Ten years before Mr. Frederick’s experiences in H unit, Jack McCann,
while confined in the Penthouse at the B.C. Penitentiary, had written
a poem entitled "My Home Is Hell." He read it in open court to help Mr.
Justice Heald understand the impact of months and years in segregation.
The first stanza of the poem reads:
My home is hell in one small cell
That no man wants to own
For here I spend my life condemned
A man the world disowns.
(cited in Jackson, Prisoners
of Isolation at 69)
Bill Frederick did not read me any poems about his life in solitary
confinement. However, during our interview, he expressed the profound
fear arising out of his experiences in segregation. At the age of nineteen
he had been sentenced to life with 25 years before parole, following his
plea of guilty to the charge of first-degree murder of a police officer.
At the time of our interview, he was twenty-six years old. He insisted
he had never intended to kill the officer and had never seen himself as
a person capable of killing other human beings. However, his greatest
fear was that, if he was subjected long enough to the kinds of degradation
he had just gone through in H unit, he would become the callous killer
people believed him to be. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he
did not see the eyes of a murderer. But he feared one day the eyes staring
back at him would signal that fatal transformation: fatal because the
compassion he believed he still had would be gone, and fatal because there
would be nothing more left for him to lose.
"Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose," Janis Joplin
sang in the 1960s. When a maximum-security prisoner has been reduced to
this state, the "freedom" he experiences is the lack of caring for anybody,
including himself, and with that comes the terrifying capacity for unleashing
a whirlwind of violence against those he sees as his oppressors. As I
spoke with Bill Frederick in September 1983, he could hear early warning
signs of these whirlwinds, and he feared that without a speedy resolution
to the crisis in H unit, Kent would experience a rock ‘n’ roll of violence
which would shake it to its foundations.
Page 2 of 2