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During my interviews in preparation for the McCann trial, I heard many stories about encounters between prisoners and guards that strained the limits of my belief. In subsequent years, and indeed during my research for this book, officers who had worked in the Penthouse during the seventies told me stories even more horrific. In Prisoners of Isolation, I portrayed this relationship between the keeper and the kept as follows:

There is a perverse symbiotic relationship between guards and prisoners in [the Penthouse]. The guards, by perceiving the prisoners as the most dangerous and violent of men, can justify to themselves the intensity of the surveillance and the rigours of detention. Prisoners, by responding to that perception of dangerousness with acts of defiance, have at least one avenue of asserting their individuality and their autonomy, of making manifest their refusal to submit. The treadwheels of the 19th-century penitentiaries are no longer with us, but in [the Penthouse] we have created a psychological treadwheel put into motion and maintained by ever-increasing hostility and recrimination. at 53-54)

There were two prisoners who did not give evidence at the McCann trial but whose experiences in the Penthouse nonetheless loomed large in the testimony before the court. Tommy McCaulley was one of these men. I had heard Mr. McCaulley screaming in his solitary confinement cell on many occasions. Prisoners believed he had been driven mad by his extended imprisonment in the Penthouse, and the guards viewed him as extremely violent and unpredictable. Mr. McCaulley was so out of touch with reality when I interviewed him that he could not be included as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Jacques Bellemaire, the other prisoner, believed there was a machine in his cell that controlled his life. Although he set fire to his cell to rid himself of it, the machine did not leave, and a week after I last interviewed Mr. Bellemaire he hanged himself.

The terror of life in the solitary confinement unit of the B.C. Penitentiary was not limited to the machine imagined by Jacques Bellemaire. Dr. Stephen Fox, a psychologist and expert witness called by the prisoners in the McCann trial, explained to Mr. Justice Heald how Tommy McCaulley’s insanity and Jacques Bellemaire’s suicide were the living and dying proof to other prisoners of their own vulnerability. In his chilling words:

When McCaulley becomes insane to your face, they are McCaulley, that is all there is to it. There is not one of them who will tell you anything different. Each one of them is part of McCaulley, and it was a part of them that had gone to that place where McCaulley is, exactly to that place where McCaulley is, where all rationality has left them and they have come back from that place only by some freak accident of their own prior upbringing. But there is not one of them that does not hear their own voices screaming when McCaulley screams. They are McCaulley’s insanity and in them is McCaulley’s insanity. When he becomes insane and moves towards death, like Bellemaire did, when they see insanity approaching self-extinction, they know that part of them is moving to that place and they have to live with their own insanity and it is in front of them . . . When the blood runs in front of their cells, it is their blood . . . when they see death approach, it is their death that approaches. (cited in Jackson, Prisoners at 73-74)

Between 1970 and 1974, the seven plaintiffs in the McCann case had spent a total of eleven and a half years in solitary confinement. Jack McCann had spent 1,471 days in solitary; the longest continuous periods of that total were 754 and 342 days. Donald Oag was in solitary for 682 days, including one period of 573 days; Andy Bruce had been locked up for 793 days, including one period of 338 and another of 258 days. The prisoners maintained that the injustice of their confinement was not limited to its physical and psychological dimensions; it included the process by which they had been placed in solitary and through which they were -- in some cases years later -- released. At the time of the McCann case, and up until the enactment of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in 1992, administrative dissociation was governed by the Penitentiary Service Regulations. (The pre-1992 term was "dissociation"; the CCRA refers to "segregation." The terms are synonymous and are used interchangeably here.) Section 2.30 of the Penitentiary Service Regulations provided:

(1) Where the institutional head is satisfied that

(a) for the maintenance of good order and discipline in the institution, or

(b) in the best interests of an inmate it is necessary or desirable that the inmate should be kept from associating with other inmates, he may order the inmate to be dissociated accordingly, but the case of every inmate so dissociated shall be considered, not less than once each month, by the Classification Board for the purpose of recommending to the institutional head whether or not the inmate should be returned to association with other inmates.

(2) An inmate who has been dissociated is not considered under punishment unless he has been sentenced as such and he shall not be deprived of any of his privileges and amenities by reason thereof, except those privileges and amenities that

(a) can only be enjoyed in association with other inmates, or

(b) cannot reasonably be granted, having regard to the limitations of the dissociation area and the necessity for the effective operation thereof.

In McCann, prisoners gave evidence of being placed in dissociation without notice of the grounds and without a hearing at which they could challenge the case against them or make representations. They also testified that they had no knowledge of a monthly review of their cases. The evidence given by the B.C. Penitentiary’s warden and its head of security regarding their interpretation of "the maintenance of good order and discipline" revealed no consistent standards for determining what constituted sufficient grounds for dissociation. Rather, it suggested that decisions to place prisoners in dissociation were made on the basis of rumours, hunches, and intangible feelings grounded in the prisoner’s past reputation or his present attitude. Dr. Richard Korn, one of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses and himself the former warden of an American penitentiary, described the process of admission to and release from dissociation as "highly capricious, arbitrary and in its design and effect . . . mystifying, and to me [failing] to satisfy any human criterion of predictable process"(Jackson, Prisoners of Isolation, p. 57). Dr. Korn compared this with the way a prisoner enters prison:

He enters the general prison society as a result of a hearing in a court of law. The charges are specific, he has an opportunity to present his own case, to cross-examine witnesses, all of the rights and amenities that are provided under the presumption of innocence . . . In general, if a prisoner has had a fair trial, he will accept the process of getting to prison. (Jackson, Prisoners of Isolation at 56-57)

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A cell in the Penthouse