Rehabilitative Justice

If the law is unable to look at the larger systemic problems of itself; we as citizens must. If politicians choose to look in other directions we need to send them in other directions.  As citizens we seem to have ignored this aspect of society. We are drawn to the calamities that make headlines but it is difficult to see the entire system that surrounds these and many other crimes.

Part of my journey with justice was clearly retributive. If ever I had given cause for punitive measures it was provided without smile. I don’t care about your view of an eye for an eye but no matter your view shouldn’t it accomplish something? It can only be in the public interest to create a fair and rehabilitative system of justice. Retributive justice has been around long enough to demonstrate its efficacy and efficiency. Is it either?

The main premise of retributive justice is that punishment deters the individual from re-offending and others from offending to begin with. If such a fallacy had a shred of merit we would by now have little crime and recidivism would be an anomaly.  Wouldn’t even the past five decades suffice for deterrence to have put crime on the verge of extinction? Most in the correctional system would have eliminated themselves from crime for fear of more of the same. Those who have witnessed this retribution for 50 years would have provided little fuel for this population to remain the same. We pat ourselves on the back for being tough on crime while ignoring the fact that such measures should have made themselves redundant.

I saw the bowels of the justice system and until I entered the Forensic system I saw little good coming out. I saw the broken walking in and the broken walking out. If the justice system was a mechanic you would find a new one rather than give it money to expand. Rehabilitative Justice seems logical to me, unlike our present mechanic its purpose is to restore to good condition through therapy and education. I can hear whispers that criminals are not deserving of therapy let alone education. I can see your logic but as a society why would we bounce around the same people when we can take hold of them and change them? It costs $ 113,974 a year to incarcerate a prisoner in Canada. Training and education would be a five thousand dollar gamble but I think it could be more efficient than mindless degradation and denigration.

I believe that anyone who needs therapy should receive it. Mental health is a medical condition which should be approached as we would a broken bone. I knew one inmate who was made to eat his meals from a dog dish by his father. As a society his offence removes him from anything progressive and in essence we treat him as his father did. When he is released we expect him to interact with the world in an appropriate fashion.

Perhaps it’s not about sense but rather “cents”. If you want an idea of whom retributive justice and its outcomes serve, check out the average income of a lawyer, a judge, a police officer, a parole officer or a correctional officer. Someone profits from feeding, clothing and housing these populations as well. Crime in fact does pay.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay

I would like to welcome Peter MacKay to the position of Justice Minister. What an honour it must be to sit in that seat. Your new position will require less time in military jets but with your good looks you’ll still go far.

I’m not sure if you have been briefed much about your new portfolio so I thought I would take the time and describe your position at least in relation to Bill C-54.

You have made the decision to “not punish” but for sure incarcerate, mentally ill individuals whose delusions result in some yet to be agreed on form of brutality. I agree Peter; three years without any contact with the outside world despite any progress in treatment sounds like not only punishment but in fact a sentence. I only pay lawyers so possibly you could explain to me how you sentence someone who is neither guilty nor innocent? (Send me the bill but don’t forget to claim it.)  If a person can be sentenced for being the accused we’re all in trouble.

Don’t worry Peter all you have to do is maintain a vague sense of what mental illness is and what justice is. I sense you’ll do fine. I think your predecessor used crayons to write this Bill. Only a child would kick dirt on someone who has fallen because of an illness or disability.

I have faith in you Peter. I already know you’re the type of person who would fly across the planet to get a feel for the conflict. The conflict is that your political ideology clashes with medical understanding of mental illness and true justice.

P.S. Tell your boss that when he tries to bring democracy to another country he might want to practice a little at home.

Yours truly,

Pierre Poutine

“Shotgun”

I remember when I was finally transferred from jail to the forensic hospital. As I exited the jail handcuffed and shackled I was at first struck by the open space. Being transferred is usually pleasant and a little like watching a movie. You see and hear things you are unaccustomed to. Green grass or the sound of tires on pavement. There were several jail nurses sitting at a table outside on break. I bowed my head and thanked them. They did what they could.

I climbed into the kennel of the transfer van. It was basically like being a bean stuck to the inside of an empty tin can. I didn’t have much of a view and can recall no landmarks. I knew I was heading to St. Thomas but did not recognize the fact until we parked.

After I left college and my lifelong dream of being a Conservation Officer, I applied to several police forces. At that time there were many more interested in police work than were ever hired. I did have one interview. It was with the St. Thomas Police Force.

I should have been more specific when I prayed to ride in a police vehicle in St. Thomas. I should have specified it was the front seat I was interested in. I’m pretty good at reading people and I sensed that the two officers who transferred me would be unappreciative of me yelling “Shotgun.”

The 5 Star Hotel

There was an article in the local paper speaking to the issue of some kinks in the new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health. I won’t speak specifically to the electronic issues of the new facility. I don’t see it as newsworthy to report on a building that has problems upon start up. Don’t they all? It may be alarming to staff to have a patient in an area they shouldn’t be in but I doubt if it is a first. As a member of the public and having the benefit of a tour I can see exit from the actual building being unlikely. The staff is trained to deal with these situations and they have the backup of hospital security.  St. Thomas itself has a police force and the Ontario Provincial Police Detachment is less than a kilometer away. Making it far would again be unlikely. I wonder what the underlying sentiment is.

Seeing the comments following the article illustrates at least one issue.

I was at the opening and noticed…

Each patient has their own room, bathroom, DVD player and flat screen, comfortable lounge areas, outside courtyard with fountain, quiet room with wall fountain, lazy boy chair and sheepskin carpet, washer/dryer for every 6 patients, refreshment area with TV for every 6 patients, windows everywhere, fancy expensive hospital beds for people who are not physically sick or handicapped and patients are playing with controls and staff can’t fix it.

Sad to see a 5 star hotel where people are housed that have committed violent crimes, yet seniors and more deserving mental patients and handicapped people are in one star facilities.”

When we talk about stigma it takes on an obtuse form. These comments bring into focus the specific nature of the attitudes that lead to stigma.

“fancy expensive hospital beds for people who are not physically sick or handicapped…

Apparently this person is unaware of the fact that mental illness can be debilitating. It can be a permanent disability for some individuals. I feel sorry for the writer of these comments. If they ever fall in with the one in five who deal with mental illness they will be throwing away a good mattress. If people with mental illness are not worthy of a comfortable bed I suspect this person wouldn`t be either. It makes complete sense though to build a new facility and use 20 year old beds. A few of the old windows were usable as well.

This person seems to think there are degrees of value and worse that they are responsible for allocating it. For this person a judgement needs to be made to determine if someone is deserving. I have seen many forms of mental illness and experienced several. Try as I might I can`t think of any that are not deserving of compassion, respect, dignity or even comfort.

“Sad to see a 5 star hotel where people are housed that have committed violent crimes…”

It`s sad that this person was so preoccupied with making judgements that they didn`t listen to the guide clearly dispel this fallacy.

I would be curious to know what judgement needs to be made when a senior with a mental illness commits a crime. They are a senior so they are worthy of a comfortable bed but I guess they should sleep on concrete because their mental illness brought them into conflict with the law. Seniors sometimes find themselves involved with forensic mental health. Would grandma lose her worth in such a situation?

“more deserving mental patients”    Is my mental illness worth less than another?

This all reminds me of the hierarchy among prisoners. Your position in the pecking order was determined by your crime. It was an act that determined your worth. When you are literally stripped of everything you must create some other measure of value. Sex offenders were the lowest with a sub category reserved for pedophiles. I was often fascinated by the dynamics this created. The main fault of such a system is that in order to create your false sense of worth someone else has to be devalued. Jail is in some ways a mirror for the rest of society.

Inequality serves the purpose of overcoming feelings of inadequacy. We create a wider social pecking order and do our best not to be seen near the bottom. Prejudice is a tool to devalue another and discrimination is the application of attitudes whose underlying purpose is to create a false sense of worth in self.

The values we place on each other are a social construct; a fallacy that can and does lead to prejudice and discrimination. It is a house of cards if our worth is dependent on the devaluation of others.

We all put our pants on one leg at a time.

Replaced by Shame

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/2013/06/21/hamilton-antidormi.html

If Lori Triano–Antidormi can use logic, insight and compassion to see through her tragedy, is it too much to ask our politicians to call on the same?

I am in total agreement that Bill C-54 will not prevent the tragedies that it springs from. Only improved mental health services will prevent these tragedies. Are we content knowing that individuals with serious and persistent mental illness are falling through the cracks? I guess as long as we can deny them the light of day for 3 years there really isn’t an issue. Am I the only one who finds it illogical that we are choosing to punish people who need our help and worse are in these circumstances because they haven’t received it? It is distasteful that the very government that chooses to punish is the one that could lend the hand to prevent the crime. Bill C-54 is like increasing the penalty for stealing a loaf of bread. Instead of cutting off the other hand we need to address the hunger. The lack of mental health services is a wound this government would rather turn away from. Take comfort in the fact that the band-aid they are blindly applying will have the conservative party colours like the prime minister’s plane. Is anyone else alarmed by the fact that the Canadian Criminal Code will soon have a section we can all refer to as the “blue pages”?

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/06/08/colourful_paint_job_on_harpers_plane_sparks_criticism.html

The Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will have us believe Bill C-54 will provide the ability to impose non-communication orders, geographical limitations and keep high risk accused within institution walls. The existing system already provides these protections. Non-communication orders are issued along with geographical limitations and rest assured no one who is in any way a risk is permitted beyond a secure setting.

 “Why put so much effort into something that’s working…” because this government considers re-election more important than fulfilling their obligation of being elected in the first place. Bill C-54 will likely pass not because it is sound but because of the political noise that reverberates in the heads of the “ill informed.”

Prime Minister Harper has no expression because he has no clue.

I may not have much love for the conservatives but it is easily replaced by shame.

Underlying Perceptions

Mr. Kachkar was determined by several psychiatrists to have been suffering from a mental disorder to the extent that he could not appreciate the nature of what he was doing at the time he murdered Sgt. Ryan Russell. It appears some form of mental illness is the culprit. I would ask you to consider a scenario where someone like Mr. Kachkar acted in the same way but because of a brain tumor. Sometimes mental symptoms have a clear biological component.

Would you still want to see him hang if it was a tumor? Would that make him less responsible?

Consider your underlying perception of mental illness. If it is some personal failing or self inflicted to some degree, how can you view these circumstances with anything less than disgust? If you believe the depressed person is their own worst enemy drinking from some contaminated cup, how can you look on someone who was so consumed by their illness that they murdered with any understanding or compassion?

We can all choose a side but as you dig your trench from which to do battle it might be prudent to take a look at the other side to see if in fact they are an enemy. In the rush to take aim consider what it is you wish to strike; is it the man or is it the illness?

If we looked to our government to deal with mental illness with half the passion we do to punish the man we might get somewhere.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Richard Kachkar did kill Toronto police Sgt. Ryan Russell. Which of us from either side of the issue should question the verdict a jury is reaching or has reached? They have ingested all the evidence. Their knowledge of the facts goes far beyond what most of us ascertain from the news.

When a Toronto Mayor speaks to the media about a case before the courts and essentially does his best to influence anyone, we must begin to ask for whom else will he cry in the streets? If my son is murdered within his walls of jurisdiction will he tell us all what to think?

Consider the number of actual facts in your head Mr. Ford. What is your knowledge of mental illness? What is your knowledge of forensic psychiatry, were you present in court to hear all the testimony? I’m making assumptions but given the odds I suspect Mayor Rob Ford may not be in possession of many facts. We all know Sgt. Ryan Russell, one of Toronto’s finest, was murdered. We are all saddened by it. To use your good name to further some personal view is at least inappropriate. Will the Mayor be waddling up to the media for all our court cases? I would think not. Possibly he can stand back as he should and agree with the daily process of law.

Why wouldn’t he assume the truth would prevail?

Why wouldn’t he first assume the court system is working?

Why wouldn’t he assume the whole process of legal representation, medical testimony and judicial direction was followed to the point of fairness we all agree on?

I must trust in the jurors finding. I may not agree with the finding but protest has no influence on the process. I must also be comfortable with the fact that any error in testimony either professional or otherwise was brought to light. If being a juror and your contributions are held in contempt by society they will start making decisions that are closer to public sentiment and further from the truth.

We have to ask ourselves if someone acts out in some tragic incident only because of being influenced by delusional thinking we want to punish or enact some form of revenge on them. Any of us could be one of the numbers of people who get into struggles with the health of their brain. The monsters we see reflected in certain news circles are in fact men and women who have a mental illness. Were it not for this illness you would not know them. It is doubtful if any would crash with the law if they were healthy.

It is fortunate we are talking about a very small percentage of people because there is no immunity.

We can turn to the government to create some law more “just” but in your rush to do so I would not recommend running to the government with knowledge of only one case. If your disagreement comes from little information or biased information you might hope your fellow citizens don’t go running to the government to change something they don’t completely understand.

It’s time to turn and heal.

Solitary Confinement

I have changed the header image on my blog. I wanted to find an image of solitary confinement. As prisoners we refer to it as the Hole or the Digger. I have written about it but reference to it does little to provide a realistic impression.

I couldn’t find an exact replica of the confines I called home off and on for months but this one comes close.

The Hole I resided in was smaller. The Hole I resided in had no raised bed; only a mattress on the floor. I was made to drag my mattress from my cell each morning and left with only a blanket. At night I was permitted to drag it back in. The Hole in the photo has a stool and raised desk area; these too I was without. The mirror on the wall was also missing. The stainless steel toilet sink combination is identical. When I was permitted to shave and shower I was taken to the medical range. The “window” you see in the photo was also absent which though minor may have given the impression I was not alone. For “security” reasons I lived under a 24 hour light. My Hole was cleaner when I wasn’t writing on its walls but it too had no wallpaper border.

ManyPRISON___Solitary_Confinement_by_AKRadish forensic clients spend time in these confines. I am familiar with one who spent a year in isolation but was allowed his mattress and a checker board. Obviously he was spoiled.

I share this image not for your sympathy but in the hope it will elicit outrage. The Hole is Corrections Canada’s response to severe mental illness.

Bill C-54 will find more individuals suffering from severe mental illness abandoned to these confines. Please have the courage to stand by my side. It is our only hope in leaving the Hole empty as it should be.

This is Canada; this is shameful. We yelp about stigma while our feet are soaked with the shame of abuse. I can forgive and forget someone who calls me “crazy” but those who torture the mentally ill will never pass from my mind.

 

Curriculum Vitae

I contacted my Member of Parliament Ed Holder’s office yesterday to inquire about taking part in the processing of Bill C-54. After I forwarded one of my blog entries on the subject, I was informed that I might send my Curriculum Vitae to the Minister of Justice but they didn’t know if I would be successful. I was always under the impression that democracy was both interactive and inclusive.

To request a Curriculum Vita from an average citizen causes me to question who the government listens to and represents. In Canada, a Curriculum Vitae is a professional document which many psychiatric consumers would find exclusive and intimidating. It is a document usually reserved for lawyers, executives, professors, physicians and scientists. I am pleased this government calls on the expertise it is obviously lacking but Bill C-54 would benefit from input from individuals with lived experience.

I assume my Member of Parliament is confident in the fact that I and most citizens do not possess a professional history. I have no academic credentials, my publications are not academic, I have no research experience and my contributions and significant achievements pale in comparison to most.

Why does my government suggest I list my professional licenses and certifications? Why does my government request I list my scientific and academic research? Why does my government suggest I list the papers, books and publications I have written? Why does my government require my thesis or dissertation? Am I not enough as a citizen? What purpose is there in discouraging my voice?

I believe I am qualified to speak to the issue. I may be a common voice but I have had an uncommon experience and posses an uncommon perspective clearly not considered. I do not belong to any professional associations but that does not mute my 34 years of psychiatric experience.

I have always had the utmost respect for individuals with letters in front of or behind their names. They are hard fought and earned. At the same time I consider lived experience to be important. No physician can think or calculate their way into what I have experienced. It is one thing to walk the halls with a clipboard until 5 p.m. It is quite another to hear the key turn as you remain behind.

Are all citizens interested in contributing to democracy dissuaded or is it because of my apparent disability? It is distasteful either way. This is not a note of surrender. I will come up with a Curriculum Vita. Curriculum Vitae in Latin is “the course of my life.” If that is not enough it will be a shame on my government and a kick to us all.

 

More On Bill C-54

I do not understand the apathy I am witnessing regarding Bill C-54. Anyone with an interest in mental health should be up in arms. I was once simply depressed, I was once simply bi-polar, I was once simply suicidal. If you think your illness will never carry you to places that seem extreme and unpalatable you are blessed with some static form of mental illness. You are also naïve. My path was not chosen, it wasn’t imagined or predicted…neither is yours!

This government is implementing a law based on extreme cases and public outcry. Where was the Photo Op with Not Criminally Responsible individuals who have been rehabilitated and lead productive and peaceful lives? Possibly Stephen can’t smile twice in a day. Such a scenario would diminish the fear which the Conservatives are using to catapult this Bill into law. The math of the situation is such that there are more individuals who do less and do well. If the Conservatives abandoned their misinformation they might have to alter a law that they assume will garner votes. There is no sensationalism in a life that returns to normal.

What does this government propose to do about the backlog that will only be exasperated by incarcerating individuals with “sentences”? We will have the mentally ill housed in jails for longer periods putting not only their safety in jeopardy but also their health. I am not the only one who spent extended periods isolated in the Hole.

It is commendable that this government is giving voice to half of those affected by severe mental illness. It is deplorable they do not consider victims of mental illness. One in five is affected by mental illness. It seems this government is more interested in a popular decision rather than a proper decision. It would be unfortunate if the one in five stood up and said “no thanks”. If a law can save one life it needs to be considered. When others have to lay theirs down it should be scrutinized.

If I suffer from a delusion and commit an act that offends society and subsequently myself I am diseased; I am not the devil. I felt no fear while on Forensic units. People were not evil, they were simply ill. Being in jail was quite different. Evil cannot be medicated.

When a delusional father murders his children we cannot understand. Severe mental illness is foreign to most of us and such acts fly in the face of the love we can all identify with parenthood. Only if you remove the robes and step down from the judge’s perch can you consider the fact that mental illness is the true culprit. It is part of the accused but it is not the accused. It can be controlled but mental illness is immune to your thirst for retribution. You can punish the offender but that person is only a vessel. It is like throwing out the pitcher that housed the spilled milk. It is the agent and not the vessel that is responsible.

This government is punishing the severely mentally ill. I have lived without the “privilege” of walking outside. It withers the soul and denies the spirit the breath of life. The next time you take your medication replace your juice with absolute incarceration. Imagine for a moment how therapeutic your existence would be locked on a ward with bars on the windows. Imagine for a moment the value of sunshine; imagine for a moment the value of a breeze. Be thankful you do not stand in line for those medications and please be indignant over the fact that your government considers this access to treatment.

Life is not fair. Tragedy strikes. Regardless of our actions after the fact, regardless of our treatment of the accused we must live with the loss. Enacting revenge may provide a sense of justice but at times justice does not exist. Should we decapitate Vincent Lee; who among you will eat his heart? An eye for an eye leaves two people blind. We can never forget but forgiveness is the only avenue to peace. As Canadians we have agreed that an eye for an eye is not what we wish to emulate yet it still occupies many hearts. It is an ill fated attempt at exacting control of uncontrollable events.

Outside of votes I can see no reason for a government to pander to misconceptions and perpetuate stigma. We throw our support behind anti-stigma campaigns and anti-bullying programs while the government throws dirt on mental illness and steps on the necks of its most vulnerable citizens.

If you believe Bill C-54 will prevent atrocities like those that found expression through Vincent Lee you have been duped by your government. Only improved mental health services on the street could have prevented this sadness.

Dear Mom,

This letter was written from a place that haunts me still. I think it is illustrative of the importance of “presence” at Christmas. Love is the punishment; it is what ties you to the outside world and pulls you in directions you are forbidden from going.

Dear Mom:

I hope this letter finds you sometime during the holidays. Consider this your Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year as well.

We haven’t had hot water for three days now. I was lucky and had my shower during the few moments when there was some. The kitchen is really messed up because they can’t do dishes. We have been served on Styrofoam plates with disposable spoons. Our cups are the same as we were issued on day one. I wonder how sanitary a cup is after several months without being washed in soap and water. Mine is brown inside, stained from hundreds of coffees and teas. At least it’s easy to keep separate from the new arrivals clean green cups.

We also haven’t had yard for four days at least. The new mesh fell to the yard floor along with support cables with its first exposure to snowfall.

One of the guys is getting out in the morning. I feel a little sad to see him go. We’ve shared this same small space for three and a half months. There were things I didn’t like about him, times I wished he wasn’t here, but when it’s all said and done we got along. That’s the most you can ask of your fellow inmates, to get along.

I received a Christmas Card today. It is a northern scene of White Birch with a blanket of snow on the forest floor. Standing out from all the white is a bright green Spruce tree. I showed it to my cellmate and we decided we would use that little Spruce as our Christmas tree. So tonight December 18th we put up our tree. It was the first tree I put up that I didn’t curse at. It was nice to receive and let some spirit into our cell and some laughter into our hearts. I wish the same for all of you. I will miss you this Christmas but I will probably think of you all more than if I was there. I know I will never forget the Christmas I spent in jail but I wonder what will make it memorable; the spirit that will creep into our day or the spirit that is absent. No doubt some of each.

 Say ‘Hi to the dogs and use my name.

I still have the card…thanks Candace, wherever life finds you.

21 Years !!!

The Conservative government in my country is participating in a misguided exercise to get “tough on crime.” It’s easy to fashion votes on such a platform but morally wrong to do so at the expense of your most vulnerable citizens. The only people “tough on crime” policies don’t appeal to are usually behind bars or a step away. I can forgive a government that makes easy political points but I am offended that they think I care not for those affected. The individuals affected are not criminals; they are the severely mentally ill and the families connected to them. They are referred to as the “accused” because they are not found guilty despite public desire.

This government proposes to enhance public safety by prolonging the incarceration and detainment of those found and proven to be Not Criminally Responsible. At present these individuals come before a panel of legal, medical and public members to determine a course of action suitable to both the public and the accused on an annual basis. The Conservatives by a sure stroke of political gain would have us believe that every three years is better suited to all involved. The government is interested in victim rights or so they say. I am of the opinion that in casting a net for political votes they will in fact create more victims than they will serve.

Don’t ever assume the laws you find attractive and sensible for “others” will never land in your lap. Hopefully, you won’t find yourself the accused at a Review Board hearing but you will know what prayer is if you happen to be that persons mother. The Review Board process is an excruciating and slow process as it stands now. I understand and am sympathetic to the prayer involved in being a victim of a crime but are you a victim of someone who is or was part of the Forensic System or are you a victim of someone who was outside of the system? Retribution can taint treatment. This law will do little to protect us from anyone on the street; it will only prolong the process that we subject the accused to. It is like taking a double dose of Viagra. It only succeeds in screwing you indefinitely. Will you thank Stephen Harper when you leave the building knowing your child will remain for three more years?

I had 7 annual hearings for a crime that probably wouldn’t have fetched 6 months from someone found guilty. Would you sleep better at night if it was 21 years instead of seven? I have conscience enough to find that fact alarming even outside of personal reasons.

It is easy to be indignant of another’s sins!

I know of a case where the accused stole a bag of chips. It is a fallacy perpetrated and perpetuated by the media that Not Criminally Responsible individuals are all murderers. It is also a fallacy that these individuals receive shorter sentences than those faced by the criminally sane. (Please read “Not Criminally Responsible: The Burden of Accusation and Popular Misconceptions” in my blog) I stand far outside of these fallacies and I am not an anomaly.

We need to listen to victims and their families but we need to remember the same brush with fate that delivered them to their suffering could have easily delivered them or a loved one to the confines of a Forensic Psychiatric facility. If you disagree please point me to the clinic that inoculates me against mental illness. This government agenda shows clearly that they care not about those afflicted with mental illness but more telling is the insinuation that the laws they impose will have no effect on themselves or those they care about. We are no more immune to being a victim than we are of being the accused. Those found Not Criminally Responsible received the same lessons in school. Their parents transferred the same morality and sense of right and wrong. For an array of reasons many of which are outside anyone’s control they became mentally ill. It is alarming to think we can improve society by increasing the segregation of the mentally ill.

We have a senator whose daughter was murdered. I am saddened by this but it is unfortunate the politicians whose lives are touched by mental illness are not as vocal. Let’s not forget the many moans of anguish amongst the shrieks of atrocity.

Any two bit politician can make a law that affects hundreds to appease millions but it takes a man to make a just decision.

I’m Thankful I Can Sit in the Front Seat When I Go Places

Happy Belated Thanksgiving (or happy ordinary day in the States)

This gratitude list is probably not like most you may encounter on the internet about this time. My list is in part hopefully just like yours. These may differ.

I’m thankful for daylight all day instead of the fifteen minutes at yard.

I’m thankful I can turn the lights off and on when I need.

I’m thankful I can eat with more than a spoon.

I’m thankful I can walk outside in every direction for as far as I like.

I’m thankful I can see trees and squirrels and traffic and birds and buildings and on and on.

I’m thankful I can dress in whatever I dare to choose.

I’m thankful I can eat mostly what I like instead of whatever they plop on the tray.

I’m thankful I can see and touch my family and friends whenever we choose.

I’m thankful I can experience hot and cold outside of the shower.

I’m thankful I can live with my pets.

I’m thankful I have control over the noise I experience.

I’m thankful I can eat when I’m hungry instead of by a clock.

I’m thankful I can communicate beyond a letter and stamp and without someone reading it first.

I’m thankful I can sit on comfortable furniture.

I’m thankful I have as much privacy as I need and want.

I’m thankful I can vote and enroll.

I’m thankful I can choose the channel on my TV.

I’m thankful there is a door on my bathroom.

I’m thankful I can brew real coffee.

I’m thankful my shoes have laces.

I’m thankful I can access my bed and pillow without someone’s command and key.

I’m thankful I can wear a watch or any form of decoration or declaration.

I’m thankful I can play cards for fun instead of to pass time.

I’m thankful I don’t have to live with 20 other people.

I’m thankful there are no video cameras surveilling me when I walk from the kitchen to the bathroom.

I’m thankful I’m not locked in a space where violence is probable.

I’m thankful I don’t have to wait to use the phone or for my medication.

I’m thankful my toilet has a seat and my toilet paper is two ply.

I’m thankful my juice doesn’t come in a foil topped cup.

I’m thankful I can see and manipulate my food before it is cooked.

I’m thankful I don’t have to rely as much on memories.

I’m thankful getting out of bed doesn’t involve the person on the bunk below.

I’m thankful the uniforms I encounter are from Tim Horton’s

I’m thankful that when I go beyond the walls of my home I am not handcuffed or shackled.

I’m thankful people don’t work shifts to watch me.

I’m thankful I can sleep with someone in my bed and my dog beside it.

I’m thankful I have a door people can knock on.

I’m thankful I don’t have to sign in and out or carry a notebook to record where I am.

I’m thankful anniversaries don’t involve the Ontario Review Board.

I’m thankful I can sit in the front seat when I go places.

I’m thankful you finished reading my thankful list.

The Digger

This piece was written while I was in solitary confinement; the Hole. If they wanted to threaten you, the Hole was referred to as the Digger. Many found any time spent here to be excruciating. In my psychosis I made peace with some of my time there.

I don’t look at what’s behind me in here, it’s just my ass. Most would not understand what I find entertaining in here. It is essentially everything. When they unlock my food slot a whole new world opens up for me. I can see light and hear things I am usually deprived of. I’m quite certain no one knows I’m here. I am unimpressed with the jail postcards. What parent doesn’t long for a glossy photo of their child in handcuffs or shackles? If this were an amusement park I could put my head in various cut outs. My friends would be amused to see my head poking out of the stocks or writhing at the whipping post. The Hole is visually boring, oh the good old days. It might be fun to have a cut-out of the Warden with his arm about my shoulder. If I wasn’t alone I might rally the others into forming a sculpture of the Warden at yard. We could pose in front of him or hang from his flabby jowls.

His rules are simple and we laugh at the comfort they provide. Without my mattress during the day I might not appreciate her at night. You devise ways to break me without knowing me. You expect me to pound on this door and beg for release but if I can’t be alone there is little hope for me. Dear Digger you complete me.

Oh Canada!!!

Stigma is a reality. I cannot change the attitudes and actions of others in society but I can protest when my government perpetrates and condones stigma and discrimination to the highest degree.

There have been a variety of problems at the provincial jail within the city of London, Ontario, CANADA. There have been a series of severe beatings and a homicide. An inquest into the death of a charged but not convicted shoplifter has given rise to recommendations that are being blatantly ignored by the government and its institutions.

Just because someone’s actions fall outside of the law does not mean they should not be protected by the law. Consider for a moment that many who find themselves in jail have lives of disadvantage. Does anyone deserve to be beaten and bullied for their food? We wouldn’t tolerate this anywhere but in jail. We have agreed and turned into law basic human rights. We shake our heads at countries who torture their prisoners when we need to pull ours from our asses and consider the fact that we condone the same here. Our governments try to find as much distance from these events as possible while they rest their heads contently on pillows of inaction in their homeland.

A certain judge’s comments were recently reported in the media. In his remarks to a Young Offender he outlined some of the treatment he could expect when he finds himself on the other side of the law as an adult. He mentioned that his proximity to adolescence would render him a victim to any of the larger inmates. What I found more disturbing was his warning that if he was on psychiatric medication he could expect to be punched in the stomach until he vomited them up for others to use. Judges don’t visit jails but we can assume his comments are based on fact.

When we are talking about people using psychiatric medications we are talking about individuals with mental illness. We are talking about vulnerable individuals at least and possibly individuals with a disability. Would we flip to the sports section as fast if it was reported that people in wheelchairs were being assaulted into giving up their assistive devices? If you have ever wondered what stigma is and how it leads to discrimination this should be illustrative enough. Our elected officials and many civil servants seem not to find outrage in this. Sadder still is that many in society are even less alarmed.

There is one main difference between those with physical impairments and those with mental impairments. One is bathed in stigma and discrimination while the other is usually accepted and understood. Understand this! To be looked down on and to be left uncared for as the result of impairment is like pissing on coffins; only assholes do it!

This government’s insistence that it is the wish of the majority to cut back on social programs and expand the incarceration system is only a screen for the fact that one entails a profit. We are morally bankrupt if we accept this. We are all guilty. We are guilty of complacency when we should be outraged.

If the government’s response to “decreasing” crime rates is to institute mandatory minimums, we should hold some for them. Shouldn’t it be a mandatory minimum of government to ensure basic human rights and protections for anyone despite their legal situation? Shouldn’t it be a mandatory minimum to protect and care for the mentally ill regardless of their residence? There are some who find themselves on the wrong side of the law because they are on the wrong side of proper mental health care. Jails are overcrowded because we find more value as a society in punishment than in treatment.

If we condone through inaction and accept the corporal punishment being perpetrated in our jails we need to legislate it. If this is acceptable let’s not be hypocritical. Make a law for the world to see the conditions we as a society accept for anyone in trouble with the law. We talk out of the side of our mouth and espouse democracy and human rights while the other side is silent when they are denied.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

“Worthy of the pay….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slug

When I was a youngster we would sometimes happen upon a slug, a counterfeit coin. Most that I remember were the same size as a quarter but they had no markings; they were faceless. According to “rural myth” they had the ability to procure a cola. We would optimistically place them in coke machines only to have them trickle down into the coin return.

Can we draw parallels to incarceration? We all have opinions about criminals but for most they are faceless. At times they are simply a problematic statistic. They are seldom associated with families, friends or any sign of worth. Like a coin or even a slug they have another side to their nature. (Excluding sociopaths) As a society we deposit them into the penal machine and expect them to turn into something else. The system is filled with individuals with mental illness, addiction and brokenness. Without treatment they land back on the pavement only to be picked up by someone else once again. Many simply trickle through the system and are even deposited again and again with the same expectation. Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

When I was in jail a fellow inmate was released one morning. Within five hours he was back on the range. He was a “speed” addict. He was not addicted to the speed with which he was apprehended but he might as well have been as that was more dependable.

Put the face of a neighbour or fellow citizen on the criminal. Etch on their surface the face of addiction or mental illness and they may catch on a gear within the system and return as something else.

Obviously not all crime is related to illness or addiction but incarceration does little to reduce crime, mental illness or addiction. If we spent the same quarters on treatment that are spent on incarceration for these individuals maybe we could turn the slug into something of value. Just for the sake of argument put aside your belief in retribution.

“Building more jails to fight crime is like building more cemeteries to fight cancer.” Author unknown

Eye of the Beholder

I am at the family cottage sitting on the picnic table at the edge of the pond. It’s not much of a pond at present. It is low in water and made murky by its clay bottom. My dog is taking dips and stirring up the goldfish only aware of her pleasure. I am otherwise alone here listening to music. I am rich.

I have seen uglier times. Perhaps that is why I have such an appreciation for these moments. I could wish for more but peace is not having things but appreciating things. I can recall peering through bars and a heavy metal screen a pencil would not fit through. I was witness to sunsets that although obscured, I remember still. Colour penetrates much. I have been witness to many great sunsets here on Lake Huron but the ones that penetrated the jail seem more memorable. I wonder if my fellow inmates saw what I saw. I believe the gift of the sunset is Grace but the ability to recognize its beauty is also Grace. Is the meal extraordinary or our present sense of taste? Is it what resides in us that allows us to interpret beauty and be moved?

Two people can taste a fruit but neither will experience the same sweetness. Perspective and interpretation can be gifts. I am at times grateful for people and experiences in my life but I forget to be thankful for perspective. I am richer when I can acknowledge the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; beauty does not exist unless it is beheld.

Psychosis

To be the Second Coming of Christ can be exhilarating but also a terrible responsibility. Part of the problem for me was that I had no disciples. Knowing the story of Christ, disciples have their downside but at least they can attest to your miracles and share a meal.

My Garden of Gethsemane moment came while I was secluded in the medical cells. What you read here happened just like your first date. I remember it as you might. I remember what I could see and touch and what I was thinking and the emotions that resulted from all. I remember it better than my first date possibly because it was so real and intense for me; I did not plead for God’s mercy on my first date.

I waken in the night and hear nothing. No breathing, no snoring, no footsteps, no keys; the jail is lifeless. I begin to panic, my mind starts to somersault and I think the world is ending. I begin to pace. I hear only my bare feet brushing the cold cement. I start to pray, Lord save this world; nothing. I begin to plead with God to save the world; nothing. I pace with more panic. I pee in my toilet and put some on my head, I am desperate. I get down on my knees and start crying. I tell God I will give up seeing my children ever again if He saves the world. Still in tears I resort to the unpardonable sin, I curse the Holy Spirit. I know this will banish me to Hell and keep me from loved ones but it is my last hope, I curse with all my heart. My arms slash through the darkness as I throw every word I know into the night. I flush my toilet, an unpardonable sin in jail at night. Everyone on the medical range is awake. There are swear words and I grab my bars and scream at them about how ungrateful they are; I have just saved the world. The guard arrives and they lodge their complaints. Quiet once again falls on the jail and I am left to ponder what I have done. In the morning I am lead from the medical cells to the Hole.    It’s as close as they come to crucifixion in Corrections Canada.

 

Giving up the possibility of seeing my children in heaven was possibly more significant than it might usually be. I had not seen, written to or spoken on the phone with either of my children in over three years at the point of this story. When it seemed too painful to carry them in my heart; I looked and they were there. When it would have been easier to put them out of my mind; I thought and they were there.

I was not and am not well versed in the Bible. I had a friend who was a Born Again Christian before and during his incarceration. He was my only friend when I was sick or well. He was in his late 60’s and I made his bunk up for him at night. One of W.’s lessons was when he informed me that there is only one unpardonable sin. He warned me never to curse the Holy Spirit. He informed me I would not be forgiven in this life or the next and pointed out the verse in the Bible: Matthew 12:31-32

“And so I tell you, every human sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or the next.”

Someone Must Pay The Ticket

People in the forensic mental health system deal with a double stigma. We are found by the courts to be Not Criminally Responsible yet our communities hold us responsible. We face the social consequences of being involved in a crime and being mentally ill. Neither will get you the key to the city.

Some have difficulty understanding our illnesses and some are unwilling to see past our crimes. We are the accused but by law we are not found guilty. We remain the accused indefinitely.

Many have little experience with severe mental illness and base their attitudes on what little they see and understand. They can see the crime and be convinced of our involvement but may not comprehend that it is beyond our control.

Mental illness is invisible. Imagine yourself being pulled by an invisible tow truck. The truck is mental illness pulling you beyond the posted speed limit. We see the individual and the act and so we prosecute. Someone must pay the ticket.

Mental health stigma is a reality. The double stigma facing those within the forensic system is due to the crime and some are persecuted. We need to separate the illness and the crime from the individual and accept their humanity.

Keys

February 8, 2006

Keys; have you ever thought much about them? We seldom carry just one unless we pin them to our bathing suit at the Y.M.C.A. We carry them in our pockets or around our necks these days. Some people clip them to their sides, some spin them on their fingers and fidget with them, but have you ever thought about what they mean? I know what they mean- power. They say I have control over this set of doors or this vehicle or this classroom or this part of the institution. I hate the sound of keys. I learned to hate them in jail. Every time I heard keys it meant my keeper was coming. He was coming to wake me or take me to court or to feed me or deliver a new inmate or to order me back into my cell. It wasn’t all bad when my keeper came, sometimes she was good looking, for a guard, or she brought the mail or took me to a visit or as I said a meal. But she always delivered control.

If you’ve never been in jail you will not understand how loud keys can be and how attuned you become to them. Firstly a jailer’s keys are as big as your hand so when they hit each other or fumble in the lock you really hear the brass. Jails are empty of anything that absorbs sound so everything carries and seems louder than sound on the outside. Secondly when you’re in jail you always want to know where or when the jailer is coming. They usually do a “walk about” every half-hour (there are no clocks or watches in jail) and you could hear them coming from the keys hitting their sides. If you wanted to share a smoke or worse, you timed it well but still “kept six” or listened and watched for a guard as they could show up at anytime to deliver someone to or from court or the nurse or a visit.

The morning I came back from escaping to the Sarnia hospital, I opened the doors coming into the jail myself as they were electronically locked. I had a great sense of power to be able to open those two doors on my own. They were heavy but I know I flung them open as I shambled through cuffed and shackled in my hospital booties.

Now when I hear keys I still hear control. You see I still don’t often have keys in my hands and I have to turn them back in to people with many more keys than I. They have keys to my room, to outside doors, to medication drawers, to shower rooms, kitchens, etcetera. Even when I went to school I would cringe when the teacher threw her keys on her desk. I liked her but she had keys; keys to freedom like a car and a house and a mailbox, a bike, even the school. Not me, I had only one key, a key to my brother’s bike. But hear this, no one has felt as free and as happy on a bicycle as I have on many occasions on that bike. The bike is barely worth locking up but to wear that key around my neck is priceless.

Baptism By Fire

When I was a youngster my paternal grandmother was burning leaves in her front yard as was practiced in our small town at the time. My brothers somehow own the memory of the day when I fell into the fire. It is a tale they find amusing though I have blocked out the event and there were no scars to authenticate their memories. I guess it could be said I was baptized by fire. To my understanding this is, was and never will be something a person would seek whether your interpretation is religious or secular. One of its many meanings is reserved for soldiers who are literally trained by the fire of battle. It is basically a severe ordeal experienced for the first time. It will either kill you or make you stronger.

I was quickly immersed in a hell where my life was threatened by delusion at least and possibly in fact. For any who have experienced delusions they are only unreal in hindsight (if one is fortunate enough to be released from that perspective). To say I was terrified would be accurate. I sat at tables with criminals picking food from my tray as I was convinced to eat or drink would result in my death at the hands of my fellow inmates. I was witness to the screams of another inmate beaten by the hard plastic cups of his peers. The smell of the dreaded disinfectant they used on the blood was also nothing new to me. I was so thirsty at times I would quickly lick my hands in the semi-privacy of the common toilet area.

When they ran me off the Range for the second time because of my erratic behaviour, I was destined for the Hole. Here I could consume but I was also consumed. I had no anchor to reality and easily disappeared beneath my delusions.

Obviously, I have risen from this immersion in hell but what have I pulled from the ashes? I am not naïve enough to think my struggles are over but I am fairly confident I can withstand what might come my way. I have had much support from family, friend and professional in my years of treatment following this but I navigated the worst of my ordeal on my own. I don’t suppose a soldier looks forward to the next battle or the loss of comrades which is inevitable but they may have a sense of peace knowing the worst can be endured. It may be like the human immune system. When we are exposed to a virus we produce anti-bodies. Following our illness, exposure to the same virus is nothing. Interestingly, the modern word “immunity” derives from the Latin immunis, meaning exemption from military service.

Time

I took my watch off this weekend. I wanted to get rid of my tan line and it was the only respectable thing I could remove. I have been without a watch for long periods. When you are in jail it is one of the identifying features to be removed. I suppose it saves the odd wealthy person from being mugged but outside of that it only succeeds in slowing down time which crawls at the best of time. I never heard an inmate mutter anything about time flying. “Wow, it’s been six months, where does the time go?” A season like summer can fly by if you’re a student but in jail or hospital it’s simply long and hot. When it is over often there is another season to endure.

When I was in the Hole, time did not exist in a fashion I was used to. Circadian rhythms were blocked out by the concrete surrounding me. The only cycle I knew was delivered on a tray and often did not coincide with any hunger. If I was able to sleep I would wake up and wait for a guard to peek through my four inch window. I would gesture to my wrist and he would hold up fingers. I would already have my blankets folded and be ready for a meal. Often it was three in the morning. I had no fridge to open to occupy myself with food. There was no TV and iPods weren’t even invented let alone allowed. There was no one to ask “are you sleeping?” in the hope of stirring another into my uncomfortable void. Usually I would vacuum. I always went barefoot and would walk around my 5 by 8 and brush crumbs and lint that collected on my feet into my toilet. I retain this habit and can often be found in my apartment brushing whatever might cling to my feet into my toilet or the nearest garbage. I have a cat and dog so the vacuum is always running. The entire jail slept while I ran my jail powered model. The guards would sometimes put me in different Holes and medical cells and I am certain it was in part due to my cleanliness. Some cleaning fell on their shoulders and it was delegated to me. I could write a housekeeping article on how to use toilet paper and water to make your “house” sparkle.

I digress. Back to time, rather than back in time. Without my watch this weekend I was conscious of how many times I looked at the pale skin on my wrist. I didn’t have my “friend?” to tell me things. Time tells us when to eat, whether we are hungry or not and when to sleep, whether we are tired or not. Time tells us when to come and go, whether we are ready to or not. It tells us when we can drive, vote and drink as though a day causes some miraculous shift in maturity. Time tells us we have plenty of it or not enough. It can change our behaviour from relaxed to stressed simply with a glance at some gears on our wrist. Time tells us how old we are regardless of how we might feel otherwise. Time tells us when to have children or to make the attempt. It can tell us we should be married despite happiness or whether we are in love or not. Time can tell us many things but maybe we need to listen more to ourselves.

Time is a measurement created by mankind but is it a measure of mankind? All life is seemingly moved by time but humans seem the only creatures bound by minutes. The sun rises on time and sets on time but there can be no time like the present to get your vacuuming done 🙂

What’s the Difference?

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

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

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

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

Fool For A Client

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Ingest Its Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Criminally Responsible: The Burden of Accusation and Popular Misconceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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