Over lunch on the first day of my visit in the staff cafeteria, I talked
with a psychologist and one of the case management officers I asked the
psychologist what programs existed in the SHU and he said that in addition
to the school there were anger management and substance abuse programs.
The case management officer responded with some surprise that he did not
know that these programs were going on. The psychologist conceded that
they were not at the moment because the area in which they are conducted
was being renovated. The other problem regarding programs was that most
of the general population prisoners had refused to participate in programs
so that they were restricted more or less to protective custody inmates.
Earlier in this chapter I described how in 1990 the transfer process
was changed so that prisoners were henceforth sent to the Special Handling
Unit for a ninety day assessment to determine whether they should be admitted
to the SHU. The annual reports of the National Committee describe what
is supposed to happen during this assessment stage and after reading those
reports and the Commissioner's Directive, it would appear that a lot of
intensive activity takes place in terms of interview and evaluation by
a variety of correctional staff. As with everything else in the SHU, the
accounts of prisoners tell a different story.
Tony Sheratt was transferred to the Quebec SHU for assessment on July
23, 1996. He had spent over two years in segregation at Kent Institution
prior to the transfer. I asked him to describe for me the differences
between the conditions of segregation at Kent Institution and the conditions
on the assessment range in the SHU:
No difference at all. The regime in the SHU on assessment
was a 23 hour lock up situation. You would get an hour of exercise, of
yard, a day. You were not allowed to participate in any of the programs
because you were on an assessment range. You weren't entitled to the common
room. It was basically a 23 hour lock up for over ninety days. You were
allowed a TV and your effects the same as you're allowed in segregation
at Kent and basically those first three months are just a continuation
of segregation although they tell you that you're not in segregation.
During those three months I saw the psychologist twice and my case management
officer once. Those were the only people I spoke to. I was seen three
times in ninety days. Their recommendation that I should be admitted to
the SHU was therefore based upon what was in my files and very little
on the brief time they spent with me. (Interview with Tony Sheratt, Quebec SHU, June
During our interview, Tony Sheratt talked in a calm and measured way
about his experiences in the SHU. My interview with Kevin Derouchie had
a far different trajectory. Mr. Derouchie was two weeks away from statutory
release on a five and half year sentence. At the time of our interview
he was in the segregation unit and expected to be released to the street
from there. I spent about two hours talking with him. At the end of the
interview, he was still shaking with the emotion of what he had told me
and I was shaking with trepidation at the prospect that the Correctional Service of Canada
intended to keep this man locked up 23 hours a day until the door was
opened and he was returned to the streets of Montreal. Kevin Derouchie
was as angry as any prisoner I had ever met over his experiences in the
SHU. He had filed numerous grievances, corresponded with the Correctional
Investigator's office and had gone on lengthy hunger strikes to focus
attention on what he viewed as violations of his rights. His latest correspondence
with the Correctional Investigator involved an incident in which he was
placed in the observation cell in the segregation unit, which he likened
to the treatment of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence
of the Lambs.
They had me in that cell just like that for seven
days. No water, no showers, no toothbrush, no comb, no fuck-all. You want
to know why they put me in that cell? They put me next door to this bug.
This guy just banged on his cell all day yelling and screaming and I got
fed up from being there. I said "Put me in the hole. Get me off this range."
They didn't answer me so I started banging on my door. Bang, bang, bang.
They came to my door and they said "Are you going peacefully?" I said
"Of course I'm going peacefully. I'm asking to go there." They put me
in this camera cell, this strip cell and left me there for seven days.
When I put in complaints about this, you know what the answer on my complaint
was? They said they only left me there for two days. That was an outright
lie and it made me really angry. I was close to flipping out but I used
the channels and filed a second level grievance. Not only did they deny
my grievance by repeating that I had only been there for two days but
they said I'd been extremely violent in the process.
Mr. Derouchie described several other incidents which left him breathless
in their retelling. He was particularly incensed at what he saw as the
lack of accountability for correctional staffs' wrong doings:
Look at what happened in Kingston at the Prison for
Women. They lied and they are held unaccountable. You've got to have somebody
policing these people because otherwise they're going to continue to create
anger and hatred to the point where people are going to get out of these
places and . . . just look at me. Where's my chance of ever leading a
normal life? They've tortured me. I hate. I lie down and I just think
murder, kill, torture, revenge. It's all about revenge. Everything I'm
doing, all the letters I write, all the complaints I send, the hunger
strike, every fucking thing that I'm doing, it's only for one reason.
It's revenge. Because if I can't get revenge this way, how else am I going
to get revenge? The only alternative would be through violence, but I'm
trying not to go there. I'm a human being, man. I've got rights, I've
got feelings and I'm not letting anybody mess with that.
In 1995 I had left the Prince Albert SHU with a poem written by Robert
Browning celebrating the redeemablility of mankind in God's image. In
1997, at the end of my visit to the Quebec SHU -- now Canada's only Special
Handling Unit -- I also left with a poem. This one was written by
Kevin Derouchie. Called Hatred's Fury, it illuminates the life direction
in which one prisoner saw his experiences at the SHU pushing him:
Buried deep within, rooted out of pain
Growing to a passion, flowing through the vein
The mind becomes distorted, vengeance seems the way
Many years go by and only time will tell
Living, doing, dying and then you go to hell
For anger is a sin, it's fury won't let go
Buried deep within, but forever all I know.
(Poem by Kevin Derouchie, read to Michael Jackson, Quebec
SHU, June 18, 1997).
[Kevin Derouchie is one of the prisoners interviewed by the CBC as part of its
special on Canadian prisons. View his interview as part of Peter Mansbridge's story on maximum security by clicking here. Playing back the video requires RealPlayer (free download)].
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