I had my first official brush with law enforcement on September 28th 2011. I was arrested by members of D.A.R.T and S.W.A.T teams. I was brought to the Elgin Street police station and charged with two counts of Organized Crime and two counts of Conspiracy to Traffic Narcotics. I was allowed to call a lawyer before I was interrogated. After interrogation and finger printing I was held in a miniature holding cell for over 28 hours. During this time I was not allowed a blanket or a pillow, I was stuck wearing only an undershirt, jeans and a pair of socks. Calling it cold in that cell block would be an understatement, it was one of the worst experiences of my entire life, and may never be surpassed. I was given meager food and drink but for the most part I was completely ignored and left to freeze.
Being transferred to the court house was a reprieve from the hell I had been enduring at Elgin Street. Once at the court house I was put in one of the large bull pen style holding cells to await my chance to get in front of a judge. I wasn’t even put before a judge; I was brought into a room after meeting with my lawyer where I was on video conference with a Justice of the Peace who remanded me into custody without any hesitation. I might add that none of the allegations against me were proven in court and I had no previous arrests or criminal record. I was then brought back down to the bull pen to await transfer to OCDC. I awaited the trip to OCDC with both hesitation and anticipation. I was pissed because I was being sent to jail but I was just as happy to know that I would be given a shower, warm clothes, a hot mean and a real bed. When I got through the admission doors into processing I was so sleep deprived and emotionally unstable that it went by in a blur. I barely even noticed that the bull pen cell I was being held in awaiting processing was covered in piss and other bodily fluids, it was disgusting to the point that even though I was physically and mentally exhausted I couldn’t bring myself to sit down anywhere inside that room.
When it was time to go to my cell, the guard led me down to 1 wing, which is the weekend and overflow cellblock. My first impression of a real prison cell wasn’t that bad, I had a cell to myself, there was a desk and attached chair in the cell and I even found a book stuffed under the mattress. Not that I was awake long to read It, the moment my head hit that pillow and I had a blanket over me I passed out.
The next morning the guards woke me up to be transported back to the courthouse for another bail hearing of sorts. I don’t really understand what the point of this was because I didn’t even get to see a judge, I merely saw my lawyer who informed me that the crown was never going to consent to giving bail to the “enforcer” for a criminal organization. Looking back what I find strange is that the word alleged was never used in that sentence. So off I went back to OCDC, but the difference was that this time would be that I would be placed in my semi-permanent home in one of the maximum security cell blocks. I ended up being placed in the 2 range, block B cell number 1. It was like walking into another universe. I was a known gang member so I was used to being introduced to dangerous situations and over my years I had learned to listen to my intuition, and at that moment my intuition was telling me I didn’t want to be there.
My cell was dismal to put it lightly. It was a small room with a heavy door on rollers. There was a window but 90% of it was covered in a riveted steel plate so that only 2 inches of it was open. Even on the brightest of sunny days it would not let much light in. There was a set of steel bunk beds bolted to the left wall, and a toilet and sink on the right wall. My cell mate was already in there and had already made up his residence on the bottom bunk.
Over the time that I was there, my cell flooded twice. I don’t mean just a little film of water but a palpable amount, when it was raining hard I could watch it flow down the wall and onto the floor. Apart from making the cell uncomfortable and cold, it caused other health issues. I would try and do push-ups and sit up on the floor as a way to keep busy and get some exercise at the same time. In the days that would follow a flood I would find rashes spreading from the palms of my hands up my wrists, as well as on my lower back whenever I worked out on the floor. I could feel my personal hygiene slipping the longer I stayed there. The razors made available to me could barely shave a few thin strands of hair let alone what I had growing on my face. By the end of my stay my moustache had fallen over both of my lips and food and other particles had taken up residence inside. My finger nails also grew to a disgusting length. For the 24 inmates on my block, there was only one set of nail clippers for all of us to share. I opted out of using them because I never saw them get properly sanitized and I had no intentions of contracting any kind of disease. The best we could do for sanitizing something was trying to get the water as hot as it could go and running them under it for a few minutes.
I quickly fell into the routine that was prison life inside OCDC. Knowing that there are 24 hours in a day, once the prison schedule is broken down between time in and out of my cell it breaks down to 15 hours in lockdown and 9 hours out on the range. During my 9 hours of our cells, we would be lucky to get 20 minutes of yard time a couple times a week. There was one span of 8 days where we didn’t breathe fresh air. It was up to the guards discretion if we got to go out into the exercise yard. To call it a yard is up to interpretation. It was a slab of concrete surround by high chain link fences. There were two rusted basketball hoops pointlessly sitting at either end of the yard. I say pointless because to have made use of them we would have needed a ball. But of course having a ball to play with seems to be a privilege that we didn’t deserve. We would try and make due by shoving a t-shirt inside a sock and using that as a ball. Other than that we would walk around the fence line round and round trying to stretch out the muscles in our legs. You could see the anticipation building when we were told we would get some yard time, just to change up the monotony of prison life.
I witnessed violence and intimidation on an almost daily basis on my cell block. It wasn’t always what was portrayed in the media, all out bloody brawls leaving individuals requiring medical attention. Sometimes it was as simple as someone getting muscled out for a portion of their food, or getting kicked out of their seat because someone else wanted it. Inside the cell block it was broken down to the most basic of principles, survival of the fittest, or in this case the biggest and strongest. Violence was only directed towards me once, and it wasn’t for anything that I personally did. I happened to be friends with someone that these people had problems with, and since they couldn’t get their hands on that person, they settled for taking it out on me. This was not a case of one person coming to take up a beef with me, I was brought into a cell out of site from the guards, surrounded by three inmates and pinned up against the wall by my throat to receive my beating. When this happened I thought about fighting back, but as I was being accused of being the enforcer for a criminal organization I didn’t want to be going in front of a judge with busted up knuckles. Not to mention if I had tried to fight back, the beating would have been a whole lot worse than it was. I spent a lot of time the next few months after I got out wondering what the point of it all had been, I couldn’t come up with a rational answer.
After I took my beating, everything fell back into routine, days passed by with card games, television shows, and paperback novels, nothing constructive ever took place. I compare it now to being stored in a maximum security warehouse like overstock from a department store. Those 21 days that I spent locked up awaiting bail felt like years, there was nothing offered to help make the time pass, nothing to keep our minds off the reality that was before us.
Recently I was sentence to 2, 90 day intermittent sentences, meaning that they were to be served on weekends. When I got to the jail for processing I asked one of the guards what the numbers were like in the cells. He told me that there were at least 2 and often 3 people to every cell. I was curious if they would send me home if there was no space for me, his words to me were “we will find a place for you, we will staple you to the ceiling if we have too.”
I was then told what the conditions those who were spending weekends in jail were being made to deal with. There were anywhere from 2-4 people to each cell, cells that were made for double occupancy. Inmates spend 60 hours locked in their cells, and the only time that those doors open is when food is being distributed. Apart from that the inmates are not allowed out of their cells. No showers, no yard time, no phone calls, no visits. They will not even allow them to have books, or paper and pens. Needless to say I am glad that I was accepted into the intermittent work program, so that I didn’t have to spend those weekends in a cell.
From another former prisoner:
I lived in OCDC for 16 months. For my first 6 months I lived triple-bunked in an 8×10 cell designed for 2, for the last 10 months, triple-bunked in a cell designed for 1. There’s nothing you can do to keep your cell, which is your home, clean. You have 20 square feet of personal space, which will be filthy. Sand, dirt, dust and hair accumulate uncontrollably.
I lived for 10 months sleeping on the floor. Segregation cells do not have bunk-beds. They are designed for a temporary stay of 1. You have a choice, determined by seniority, when sleeping on the floor. You can sleep in front of the sliding metal door, or you can sleep with your head 2 feet from the communal toilet with no lid. There are tradeoffs, in front of the door you don’t risk having your pillow sprayed with urine in the middle of the night by your cellmate in the dark, but your bed is now a transitway. Anytime your cellmates leave or enter the cell, they walk across your bed. When they take medications 3 times daily, they stand on your bed. When they brush their teeth, they’re on your bed. Anytime the guards enter the cell, they walk on your bed, depositing outdoor muck onto your sheets.
Though I could never quite see my breath, it’s cold. In the winter it’s so cold you will shiver all day. Your only clothing is an orange shirt and a coarse one-piece jumpsuit. You learned how to tie a towel around your head in such a way that it kept the ears warm. The guards tell you to take it off, supposedly it’s a gang symbol.
I had a pillow for the first 8 months, but one day the guards changed my mattress during a cell search, for one with a “built in pillow”. My arms went numb every night for a month on this new mattress, with its “built in pillow”. Eventually I figured out how to position myself so I could sleep without causing unbearable pain in my shoulders and back.
I say cell searches, but I do mean strip searches. Sometimes we were strip searched 3 or 4 days in a row. Since you have nothing, everything is precious to you. A golf pencil, a novel, pad of paper, newspaper, are all you will ever possess. The guards deliberately make as much of a mess as possible. Your bedding is strewn everywhere, from time to time something lands in the toilet and you need to dry it out. If you have too much food (more than 1 or 2 single-serving packages of peanut butter, jam, etc.) it will be confiscated. Letters or pictures from friends and family are torn, stepped on, thrown about. Everything you have will be ripped, stepped on, confiscated. Nothing is left undamaged. It’s intentional, everyone knows this. In federal penitentiaries – where the likelihood of finding weapons, contraband is much higher – there is no comparable disruption or damage to your property during a search, it’s conducted respectfully and maturely.
The food is disgusting. You could smell the food even before it enters the range, and want to vomit. The smell is so sickening, a lot of inmates won’t allow certain dishes to enter their cells. Forget about the taste, much of it is literally inedible. There were nights when the range cleaner would roll the supper cart back off the range with every single dinner tray unopened. You’re hungry, all the time.
The difference in how you’re treated by the guards was the very first thing I noticed after moving to Millhaven. Not all, but many of the guards at OCDC are abusive, pathological bullies. They look at you the way you look at a piece of chewing gum stuck to the sidewalk. A little disgust, and total indifference.
From what I understand it’s gotten worse since I left. I’m still trying to process this, how could it be worse? How could the food be worse? Probably what’s most awful about OCDC is that this becomes normal. Going to the bathroom within 3 feet and eyesight of 2 other men becomes normal. You don’t notice your stomach growling every day. You get used to the filth. I really honestly don’t know how it could have gotten worse.
From a Mom:
• Suffering tremendous anxiety, he requests multiple times to please see psychiatrist. Requests are always denied. Told that unless he is violent, needing medication or causing trouble, he will not get to see one.
• We ordered newspapers for my son to read as there is nothing else to do, they they are not always received, they are “lost”. He said he cannot complain or he will never get his papers.
• Clothing exchanges for court appearances are a nightmare. The requests put in by my son are “lost”, he resubmits 2 or 3 times before one finally makes it through.
• I understand the visiting procedures have changed now, but when we were there to visit, some families would wait two hours to see their son, only to be told after a two hour wait, that they wouldn’t get in because time for visitors had run out.
• My son cannot eat the food and survives for months on chips and candy bars from the canteen. He loses much weight during his time there. His mouth is filled with sores and we are not allowed to bring him any salve to help take away the pain in his mouth. The medical care there did nothing to help him despite repeated requests for a treatment for his mouth.
• There is nothing for him to do. He cannot get psychiatric help, he cannot take any courses. He never gets a chance to go outside – ever.
• After my son is moved to a different unit, his mail continues to go to his old unit. The inmate who delivers the mail is reading my son’s mail out loud. I call OCDC to ask to please ensure my son’s mail does not go to his old unit and I get told, laughingly, “I can tell you ma’am, that that is absolutely going to be on the bottom of my priority list.”
• The nail clipper moves from cell to cell, never being cleaned between uses. Hep C, HIV and TB are present. He is told by his cellmate never to touch anything unless he is the first person to get it.
• On one of our visits, the two guards in the visiting room area say loudly, laughing, that they would love to get arrested and thrown in OCDC so they could shoot all the sex offenders being held there. Our son was in OCDC for sexual assault. The staff knew very well that we could hear them.
No parent can ever imagine that their child will go to jail or prison. The stark reality of the horrible conditions at OCDC hits you like a tsunami. It is not at all what I thought our justice/corrections system was about. I had no idea that people, presumed innocent until proven guilty, had to endure such horrific living conditions. In the capital city of one of the most affluent countries in the world, it is inconceivable that we treat citizens – yes, they are still citizens – like this. Imagine if it was your son, your brother, your daughter…