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Renous -- Stitching a Slash with Dental Floss

On September 10, 1996, the Task Force continued its national tour by visiting the four institutions in the Atlantic region, Renous, Springhill, Dorchester and Nova. The four institutions span the history of the penitentiary over the last century. Renous, the maximum-security institution for Atlantic Canada, was opened in 1986 and, together with Port Cartier in Quebec, is the most modern federal institution for male prisoners in Canada. Dorchester penitentiary, built in 1880, is the second oldest institution in the country and one of the three remaining nineteenth century Bastille’s. For most of its history a maximum-security institution, it is now multi-leveled and houses the Regional Treatment Centre. Springhill, a medium-securityinstitution, was built in the 1970s and is a sister institution to Drumheller, Alberta and Warkworth, Ontario. The largest of the Atlantic institutions it has a capacity of 600 prisoners. Nova institution is one of the five new regional institutions for women built to replace the Prison for Women. Completed in early 1996 it received its first prisoners in July of that year.

At Renous, the Task Force met with members of the Inmate Committee. Although neither of the two committee members had themselves been in segregation at Renous, they raised concerns based upon their visits to the segregation area as part of the Committee responsibilities. They told us that recently there had been a number of slashings in the segregation area and raised one case in particular, involving Mr. Merlin. According to the Segregation Information Sheet given to the Task Force as part of its briefing, Mr. Merlin had been segregated on the 16th of August for assaulting another prisoner in the recreation yard. The Committee members said that while in segregation Mr. Merlin had slashed. After receiving medical attention and a bandage for the cut, he was returned to his segregation cell. He then proceeded to stitch up the cut himself using dental floss. One of the Committee members personally saw the home- made stitches. He also said that Mr. Merlin was on his range prior to his segregation and that he had not slashed while in population. One of the unit managers from Renous, who sat in the meeting with the Inmate Committee, commented that the staff believed that Mr. Merlin had slashed just so that he could get a ride to the hospital in Newcastle and some relief from imprisonment. After the unit manager left the meeting, the Committee ridiculed the idea that a prisoner would slash just to get a ride to Newcastle. They believed that Mr. Merlin had slashed because of his treatment in segregation. Following my visit to Renous, I received a letter from Mr. Merlin describing his experiences in segregation:

I was placed in segregation for the good order of the institution for being involved in a fight that occurred August 16, 1996. First off, I have an injured hand where I shattered bones back in December 1995 while I was a prisoner in Springhill. The surgeon who performed the operation told me that I would have to have extensive physiotherapy. I’ve never been taken out for any kind of follow-up treatment while in Springhill or here. I put numerous requests and complaints into having treatment done... Getting back to being segregated on the evening of August 16, I injured my hand during the fight. I requested medical treatment for this and was denied that night except for a bag of ice. On September 2, I was so fed up with being denied medical attention, except for ice, I smashed the wall and caused my injury to become worse. I believe I tore internal tendons and tissue. I immediately pressed my cell distress button because of the pain. The nurse working came up and told me there’s nothing she could do except give me a bag of ice. Because of the pain, right after her leaving I took a single razor blade and slashed a gash across my vein in the middle of my right arm. The slash was approximately one and half inches long by a half inch wide and quite deep. Immediately I pressed the distress button again and around fifteen minutes later, guards and the nurse arrived and took me to Health Care in the institution. The nurse waited until the bleeding slowed and tried to close the wound with butterfly tape. I asked to go outside hospital to get the proper medical attention that I needed but was refused, therefore leaving me with a major open wound. The day of September 3 I was seen by the institutional doctor. He recommended X-rays but did not look at the wound on my arm. I presently have complaints put in on the doctor because of his mishandling of my medical condition. On the night of September 4, I asked to have a bath in Health Care so I wouldn’t get the bandages wet but was refused, so I taped a plastic bag to my arm and took a shower. Because of the moisture and the size of the wound, the butterflies came loose. Once I noticed the severity of the wound I pressed the distress button and I was examined by the nurse that evening. She told me that it was too late for stitches and that I should have been stitched up in the first place. This left me with no other choice but to stitch it myself with a sewing needle and dental floss. Six stitches in all, so I wouldn’t be left with a worse scar than what it would have been if I was stitched in the first place. Also, there was a greater risk of infection with an open wound. (Letter from Michael Merlin, undated, 1997)

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