During this time I suffered severe mental and physical
abuse. To give you one example, I was once placed in what is called a
Chinese cell. At the time I was placed in this cell there was nothing
in it but the bare walls and a hole in the floor for a toilet. I was confined
in this cell for 30 days with no clothes, no shower or washing, no exercise
and a restricted diet. I was also subjected to being sprayed with a chemical-
mace - and given a physical beating. The reasons for this, I was told,
was that the guards were not satisfied with the time I was given and were
getting even. This was easy for them to do as I was in the hole and isolated.
As a result of this I attempted suicide on numerous occasions. Finally
I slashed myself so bad I passed out from loss of blood and had to be
taken to an outside hospital' for a blood transfusion. While I was receiving
the transfusion I regained consciousness to see the hospital room full
of prison guards. I was in a state of shock, thinking the prison guards
were going to beat on me again. I jumped from my bed in fear and dove
through a window. As a result of this I fell four floors, breaking my
back in three places.29
On his transfer to the British Columbia Penitentiary Oag was placed in
SCU. He testified that he had extreme difficulty in obtaining proper medication
and treatment for his broken back, that prescribed medication was not
received for weeks at a time, and that on one occasion when he was put
The plaintiffs also all referred to Jacques Bellemaire. They testified
that while in SCU Bellemaire developed a delusion that there was a 'machine'
in his cell which was trying to get him. Andy Bruce recounted an incident
in which Bellemaire, while out of his tier on exercise, came to Bruce's
window and told him that a 'machine' had held him while Bruce was slashing
his arms with razor blades. Bruce asked him to show him the cuts and Bellemaire
pointed to various places on his arms. As Bruce put it, 'I guess they
were there to him but there was nothing there that I could see'32
The terror of Bellemaire's delusions became so overwhelming that he set
fire to his cell in order to rid himself of the 'machine.' Mel Miller
gave evidence that he had written to the solicitor-general stating that
Bellemaire was not fit to be in solitary confinement. He testified that
he had shown his letter and the solicitor-general's reply to the director,
and that he had told the psychiatrist that unless Bellemaire was released
he would die in solitary.
I interviewed Jacques Bellemaire in May 1974. Bellemaire spoke little
English and I arranged to interview him again with a French interpreter.
He told me of the machine in his cell that was trying to destroy him.
On the occasions that I saw Bellemaire he appeared to be a man utterly
without hope. Whereas the lawsuit was seen by other prisoners in SCU as
a prospect for change, its initiation seemed to offer no comfort to Jacques
Bellemaire. Five days after my last interview with him, Bellemaire hanged
himself in solitary confinement. Andy Bruce was in the cell next to Bellemaire
when he died.
He didn't actually hang himself. He just tied that
thing around his neck and just laid down and died and that was it, and
then after he died [the nurse] came up there, just the way they hauled
him out, it got me really hot. They just threw him on a blanket and dragged
him off the tier, and left the guy's legs and arms dragging along the
floor. I was screaming at them about that.33
Jack McCann testified that just before Bellemaire hanged himself he told
McCann, 'the machine says I am dying today.'
It should have become apparent that the conditions of solitary confinement
in SCU extended beyond the physical dimensions of imprisonment, harsh
as they were. Dr. Stephen Fox, one of the expert witnesses called by the
plaintiffs, told the court, 'it takes more than just a concrete vault
to make it what it is ...It is not the case that the physical facility
alone constitutes the pain and suffering ...To understand the extent of
the cruelty [we must consider] the administrative environment and the
The special correctional unit is different from the rest of the penitentiary
in ways that go beyond the physical differences in the cells, the denial
of access to work and hobbies, and the restrictions on exercise. The separation
from the ordinary prison world is marked by more than the presence of
another set of locked doors. In SCU the worst things about prisons -the
humiliation and degradation of the prisoners, the frustration, the despair,
the loneliness, and the deep sense of antagonism between the prisoners
and the guards -are intensified. The distinctiveness of SCU is palpable.
At the trial, the prisoners tried to describe to the court some of the
manifestations of the distinctive atmosphere of SCU. Typically, their
descriptions related to the nature of their interaction with the guards
because it is in that relationship that much of the desperation and hostility
of the place is concentrated.
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