Prison perspective…

Dec 20, 2022

 Toronto Star – Rik McWhinney and Jason Demers

Rik McWhinney spent almost 35 years in prison, 16 of them in solitary confinement: this is his story – In ‘The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney,’ poems, grievance forms, letters, interviews add up to a powerful example of prison writing.

Rik McWhinney is dead, now, but he still has a story to tell that as his colleague Professor Jason Demers of Regina University says “prisoner accounts don’t simply add to what we already know about the prison system — they provide a completely different perspective,” essential to understanding the crisis in Canadian prisons.”  McWhinney, a FASD — fetal alcohol spectrum disorder  child, suffered early child abuse; he spent 35 years in jail, 16 of them in solitary. He was sent to provincial training school at nine years old consequent to trying to steal bullets to kill his stepfather.  The material presented is in a dialogue format between McWhinney and Demers and serves to remind us that we have not yet resolved the solitary issue.

Globe and Mail – Ron Csillaq
Catholic nun taught inmates to find freedom through Zen meditation

Sister Elaine MacInnes, OLM, who recently died at age 98, was originally from Moncton, NB, and introduced Zen meditation in Canada’s prisons after a life of music and missionary activities in Japan where she first  encountered Zen.  “She was no fan of prisons. They were “horrible and loud.” As Sr. Elaine saw it, the program had a proven track record of helping prisoners improve their moods, self-esteem, even sleep, and reduce their overall anger. “The alienation many prisoners have just drops away. It’s a wonderful moment for them,” she noted in one of her many interviews with reporters, who considered her story irresistible.”   Related article:  CBC News (Ottawa) Guy Quenneville  Faith and forgiveness: Slain woman’s family sees killer as a victim, too – Elisabeth Salm’s loved ones deliver stirring statements as Tyler Hikoalok handed life sentence  Related article: KXXV Radio (Texas)    Program (In North Carolina) helps incarcerated women create music for their newborns (The Lullaby Project)

 Center on Media, Crime and Justice – John Jay College (NY) – Emily Galvin-Almanza
Memo to Policymakers: Don’t Let Emotion Drive Crime Policy

The results of this US Gallup Poll are not surprising but certainly add to the polarity of the US on crime and punishment issues. How does the average citizen perceive the crime rate?  Is it going up or down?  Gallup asked.  “Every decade, American perceptions pretty much perfectly mirror  their national political landscape: the party out of power panics about crime… In other words, our perception of the problem isn’t based on facts, but on emotions that are supercharged by whatever political administration is in power at the time… What are we afraid of? Who are we mad at? What would make us feel safe? When the things that actually make us safe are different from what would feel good, we go with feeling every time, neglecting the options that would actually make our society more just along the way.”   Related article: The Marshall Project (US) – Vincent Schiraldi    I Spent Over 40 Years Working in Corrections. I Wasn’t Ready for Rikers.  Rikers Island jail complex “reflects our nation’s racist and destructive fixation on imprisonment,” writes former New York City jails commissioner Vincent Schiraldi. “It’s Exhibit A for why we need to end mass incarceration.”   Related article: N.Y. Times – Marc Tracey  The Cop Show Enters the ‘Defund’ Era  Widespread concerns over policing after the killing of George Floyd did not end the police drama as we know it. But shows are evolving to reflect the new climate.

National Post – Karandeep Sonu Gaind, The Conversation
Canada delays expanding medical assistance in dying to include mental illness, but it’s still a policy built on quicksand

MAiD or Medical Assistance in Dying is under government review and possible expansion to allow for the inclusion of long term mentally ill persons.  It appears that the major obstacle to the expansion is the lack of readiness of the medical community to deal with the mentally ill and the termination of life.  It also appears that the mentally ill who are suicidal are also part of the expansion.  Says Gaind:  “Perhaps most tragically, the twin pillars of false autonomy and false compassion fuelling the expansion agenda have been propped up by the third myth of false safety.”  He also thinks that there “is a need to pause.”

Tweet from Jessica Hutchison (@Jessichutchison) On police funding (Canada)  “Imagine living in a community where children are literally starving but politicians give police an $18.3 million budget increase.  Oh, wait we don’t need to imagine it as Waterloo Region is this community.  It doesn’t have to be this way. #RefundTheCommunity “

Tweet from Southern Poverty Law Center: On the Proud Boys (US)  “Cassie Miller, SPLC senior research analyst, comments on the Proud Boys’ focus on anti-LGBT action.  “While the Proud Boys used to largely host rallies where they were the headliners, now they come in to act as the muscle for other reactionary groups.”

Tweet from Antonio Guterres  (@antonioguterres):  On Immigration  “There is no migration crisis; there is a crisis of solidarity.  We must expand & diversify rights-based pathways for migration & push for greater international support for investments in countries of origin to ensure migration is a choice, not a necessity.”  #MigrantsDay

The Marshall Project (US) – Christie Thompson
Mental Health Care is Broken. Is Police Hospitalizing More People the Answer?   In New York City and other areas across the country some leaders are pushing to forcefully commit more people.

New York City has resurrected an older program, once abandoned for the same current objections, is finding greater acceptance across the country.  Police can again send people who appear to be mentally ill to an institution for assessment under a temporary hold without warrant or any other criteria than personal impressions.  New York Mayor Eric Adams calls the move “a moral obligation.”  “Across the country, communities are debating how to fix a broken mental health care system, and what role involuntary treatment should play. Wrapped up in this debate are mounting political fights over public safety and housing, with many politicians and news outlets equating homelessness with mental illness, and both with violence and crime. Research shows most people with mental illness are not violent, and that they are far more likely to be victims of crime than the general population.”  Critics also point out that, even if successful in its goals, the move will require considerable addition to the current mental health services, likely a serious political and health services obstacle to any improvement.

CBC News – John Paul Tasker
‘This has to stop,’ senator says as Red Chamber costs balloon by 70%   Number of Senate bureaucrats has risen more than 30 per cent in just 5 years

While the House of Commons has seen 40% increase over the last seven years, the Senate has seen a 70% increase largely in full time staff.  While Tasker presents a budgetary and fiscal story, Canadians may want to look at the capacity for the senate to eb a sober second opinion on Canada’s legislation.  Has the active involvement of the Senate led to better governance in those years?  The discussion seems headed for a political party view debate rather than an effective governance debate.