AN ILLUSTRATION FROM BEHIND THE WALLS IN TWO PARTS
Writing is one way I vent the frustration I feel over how challenging it is to access mental health services within Correctional Service of Canada. Contrary to its on-line media page, in reality it is much more difficult than CSC would have the public believe.
As it stands now, an inmate in a ‘bad place’ who tries to get help must first send a written request to their Parole Officer, wait for a call to meet which may take a day, or perhaps two. Depending on the Parole Officer’s recommendation, the inmate in distress may or may not be granted an audience with a trained mental health professional. Now, I am just a lowly inmate in CSC’s eyes, but it seems to me that this is not a particularly effective way to help mentally destressed inmates. However, what do I know.
Most Parole Officers were once guards who require a grade 12 education and no criminal record. After approximately sixty days of training, and a one-year on-the-job probationary period, successful candidates are officially certified as Correctional Service of Canada guards. It seems to me that hardly qualifies a guard to decide whether an inmate is in enough distress to require mental health intervention. It seems to me that determination should be made by a mental health care professional, no?
Basically, anyone can be a prison guard with a minimum of effort. After nearly 30 years in the federal system, I’ve learned most prison guards employed be CSC are straight-up sociopaths in their attitude and treatment of inmates. Believing otherwise suggests that racism, for instance, does not exist in Canada. Who would admit to seeing inmates as nothing more than pieces of s—t? Let’s face it, it’s ugly to admit to that. How many racists do you think would feely admit to it? But, at the end of the day, it’s always there, just under the surface and it governs every decision CSC makes regarding the treatment of it’s wards.
But that’s a whole other conversation. For now, we are considering inmate access to adequate mental health services.
The whole process I’ve described can take as many as three days at the minimum, but usually more like a week. CSC tells the world that in cases of extreme distress, where an inmate ideates suicide or intends to hurt themselves or others, there are mechanisms in place for immediate assistance. Why should it come to that? Why should an inmate in distress be made to jump through hoops before getting help? Why wait until the problem reaches those extremes? CSC policy on mental health services is reactive rather than pro-active.
I should not need to be suicidal to get help for my mental health issues, but it seems to be the only way to be seen in a timely manner by a psychologist or psychiatrist. However, if an inmate decides to claim that they are suicidal simply to access an audience with the appropriate and qualified professionals, well then, CSC also has an institutional policy for that as well.
The policy in place is to immediately put that inmate into an empty cell, no toilet paper, a concrete slab for a bed. But first, the inmate is stripped of clothing and given a ‘security smock’ made of untearable fire-retardant material called a “baby-doll.” Believe me, it is very rough and uncomfortable, and wearers feel extremely exposed and vulnerable. Is that CSC’s intent? The inmate remains in this cell for at least 24 hours and as much as 72 hours. From experience I can tell you that this does nothing to help and is a long and difficult way to get some counselling.
Am I exaggerating, fabricating, misrepresenting? Absolutely not. This is not only the truth, but it can easily be substantiated as CSC practice and policy.
As I wrote at the start, I am just trying to vent some negative emotions which stem from being left all on my own to deal with the mental health issues I have.
I challenge you to find any logic for how these practices and policies can help anyone recover or how they could possibly lead to a clean and mentally healthy life. There are people who say, “Who cares, they’re just low-life criminals. Let them all rot.” Well, you should care. Why? Less than 10% of all federal inmates will never get out of prison. Do you want the 90% who will be back on the street one day to be mentally healthy, or at least stable? Do you?
It’s easy not to care when you’re safely tucked away in your homes and comfortable in your lives. But what happens when a mentally distraught ex-inmate in a bad way invades that comfortable life, or the life of a loved one? And yes, drug addiction and alcoholism are symptoms of mental distress, contrary to what some might think.
Do you blame the drug addict who puts others in danger when he commits an armed robbery, or breaks into your home looking for drug money and for items to sell for drugs? What about the ex-con who has no grasp on the rage which stems from unaddressed childhood trauma and commits a violent act against some innocent victim. Do you blame him? Perhaps, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
Accepting responsibility for criminal acts is the whole point of the criminal justice system, isn’t it? Yes, it is. But then, just where is Correctional Service of Canada’s responsibility to service mental health care needs and offer constructive programing to give offenders an opportunity to succeed in the community? Yes, where is it?
Brennan Guigue, April 19, 2022
PART TWO next week