location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 1 Administrative Segregation: The Litmus Test of Legitimacy / "My Home is Hell"

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