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OFFSITE: Atlantic Monthly Article on U.S. Jails and Prisons

Jails & Prisons

Growth industry and tumour in society

In June, I intend to surrender myself to the police to begin serving a 30 day sentence for failure to pay ten parking tickets. I look forward to returning to Pine Grove Correctional Centre so that I can give a full report on conditions there. This provincial institution takes any woman sentenced to less than two years. There is NO habeas corpus in Pine Grove. As a nonviolent convict, I was eligible for early release. It took almost four months for me to get out. (As it turned out I was picked up at an extremely inconvenient time and came up with the $240 I owed (all my money for the next month, May 2000). So I'll have to let them accumulate again before I'll be able to get back to Pine Grove.

Pine Grove was built in 1966, but it is more like a 75 year old building.. It is run by women who jumped on the victim machine gravy train and found that by hiring a combination of psychological sadists and dumb clucks, they could write their own tickets to lucrative careers.

While I was there, I encountered only four staff with any integrity at all, as well as Dorothy Bannerman who ran the sewing room. On behalf of Priscilla and Elaine, good people who dies young, I will gradually unfold the pathos of Pine Grove.

Meanwhile, we fear that horrors like those described below in the Nevada prison system are all too close!
-- Sheila Steele

Pine Grove is mostly a holding facility for throw-away girls, feeding and housing them between their days in youth facilities and their inevitable young deaths. Many are fetal alcohol and others have destroyed their minds with poisons and drugs.

If you are a female person who has been sentenced to less than two years in Saskatchewan, you will go to Pine Grove. I first went there for five days in 1996 awaiting appeal bail. During that time I had occasion to stand up to one particularly obnoxious inmate who walked through the TV room where I was the only person watching a show, and casually changed the channel. I was called into the office where Guard Gladys Morin used her questionable methods of verbal intimidation with me, her "my way or the highway . . . except there ain't no highway" speech. But she also appealed to me: I had invaded the place where "these girls" lived.

I did not take kindly to her speech since I did not want to be there. When I returned September 20 having lost my appeal, she used her power over me whenever she could. Our stand-off was a useless waste of time. I knew I would get out eventually (although as they lost my papers and refused me access to legal channels I was certain were guaranteed under the Charter, I feared I might be there for a full nine months which was my sentence). I did have occasion to reflect upon her words. Pine Grove is "where these girls live." It is their only home.

Serena Nicotine in custody

Serena Nicotine in custody during 2013 incident of taking fellow prisoner hostage in Edmonton courthouse.

Most of them have grown up among adults who lie to them, break promises to them and abuse or neglect them. They have learned how to stay alive in a world with no morals or ethics and how to survive by adopting the same hypocritical stance they have seen around them. But they are not hypocritical. Given an opportunity to be honest or reliable, they quickly respond.

Serena Nicotine was one of these. Now she is dangerous beyond belief. Continued relentless betrayal will make anyone dangerous, if only to herself. The half-way houses these young women are released to are run by people who cannot possibly understand. Nobody properly understands what these girls have been through. But we had better make the effort because they are coming at us like a hurricane!


Inmate sues for right to buy nicotine patch

TORONTO -- An inmate at Kingston Penitentiary is fighting prison rules that say he can't use his own money to buy the nicotine patch prescribed to him by his doctor.

William Stoddart is suing the federal government for $4 million for refusing to allow him to buy the patch.

Stoddart went to his doctor more than a year ago, complaining of chest pains. He said he wanted to kick his three-pack-a-day smoking habit.

The prison doctor prescribed him the nicotine patch and wrote on Stoddart's medical file that the prescription was necessary.

But prison authorities refused to let Stoddart transfer the money needed to pay for the patch, more than $500.

Under the rules, inmates can't use their saving to buy medical supplies, even if they are prescribed and required.

Stoddart has filed a $4-million lawsuit against the federal government, the Commissioner of Corrections and the warden at the prison.

"Mr. Stoddart is at wit's end," said his lawyer, Julian Falconer. "He has no choice but to take legal action."

Falconer argued, in papers filed in court, that the nicotine patch is an essential medical service and the Correctional Service of Canada is required by law to provide it.

"It's a clear responsibility of this government and the Correctional Service of Canada to provide that nicotine patch in circumstances where a doctor has prescribed it as a necessity," said Falconer.

The suit could also affect inmates who aren't allowed to buy other medical supplies such as orthopedic mattresses, back supports and walkers.

Ottawa has a month in which to respond to the lawsuit.


Following the U.S. example?

Jan. 2002: There is a lot of talk these days about Canada following the U.S. example of privatizing prisons and generally cutting costs with even more harsh treatment. The following material is mostly about the U.S. The financial cost-cutting has served to make many unscrupulous business extremely wealthy at the same time adding to social costs which we can't possibly calculate. The future we have to live in will be the future we create. Not looking good.

Remember, if we had not abolished capital punishment, Steven Truscott (right) would be dead, as well as many of the other wrongfully convicted persons.


Women dying in prison

The following is taken from Chapter 22 of Andrea Mims' story by Rick Jackson.

  • In 1987, Terry Lynn Waters successfully pressed charges against two correctional officers, Jesse Lee Harris, and Sgt. Harold Delon Anderson.
  • Anderson was actually the son of a former warden. Anderson is now serving time for rape, but I'm unsure about Harris. The ensuing investigations resulted in the discovery of 5 other inmates, and amazingly, 2 female guards who had been raped by male guards and had kept silent for years.

In addition, there were numerous accounts of consensual sex between inmates and guards, with many pregnancies resulting, all being covered up through mandatory abortions. The California Legislature has only recently outlawed sexual contact between inmates and prison guards.

Since the guards are in the position of authority, even consensual sex is prosecuted as rape.

In the late 80s a series of mysterious deaths began taking place in the prison infirmary. Women were dying for lack of medical care, often from easily treatable maladies.

  • Joyce Joanne Baeza, age 36, died of untreated Anorexia, weighing 76 pounds.
  • On Sept 4, 1989, Denise Yvette Davis, age 29, died of an acute asthma attack, after being refused an inhaler refill during off hours. She was eventually sent to Riverside Hospital, but it was too late to save her. She'd been in prison less than two months, having been arrested for drug possession.
  • In November, 1987, Terri Yvonne Lucas died in the infirmary at age 25 from complications arising from undiagnosed diabetes. Her body lay in the prison infirmary for 3 days, with meals being continuously brought to her, and piled one on top of another. Her body and untouched meals were only removed when the smell became unbearable for staff.

Her family was eventually awarded over $200,000 in damages.

  • November 22, 1987 marked the death of Mary Louise Winters, 35, again from an untreated asthma attack.

In all, Dept of Corrections spokesman Tip Kindel, attempted to whitewash the neglect in the press, while backing out the names of CIW medical personnel in reports the press was able to obtain.

  • In June, 1988, Linda Faith Ballesteros, age 30, AKA "Sad Girl" was a lethal dose of morphine, injected into her right hand. Signs of a struggle proved the death was the result of foul play.
  • On July 31, 1989, Thi Thang Nguyen, age 32, was found hanging in her cell. Since her hands were tied behind her, and he feet also bound, murder was suspected, but the Coroner's office ruled it a suicide.

These are just a few of the many wrongful deaths in and around the infirmary. CIW's Chief Medical Officer, Krishna Srivastava, was suspended from his job at full pay ($95,000), but was eventually relieved of his license to practice medicine. As you'll see from the articles, though, many of the staff were involved but unnamed, and it seems Dr. Srivastava took the fall as a scapegoat.

In all, it seemed the general complaint was that the prison was refusing to send critically ill inmates out to the hospital until it was too late. (See Marlon Gidluck)

In 1990, with Srivastava gone, inmates were more readily sent to Riverside General Hospital, but a dangerous new game seemed to be being played.

  • In April, 1991, Billie Jean Clark, age 65, was sent to Riverside General Hospital suffering from complications of diabetes.

A report was prepared by CIW Medical Staff stating "As a result of medical complications, inmate Clark failed to survive treatment." Clark was declared dead, yet she DID survive and was returned to the prison.

For some time, rumors have circulated that women at CIW are to be triaged, and denied life-saving treatment, or any medical care once they are beyond the age of 55. You will never get anyone to admit to it, and it's not in writing anywhere. Yet, it seems to be the practice.

Would CIW have written up a death report on Clark after sending her to the hospital if they had not pre-arranged for lifesaving care to be withheld? It's a troubling question. . . .


Death Results in inquest

An inquest has been held into the death of a woman who had been a prisoner at Prince Albert's Pine Grove women's correctional centre.

Priscilla Taniskishayinew, 20, was found in her cell "requiring medical treatment" on Feb. 2, 1997. She was treated at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

She was then transferred to the hospital in her home community of Kelvington, where she died on Feb. 13, 1997.

The inquest will be held April 2 in Prince Albert.

The Coroners Act requires that an inquest be held when an inmate dies in a correctional facility of police lock-up.

Needless to say, everyone was exonerated. The question of why anyone would be driven to suicide in a provincial institution remains unaddressed.

Priscilla hanged herself. She was one of several young women in Pine Grove Correctional Centre who were severely damaged, rejected by society and ran afoul of the law for trying to stay alive. Priscilla was hermaphrodite and when I first met her, I wondered why a man was in Pine Grove. She talked tough, but responded to kind words. When I first came to Pine Grove, she was locked in her cell and would make drawings for people. She had developed some artistic talent.

When I watched the movie "Boys Don't Cry" I thought of Priscilla. I remembered her telling me her stories about trips she had taken while at Ranch Ehrlo. Michael Ross told me about his trip to Toronto while he was at Ranch Ehrlo and he also remembered the experience well -- and had learned much from it. Priscilla had cobbled together a few real memories of occasions when people had been truly kind to her which she could bring out when she was feeling safe. Most of the time, the dark memories crowded out the good ones. There were so many more of them!

While she was working in the sewing room, she seemed to do okay. She made a bit of extra spending money and Mrs. Bannister was kind to her. She was good at repairing upholstery.

Elaine Miller, an inmate who was still there when Priscilla made the successful suicide attempt, said that her room was decorated with empty shampoo and conditioner bottles which she had filled with water to give the appearance that she had lots of shampoo. In fact Priscilla had nothing. I got in a dispute with her over a T-shirt she borrowed from me and then refused to return. I really didn't understand that the girl simply had nothing to wear.

The guards, with the exception of Rebia Wilson, her case worker, were horrible to Priscilla. This is definitely a case where "tough love" did not work.

The following winter, Elaine Miller's body was found murdered in a house in Saskatoon. Elaine was beautiful. She was in the process of filing a claim against the federal system for having put her life in danger and failing to protect her. Don MacKinnon, her pro-bono lawyer, had visited her often while she was in the Regional Psychiatric Center in Saskatoon.


NAACP jailhouse registration raises concern

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alarming some sheriffs, the NAACP has signed up more than 11,000 new voters in county jails across the Southeast this year.

The nation's largest civil rights group described its campaign Thursday as an historic attempt to preserve the electoral rights of prisoners.

But a law enforcement group in Alabama worries the drive could lead to inmates banding together to oust sheriffs and other county officials they don't like.

"They could elect their own commissioner. All they'd have to do is bloc vote in a small county," said Brice Paul, director of jail services for the Alabama Sheriff's Association.

The NAACP this year has registered about 11,400 prisoners to vote in Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, said Synamon Baldwin, regional director of prisoner re-enfranchisement for the group.

The organization this week is working mainly in Alabama, where it hopes to register as many as 700 prisoners. Friday was the deadline to register for the Nov. 7 election.

The NAACP is attempting jailhouse voter registration in 22 states nationwide, Baldwin said, but numbers were not immediately available from regions outside the South.

The effort focuses mainly on people awaiting trial and those convicted of misdemeanors.

State laws vary, but such prisoners generally retain the right to vote and can cast ballots even though they are behind bars, Baldwin.

Generally, people convicted of felonies lose the right to vote.

Prisoners could be allowed to vote at designated precincts, and the worst security risks could cast absentee ballots, Baldwin said.

The NAACP is the first group to register prisoners en masse, she said.

"We've had some success even though we haven't had a big welcome" in some jails, she said. "The problem we have is that people are just not aware of the law."

The North Carolina Sheriff's Association assisted with prisoner registration there, said Shawnette James of the NAACP.

But officials in Alabama took a dimmer view. Paul said he received calls from three counties seeking guidance on whether to let the NAACP register prisoners, and he advised against it.

Alabama's county lockups are overcrowded with about 10,000 prisoners, Paul said, and most jails do not have the staff needed to assist with registration or take prisoners to polling places. Having jailers act as voting assistants could threaten security, he said.

Also, he said, prisoners casting ballots could lead to bloc voting or false allegations of voter fraud.

"The first thing they'd say is, 'The sheriff intimidated me and I had to vote for him,"' Paul said. "It would just create turmoil."

Baldwin said Paul's fears are overblown. She denied the registration drive is aimed at empowering prisoners to take over county politics.

The jailhouse project is part of a $9 million NAACP drive to increase black voter turnout this fall.

The NAACP also is registering voters at churches, stores, colleges and athletic events. In Huntsville, the local chapter is offering a bounty of $3 for every new voter registered by church and civic organizations.