which seemed to confuse Barney. I asked if he was a counselor and he explained he had some training but was not a counselor. He searched for some numbers and suggested next time I should call the Distress Line. “Oh, so who would I end up speaking with if I called the Distress Line?” ”ME” was his answer. What the hell? I wanted to reach out and shake his head for him. Firstly, when I am unwell I might not have the insight into whether I am in crisis or distress. They are literally and figuratively the same damn area code. Further, what is logical or logistical to his mandate and procedures are irrelevant to someone in crisis or distress. I would never tell Barney what to do but I would recommend suggesting the value in reaching out rather than suggesting what he values.

I told Barney some of my story and he could have easily engaged me. He was given several paragraphs to build a conversation. I was silent a few times which were long and awkward and I could sense Barney’s discomfort. The only input he made into the conversation was to inform me “we are here to listen not make you feel better.” What the hell? They might as well use an answering machine if all they do is listen. Wouldn’t a few well placed questions uncover the extent of my crisis or distress?

This gentleman knew and found out nothing about me including my name. What supports do you presently have? Do you have a family physician? Are you able to access services? Do you live alone? Are you in a safe environment? Have you ever been suicidal? Are you able to care for yourself? Are you on any medications? Are you having any disturbances of thought? Are you experiencing hallucinations?

If we are going to train these individuals to refrain from attempting to alleviate difficulties or offer advice we should definitely train them not to make assumptions about the degree of crisis or distress an individual may or may not be experiencing. The consequences could be tragic. I was safe and possibly he interpreted me as healthy. I can baffle you with brilliance in full blown psychosis. People don’t call these numbers to order ice cream. I realize he was not a professional which is a problem in itself. There are often not answers or solutions but being an ear doesn’t do much good when I need a comforting voice.

Barney was uncomfortable that I was waiting for him to speak as I believe that was his training. I can tell when someone is directing me to end a conversation and I believe that since my neck was not in a noose (though he had no way of knowing) he didn’t know who to call or what to do. What is your phone number? I will pass on your contact information to a colleague who is aware of community supports.

Barney was mainly giving me information about support groups which I have an aversion to. My mental health is private and some of the things I struggle with are best not spit out in a circle of chairs. Some of these groups are simply the blind leading the blind. I don’t need Darlene’s insight; she’s a damn basket case though I’m sure she knows what is good for me.

I almost feel like jumping off a bridge but I’m going to hunt down Barney first to time the fall. I am not personally upset but I am seriously alarmed for my community. If I call 911 for a physical crisis they do not say “were here to listen until the ambulance arrives.” After determining the severity of the situation they offer immediate and useful first aid information where appropriate. Further, highly trained individuals follow up on the call.

I understand budget constraints. I believe in the value of peer support and volunteers make the world go round but Barney might not be the best person for someone in crisis or distress. My first impression of him is that he probably has difficulty in a drive-through. We would be alarmed if any or even initial acute contact regarding physical health was taking place under the direction of volunteers with a crash course in health care. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Ontario Hospitals Need to Give Their Head a Shake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it really community integration when we have ghettos?

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

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

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

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

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

London Elect: You’ll all look swell when you’re sworn in. Thankfully only the mayor will have to pull something over his swollen head.

I’m a little perturbed by our local politicians. Elected, incumbent and future. As I have stated earlier, I enjoy being alone and I am slightly agoraphobic. I like it out there but I am more at ease between my own walls. That being said or in fact re-said, I don’t often poke my head far from the perimeter of my property. For others it may seem odd but to someone who has spent a few days in cells of confinement, it is endless acres to stride and stretch about 200 feet by 75. I can run a marathon with such dimensions.

This is my present and most thought out excuse for not getting out to meet the candidates. It makes me wonder how many citizens with disabilities that make “getting out to meet the candidate” more difficult than my anxieties, were accommodated in some way?

I hope it happened. It must have. It did! My mistake. It must have been in the small print on the thousands of signs I saw posted about the city. My windows were rolled up when they were shouting and waving from street corners to tell me the number to call if you have political and or municipal concerns you want to share with a candidate but are somehow disadvantaged.

I’m sure the city has accessibility plans for people with disabilities but how many candidates had that as part of their mandate and operating platform?

It does seem a stretch to accommodate someone politically who has a disability. Sure, you’ll pick me up and almost cast my vote for me but what about what I think? What about my ideas? Disabled may be a political disadvantage but it is rarely an intellectual challenge that would preclude being listened to. I know a man who uses a computer to speak and his wit is unquestionable. Did anyone take the time to listen to him? He is a citizen of this city. We can make voting accessible for him but democracy is lopsided when a citizen does not have the opportunity to speak. Asking questions and making your ideas and feelings known is what gives flesh to bone. Maybe my vote won’t count. Maybe my candidate won’t win but if I should be able to voice my ideas and concerns.

It would be a double stretch to accommodate let alone seek out a community advocate. I don’t have enough cash to propel a politician but the sadness is that none of the candidates had enough cents to question my questionable self.

I know many first thoughts will be: “the vanity of this fool.” I won’t argue vanity (though my baldness is a statement in itself) but this fool has been fairly front and center in the London community when it comes to mental health. It wouldn’t be impossible to overlook me but it could be argued that not a single candidate paid much attention to the citizens of London who have or do suffer from serious and persistent mental illness. I think it’s safe to say none were sought out and queried as to how to best serve them on council.

Can this city influence, progress and promote better mental health for its citizens?

I’m a fool for this page so I shall step on my tongue as to how but possibly one of these politicians elect can make up for not considering people who are marginalized and stigmatized; in their political vision.

“It is a kind of cold and uncaring environment”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slightly Medieval Misconceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Folly and Fault of the London Free Press

Yesterdays headline in the London Free Press was: “Luka Magnotta lawyer to seek insanity defence”

Only the London Free Press could screw up simple terminology.

The term insanity is still used in the United States but I expect a Canadian newspaper about a Canadian citizen in a Canadian courtroom to be referenced using current and Canadian terminology. To do otherwise is irreverent and irresponsible. The London Free Press wouldn’t have the audacity to refer to races in a historical context. This example is stigma incorporated.

“Insanity” is not considered a medical diagnosis and has not even been considered a legal term for over two decades so I find it difficult to pull anything informative out of this sensational use of words. In short it is a journalistic joke as it lacks factual flavour. The use of pejorative and offensive terms has no place in public periodicals. It is unnecessary and damaging. We only arm attitudes when we revert to old terminology in any way but most especially in a public way.

“On September 16, 1991 Bill C-30, “Proposals to Amend the Criminal Law Concerning Mental Disorder”, was tabled. Bill C-30 brought about numerous changes and created a whole new system for managing mentally disordered accused under part XX.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code. Bill C-30 was responsible for:
Creating new terminology: “a mental disorder” replaced “natural imbecility” or “disease of the mind”, and “not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder” replaced not guilty on account of insanity.”

The London Free Press says: “Lawyers for Luka Rocco Magnotta will ask a jury to declare the defendant not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.” Wrong. Lawyers are using provisions in the criminal code to determine if Luka Magnotta can be found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder.

As further evidence of the incompetence of the London Free Press they insist that Luka Magnotta “is the latest high-profile Canadian murder defendant to seek a not-criminally responsible verdict.” Unless the London Free Press has some way around lawyer-client confidentiality this statement is less than hearsay and likely a fabrication. It is also a contradiction with the headline itself. We are told his lawyer is seeking this defence but also that Luka Magnotta is seeking the defence. Which is it? My guess is Luka Magnotta is unfamiliar with this specialized area of the law and is allowing his lawyer to act in his best interests as is usually the case. The Free Press insinuates that Luka Magnotta has conspired with his lawyer to form this defence. His lawyer is acting on his behalf not likely at his direction. Not Criminally Responsible defendants are a very small group of offenders who in no way exploit the legal system but are in fact prone to abuse by it. Luka Magnotta is presumed to be sane and to have been sane at the time of his offences and it is up to the defence to prove otherwise on a balance of probabilities.

Many individuals involved with this aspect of the law are unable to inform their legal counsel of anything, let alone a possible defence. Not Criminally Responsible in my case was not a chosen defence, it was a defence of default for me. I was incapable of any defence. The courts and medicine intervened to protect justice and my mental health. People who are unable to appreciate the nature of their crime, specifically the fact that it was criminally wrong and probably morally wrong are usually unable to appreciate the complexities of the law.

Today we have a comprehension of the power of words and the disrespect and attitudes they entrench. This terminology was once used to describe people with mental illness and mental disabilities and is therefore historically accurate but it is not socially acceptable presently or currently accurate. It is sensational and label driven. The term insane branded all patients including those with learning disabilities. In the past insane was not intended to be derogatory but can only be considered so today.

It should be noted that we take care about the language used to describe race or intellectual disability but we are less careful in describing individuals with mental illness. I can hear the cries about political correctness and language police but if that is your argument you haven’t taken the time to consider the lives of those affected by such language. The argument against political correctness held no water for minorities and it shouldn’t for any disability.

This headline is as offensive as reminding readers of how we used to refer to African-Americans. To further the insult it is not even correct. This insult is truly ignorant. Would the London Free Press call attention to individuals of different ethnicity who have over the past century been called many things? We no longer call these individuals anything we like.

You can call me oversensitive, off the wall or anything you like but don’t even come close to associating the individuals I have shared my life with as insane. They are not. They are ill; they are mental health patients and consumers. Insanity or insane is derogatory and insulting when used by others, it is also dehumanizing and entrenches unhealthy attitudes. I find it telling that such a reference is embraced when it comes to mental health.

We risk reawakening and highlighting misconceptions in individuals who feed on headlines. I believe many find the brunt of their information and knowledge from such sources. We don’t have to worry about those who are knowledgeable, for they do little to feed stigma. The people who perpetuate stigma have as a foundation of knowledge the very things the London Free Press is holding a candle to.

We combat racism by not tolerating any of it, in any form, on any occasion. References to mental health that are stigmatizing are no different. The corpse of old terms will never smell good and in fact spreads its putrid perfume on us all when it is waltzed with.

I have used the word insane to describe myself and it is my prerogative to do so, just as African-Americans refer to themselves with words they would be offended by others using. It is a way to remove the power from such hurtful speech. Insanity is not only draped in the derogatory but it also has a hopeless flavour to it; some incurable nature.

I am in no way inferring that Luka Magnotta is Not Criminally Responsible any more than I would say he is guilty or innocent. I leave those determinations up to the people appointed to ensure justice prevails despite my personal perceptions and opinions. The London Free Press seems to have other motivations. If Luka Magnotta is in fact Not Criminally Responsible he is not insane. He would be suffering from a mental disorder at the time of his offence. Further, there would be as much promise of recovery and rehabilitation as in any other case. It is not a hopeless or permanent state.

I realize it is not the mandate of the London Free Press to combat stigma but is the responsibility of every journalist to refrain from perpetuating stigma. If this article was a historical reference to “African Americans” we would be appalled and someone would be delivering papers instead of writing in them. The fact that our sensitivities do not extend to those affected by mental illness is stigma itself.

Stigma is a major barrier for individuals in need of mental health services. Casual language used to describe mental illness is often negative and I believe the London Free Press owes the one in five Londoners affected by mental illness an explanation if not an apology.

I have no short term expectation that people will stop using stigmatizing terms but if we are to start, a community newspaper is a good place. I would recommend a more honest and frank dialogue regarding mental illness so we can move beyond the stigma.

People will call me over sensitive but this is not some attempt at political correctness. It is a legitimate attempt to ease the debilitating stigma attached to mental illness. Language evolves and I see no better place to start than in a newspaper. Is it sad or sadistic that the London Free Press clings to terminology found in musty manuscripts? The use of the word insanity implies that all individuals found Not Criminally Responsible are dangerous. This myth serves no one and migrates to all individuals with mental health difficulties.

The London Free Press is using this terminology to be sensational rather than accurate. I take exception to being mislead and though it makes for good press it is a disservice and an insult to all who are affected by mental illness.

It is a euphemism treadmill where the language that is acceptable today may eventually be perceived as an insult but it is still necessary to continue on the path as a form of respect for those affected. Just because “African-American” may eventually fall as an insult does not give license to cling to and promote the terminology of the past. I see this progression for what it is…progress.

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

Commercials Don’t Cure

Times have been tough for many Canadians but thankfully we have Prime Minister Harper to keep us afloat or is it aloof? All I see is a scripted tight lipped dance of deception. The Prime Minister keeps his ministers on leash with such consistency they can only foul where they walk. Parliament is becoming putrid.

Minister of Veteran Affairs Julian Fantino according to Wikipedia was a security guard, serves with Criminal Intelligence and is currently preoccupied with ministerial moronity.

With one in six full-time members of the Canadian Forces experiencing symptoms of mental health or alcohol related disorders, propaganda has become a prescription. Veterans and their calls to Fantino are often not returned and even individuals who show up in person are sidestepped. Accountability In Action; all we need is a sign on the road. Fantino closed 8 regional Veteran Affairs offices and pumped it into propaganda. The conservatives have increased their advertising to veterans by about $4 million. TV therapy.

One would assume a minister responsible for veteran affairs would be slightly familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but what is the political gain in that? PTSD includes a disturbance of day-to-day activities and avoidance yet we have the conservatives dishing out information during the most expensive periods of Stanley Cup playoff hockey. Individuals with PTSD are unlikely to be dialed in to Don Cherry.

Many who are experiencing PTSD and other symptoms are uninterested in hockey let alone the commercials. It makes about as much sense as printing this propaganda on Cheerios cereal boxes. Not everyone eats Cheerios and fewer still read the box.

Canadians are not stupid. It is not difficult to see that this government is more interested in promoting itself than assisting veterans. Who benefits from increasing advertising by $4 million while cutting veterans programs themselves? It’s basically a going out of business advertisement without the bargains.

Fantino defended the spending increase in advertisements as an attempt to communicate directly with veterans. I’m not one to sidestep stupidity but that one seems best left as it was uttered.

I don’t know much about the military but from what I can glean from this government’s actions, veterans are issued TV’s for communication and are without telephones or mail service. I’m a simple man but when I want someone to know something I often use our precarious postal service or pick up the phone. But then Canadians wouldn’t see what a great job the conservatives are actually not doing. If this government was doing a fair job they wouldn’t have to figure out ways of confusing Canadians.

Spending $ 103,649.00 on promoting Tweets does little good to veterans who haven’t a Twitter account. This government is more interested in reaching out to those who haven’t yet been betrayed. You’re an idiot if you need 144 characters to message a hero. It is unfortunate for all Canadians that we are lead to believe by this government more than we are led.

We just passed a huge tribute to World War 1. The same heart that took Vimy, stormed Dieppe and battled Afghanistan. We mustn’t pay tribute only to one conflict or simply the fallen. It is a slap in the face to others who withstood and endured. The conservative answer to selflessness is self promotion and pitiful politics. We must support these brave men and women whenever and wherever they need a hand. We do not leave these men and women injured in the field of battle but we are doing just that at home. It is the epitome of disrespect and I am ashamed that the conservative government thinks more of self promotion than the sacrifices these individuals have made. The blind can see and they can also vote.

For further reading search my blog for “A Disservice To Common Sense.”

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.

Measurable As Murder

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

Taser Use On Mental Illness

What is the specific need for a 370 percent increase in Tasers for the London Police Force? What exactly is happening or about to happen in London that there is call for an increase in the arsenal of officers?
An enforcement perspective may not provide the best response for the public. I mainly hear enforcement agencies calling for Taser use and proliferation and I am worried that such endeavors are more important to enforcement than public safety when it comes to mental health.
I attended a presentation by the Chief of Police at Regional Mental Health Care London. During the questions following, someone asked about the use of Tasers on mentally ill individuals. In answer, the chief insisted its use was preferable to other measures and rationalized its use as nothing to be alarmed at as officers themselves shoot each other. My question to that anecdotal argument is how many officers were at the time suffering from a serious mental illness? To assume it is harmless because officers themselves have tested it is short sighted and dangerous. What a healthy individual can endure and recover from can be an entirely different point for someone who is not healthy or specifically mentally ill.
In mental health matters sometimes a voice command is ineffective. Consider that behaviour creates the police response and symptoms are responsible for this impairment and may further hinder the individual from effecting a safe and healthy interaction with police. Warning someone who is unable to respond appropriately is seemingly productive but predominantly pointless.
The chief seemed pleased that 24 of the times the Taser was pulled individuals complied with voice commands. Possibly he needs to consider those who in fact hear other voices. Voice commands may not induce co-operation in a mentally ill individual. If the Taser is present and pulled in an instance of mental illness I would argue that the rate for its use will be higher. Symptoms create the non-compliance so they need to be reacted to as an illness rather than using only enforcement guidelines. This is a health concern and I doubt 12 weeks at Ontario Police College qualifies anyone to administer a potentially lethal voltage to mentally ill civilians.
Fifty thousand volts causing uncontrollable muscle contraction and pain I fear will become some sort of police prescription for people with mental illness who are better served with alternative means of communication and apprehension.
Exposing an individual who is displaying mental illness; a health issue or even disability to an electrified incapacitation has yet to be documented as safe or ethical. If we are applying volts to a medical condition what specifically is officer training in its application to mental health. They don’t let the custodian administer Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) in a hospital but we will have police trained mainly in enforcement doing something similar and without anesthetic.
There are no reports specifically addressing the mental health effects of Tasers. I can think of no better indicator of disregard for mental health than to market and procure a product which has not been proven safe as applied to individuals with mental illness. In a study of 184 Taser related deaths 19 percent were people with mental illness or as they say one in five. Why are the one in five overlooked regarding the safety and efficacy of Taser use?
Tasers may contribute to an already high level of arousal in agitated individuals and thus death. It should be brought to the chief’s attention that people taking prescribed anti-psychotic medications are already at increased risk of sudden cardiac death. I would like to know what protocol is in place to ensure the use of a Taser in the case of mental health matters is considered a potentially lethal intervention. There are individuals who should be considered dangerously susceptible to the adverse effects of Taser use and who are at risk of death.
There is no information on the long or short term effects of Taser use on individuals who have bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia or any mental health disorder. The Taser is a product being used on the public and as such should be conclusively proven to be of little to no risk to all individuals in society but specifically for those who are compromised by illness and vulnerable to police interaction. These individuals are disabled in many cases. Taser International should answer for the oversight but also Chief Brad Duncan. Having such a keen eye for mental health matters I am surprised he so readily embraces a means of enforcement that has no footing in science with respect to its application in mental health matters.
The effects of Taser use on the mentally ill will hopefully never be known as it would be unethical to discover and counterproductive to a civilized and compassionate society. To assume harmlessness on the basis of self use is being callous to the experiences and suffering of those who experience or are touched by mental illness. When the police are involved in a mental health call, enforcement needs to mesh with medicine. To not consider or study the traumatizing effects of Taser use on mental illness is stigma.
It needs to be considered that the use of Tasers is the worst intervention for those with mental health needs. We would assume as much if it were epilepsy or diabetes. The Taser has been attributed to deaths and increasing its availability will increase its use which in turn increases the likelihood of tragedy by a percentage similar to its proliferation.
I don’t see a request for funds to increase officer training and education in mental health but the chief needs 350 000 dollars for the purchase of a product which has not been studied let alone proven to be harmless to individuals suffering from mental illness. The chief himself has pointed out the ballooning mental health scenarios police are involved in. To increase the presence of Tasers on such contacts creates a health concern for some of London’s most vulnerable citizens.
The chief may not be unbiased in the implementation of Tasers as his perspective is enforcement rather than medical and he is charged with keeping his officers safe. Are we increasing officer safety while decreasing public safety or at least the safety of a vulnerable segment of our community? I can understand that the Taser is a means of gaining compliance and would possibly mean deploying fewer officers but should it be over someone’s dead body?
The chief also overlooks that the use of Tasers in mental health emergencies has a negative impact on subsequent engagement with mental healthcare. It increases the perception of coercion. Consider the likelihood of seeking assistance after being traumatized by a Taser. These are patients we are processing not criminals we are dissuading.
The use of police services can exacerbate the difficult life circumstances facing people with mental illness and their families. Do we sincerely wish to expose these individuals to Taser use? It becomes difficult to dismantle stigma when we are witness to law enforcement over involved in mental health care. When we use the police we expose those who suffer from mental illness to enforcement practices rather than best practices.
People with mental illness on average have three to five times more contacts per year with police. They are two to three times more likely to be charged and four to six times more likely to be arrested. Being charged and arrested at a rate that is disproportionate to the general population leads to a disproportionate susceptibility to Taser use. I’m sure the chief of police would agree that an increase of 370 percent of any weapon would make an impact on incidents of use.
If the police are going to apply 50 000 volts to mental illness it should be investigated to truly understand its dangers and effects both long term and short term. If the chief is as concerned about mental health as he claims he owes it to Londoners to do everything he can to have officers reaching for skills rather than weapons no matter how innocuous he claims they are.
Chief Brad Duncan used the words that need to be budgeted for: de-escalation, dialogue and communication. If we arm officers with these tools of enforcement we wouldn’t need more Tasers.
According to the chief, police respond to behaviour and agitation is used as an indicator for Taser use. People with mental illness have a higher probability of displaying behaviours which create an interaction with police. When these behaviours are symptoms of a health concern the police must be mindful of their actions worsening an individual’s health or contributing culpably or not in the death of an ill person. As police were it your brother hearing voices, confused, scared, agitated would you be as comfortable with applying those volts?
In reference to policing and mental health the chief said we are “spending a lot of dollars not well” $350 thousand to be precise.

 

Postcard’s To My Peers

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

“Ashley Smith inquest sparks federal project for mentally ill inmates.”

In response to Ashley Smith’s homicide at the hands of correctional staff the federal government has unveiled two beds for women in a provincial treatment centre as a pilot project.
Did we actually need an inquest to inform us that severe mental illness needs treatment beyond which corrections is presently able to provide?
I cringe at the image of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney cutting a ribbon or standing beside some version of an action plan sign. It is a little like being informed that a number of the inmates need razors and giving them two. I failed Grade 9 mathematics but I have seen a variety of statistics for the prevalence of mental illness among female offenders and it appears the abacus that the government is using may need some recalibration.
If we were talking about diabetes would they order two syringes? The abilities of corrections have been proven to be deadly but we are evacuating two for now. I thought we learned the lesson with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Number of passengers equals number of lifeboats.
I guess for these mentally fit politicians, coming up with a game plan by December is progress. It is a shame and the negligence and indifference are almost equal to the stupidity.
For how long have we known that mental health care needs to be carried out by clinicians? I can’t think back to a time when correctional officers and correctional facilities were the model for mental health care.
This government is prancing around showing us their commitment to mental health services for inmates at the same time they are denying it. Men and women are housed in segregation as a response to mental health needs. We need to drain the pool and the government shows up with a rubber dinghy. The issue is serious enough that it requires action rather than a show of concern.
Two beds only for women confuses me. Severe mental illness is found in both men and women. To allocate resources to one sex is a failing at best and a discriminatory display of less than a basic understanding of mental illness.
People who have no mental illness to contend with would find segregation alarming in a matter of days if not hours but politicians grin with glee at announcing an action plan by December.
How many women and men will still be administered their mental health services by a correctional service.
Do you really need to consult with stakeholders to find a response and action plan? The stakeholders are in solitary confinement. This government already knows solitary confinement is torture. They need to recognize that mental health care is health care. It needs to be considered a health care issue as much as a security issue.
If I suffered a severe physical illness the image of correctional surgeons would seem alarming.
The use of solitary confinement on anyone can inflict permanent psychological injury. To use it on the mentally ill is probably more harmful, depending on their symptoms. Seclusion 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. I would also add that it is 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.
Prisoners with severe mental illness are subjected to correctional measures so why isn’t the correctional model used in hospitals? Would we use diluted chemotherapy on them? Something less?
As I write this, individuals with mental illness are in solitary confinement. We can punish them for their sins but should we torture them in their illness? 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 deterioration of the mental health of a segment of society that is under the care of our government.
It is incumbent on government; a duty, to provide the necessities of life including mental health care, as prisoners are in conditions which make them incapable. The duty to provide the necessities of life is essential when a prisoner 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.
I call on the government to provide the necessities of life; treatment, to any citizen 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 healthcare.
To continue with the use of solitary confinement and the denial of mental health care is negligence. We do not have to prove a government’s intent regarding negligence as by law it is enough that they have shown their indifference.

 

Aside

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

We Need Clinicians Not Cops

The headline for the London Free Press today was   “Mental health cop calls soar 40 percent.”
The article goes on to explain that mental health calls are costing the police more than $14 million now which is “chewing” up roughly 15% of their budget. We have a veteran city councilor agreeing that the police department is justified in saying these are health issues-not police issues-and we need the federal and provincial governments to get onside.
I’m a simple man but now that we’re all onside lets have the province and in fact Ottawa step in and redirect that $14 000 000. Policing does not improve mental health but rather mental health care improves mental health.
Chief Brad Duncan has according to the article voiced concerns about the issue for years and in fact repeated them just last week after a meeting of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
I believe we should have a total cost figure for police forces across Canada to determine the amount that we are funding police to deal with mental health matters. It is my assumption that any amount should be mainly diverted into health care services and possibly the creation of mental health care teams who can work at a street level and not only deliver mental health care but divert it to the appropriate services.
We can specifically train officers to respond to the dangerous instances of mental illness which are few and far between. We need clinicians not cops. If a health care worker can do what is presently done by an officer I see no reason to require the officer to stray from their criminal and safety matters.
Having in this case some portion of $14 000 000 put directly into mental health care services will then eliminate their call to such funds which will reduce their budgets. Unlike Mr. Bud Polhill I do not see a great need to find new money from taxpayers when it can be diverted.
We can then turn to honing the training of officers in response to mental health crisis intervention which sometimes come to a tragic end. If they are left to deal with necessary initial contacts they can then specialize in assessing danger and better recognize that dealing with symptoms is different.
I can agree with the chief that reasonable and beneficial application of funds needs to occur. It needs to be applied firstly with thought to those who need assistance through illness. If we are going to shift from policing mental illness to treating it as early as possible it should be the least stigmatizing and most therapeutic.
This funding needs to be better applied to the mental health consumers of this community. At the end of the day I can see no argument in that. If we can expand the mobile mental health unit run by the Canadian Mental Health Association it can only benefit those with mental health difficulties. If the police are spending $14 000 000 diverting a portion can only improve the mental health experiences of Londoners.
I have few complaints regarding the police in all my contact. I have sat behind some fine officers. Men and women I have always carried respect for. The only point I wish to make is that it is stigmatizing to have a recognizable police vehicle pull in front of a home, and enter it with guns. What do neighbours come to believe about the individual but also the illness?
It is detrimental to the fight against stigma to continue to police mental illness. It coats those with mental illness with a degree of criminality. This feeds and strengthens one of the biggest myths about mental illness. That being that the mentally ill are violent. We need prompt and proper delivery of mental health care just as it can be expected for physical health. If I need physical health care I tend to see those specifically and intensively trained in healthcare. If I need mental health care I tend to see police officers whose training is less specific and intense. To accept and continue with the use of police officers in the application of mental health services is a form of discrimination. We would be aghast to find the same with respect to physical illness.
We need a healthcare version of mental health service not a policing version. Agreed. It does not seem a leap to continue with the police to administer to calls which may need police tactics to ensure safety. Most calls should safely be diverted into the hands of highly trained healthcare workers. We need the police for what the police do best.
The sooner we can divert this funding into a safe, therapeutic and destigmatizing model, the sooner mental health services will improve for all Londoners.
Thank you Chief Duncan.

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.

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.

This Is What Stigma Looks Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.