location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 2 Administrative Segregation at Matsqui and Kent,1993-6: The Persistence of Customary Law / Donnie Oag -- Twenty Years after McCann

The escape allegation was dealt with in his lawyer’s response to the involuntary transfer notice. Mr. Oag had been informed by a staff member at Mountain Institution that the authorities were going to transfer him again, and it was this knowledge that precipitated his giving away one of his pet lizards, although he kept the other. As for the allegation that he had packed away his cell effects, Mr. Oag had this explanation:

The state of my cell on April 23, 1994, was that I had a number of articles in padlocked boxes under my bed. The boxes and the padlocks were provided by staff to keep some personal effects clean during maintenance of my cell. The maintenance of my cell was that a shelf for a television was being added which would require some drilling into the concrete, causing dust. The statement . . . that my cell effects were packed up in preparation of an escape attempt is false. At the time of the transfer, my cell had a television; a radio; a fan; track clothes; a hot water bottle; soap; a lamp; and shampoo. I had seen a picture taken of my cell by staff at Mountain after my visit to [Correctional Supervisor] Ellis’ office. I noticed at the time that the picture of my cell was only that portion which had been stored due to the maintenance." (Affidavit of Donald Oag, May 17, 1995)

Mr. Oag’s lawyer further submitted that the allegation of Mr. Oag’s being been involved in an escape attempt at Kent was perverse, given that he had provided information to the authorities which thwarted any such plans.

With respect to the allegations that Mr. Oag appeared to be under the influence of an unknown substance, his response was that when summoned to the office of Correctional Supervisor Ellis and told he was being sent back to Kent, he was also informed that he was suspected of being under the influence of drugs because he had tripped over the doorstep in entering her office. Ms. Ellis demanded that he submit to urinalysis and be seen by health care. Mr. Oag said he was not prepared to submit to urinalysis but would see the nurse. In his response, he admitted to tripping over the doorsill but pointed out that, due to his back problems, he had difficulty in picking up his feet. As a result, when he walked, he tended to shuffle, a fact well known to the staff at Mountain Institution.

Back at Kent Institution, in another strip cell without personal possessions, canteen or tobacco, Mr. Oag once more faced the despair of being treated as a non-person. To compound his agony, he found himself in a cell next to one of the men he had implicated in the escape plot years before. Death threats were made against him and the other prisoners kept up a constant verbal bombardment, urging Mr. Oag to kill himself. To encourage him, the food server threw razor blades through the food slot of the door of his cell. On September 12, 1994, Mr. Oag slashed the veins in his arms using one of these. He was taken to the prison hospital and then transported to Chilliwack Hospital via ambulance. He was returned to Kent the next day and placed in the cell from which he had been carried the day before. The blood had not yet been cleaned up, the razor blade was still imbedded in the floor, and Mr. Oag was placed on a suicide watch, with the light on twenty-four hours a day.

Mr. Oag remained locked in segregation for the rest of 1994 and the whole of 1995. He was still there on June 3, 1996, when I attended the thirty-day review of the Segregation Review Board. Over the course of his long segregation at Kent, his security classification had been reduced to "medium," and his case management team had recommended his transfer to either William Head or Mountain Institution. The wardens at both institutions had refused the transfer, and therefore Mr. Oag remained in maximum-security segregation. The harassment by other prisoners never abated, and he lived in continual fear for his life. The only relief from twenty-four-hour lock-up was his weekly visit with his friend, supplemented by the private family visits finally approved after his return to Kent. In recent months he had also been given the job of cleaning up the yard, which he did in the evening after all other prisoners had taken their exercise.

The institution’s psychologist told the Board that Mr. Oag’s case was being reviewed by the Regional Health Centre with a view to his going there for an individualized program, the purpose of which would be "to detoxify him from segregation." Mr. Oag was only eight months away from his statutory release date, and the idea behind this plan was that once "detoxification" had been effected, he might be transferred to a medium or minimum-securityinstitution for the last few months before his release to the street. The psychologist emphasized, however, that the RHC had not yet agreed to the plan. Mr. Oag told the Board he was not going to get his hopes up, because he had previously been recommended for lower security by Kent staff only to be refused by the other institutions. He was trying to focus his attention on his relationship and his life after prison; he said he had put in an application to the warden for permission to marry his friend in a ceremony in the chapel at Kent and was hoping that this could take place within the next few months. (The marriage took place quietly in August 1996.)

When I interviewed Mr. Oag later in June 1996, he reviewed the events of the previous two years without acrimony or indignation, though he had just cause for both. The prisoners against whom he had given his information were now either in general population at Kent or on the street, yet he remained entombed in solitary confinement. He had not asked for or expected any reward for bearing witness against his fellow prisoners, but neither did he deserve to spend four years in solitary confinement because he had taken a stand to protect apotential victim. If he had himself participated in the escape plan, he said, he would have been treated better than he was after trying to prevent it. He and his future wife had reconciled themselves to the likelihood that he would spend the last eight months of his sentence in segregation at Kent. He had always survived segregation by letting the world outside become obscured by the fog of imprisonment. Now he was trying to reimagine the world outside with a woman he loved, letting that same fog obscure the horrors of solitary confinement.

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