Melvin Miller's plea against solitary confinement, uttered in 1975 echoes
Kyd Wake's plea from Gloucester Penitentiary in 1796. Melvin Miller was
visibly shaken after giving his evidence. Dr. Stephen Fox, in his testimony,
commented on the continuing effect of Miller's experience in solitary.
Miller cannot be subjected any further ...There is
no question that he is ready to die rather than do any more of that ...I
think that what we saw here when Miller consented, much maybe against
his will, to try to convey to this Court some of what he felt from that
experience, he did so at incredible cost to himself, because to go back
there has shaken him and uprooted him and distressed him beyond what he
had anticipated. He didn't want to go back there in his mind, and he went
back for this court ...to demonstrate what the nature of this thing is
and for the benefit of the court to understand the nature of it, but only
at great cost to himself at this time.77
At the time of the trial Jack McCann had probably spent more time in
solitary than any other prisoner in the Canadian penitentiary system.
This is how he described his feelings about his years in solitary confinement.
I think treatment in SCU is terrible. I am reminded
every day I wake up and when I go to sleep. Men put up there with no concrete
reason, no way of knowing how long they'll be up there, no decent answers
to questions. No good communication to classification officers -the lies,
the deceit, the stringing along, no one would ever be straight with me.
The harm it had on others was most affecting on me. It hurt me, I was
close to that point myself many times. I had no physical outlet for emotions.
I used to break down and cry. Persons mutilating would not even get stitched
up by a doctor, just bandaged by nurses and then brought back. I've never
slashed up, maybe I am a moral coward, but I want to die my way, not their
All you live on in SCU is bitterness and hatred. For
some guys that's not enough. Their hatred reaches the point when they
have to see blood, even if it is their own ...
Up there I have fears of losing my sanity, fears of
losing my friends, fears of myself. There is no physical fear, I can put
up with that.78
Jack McCann gave evidence that in 1967, while he was in SCU, on three
successive days other prisoners slashed themselves. He was given the job
of cleaning up the blood in their cells. McCann 'begged and pleaded to
be let out of solitary.' Yet another prisoner slashed himself. McCann
could take no more and he set himself on fire in his cell. He described
to the court what he saw as the flames engulfed him: 'I remember watching
the space beneath the door get bigger. I thought I could crawl beneath
it and be free ...I wanted to get out -I don't care if I die, I never
want to go back to that position again.'79
In a letter to a friend written in July 1972, McCann explained his feelings:
What am I anyway? a moral coward because I can't end
it ...Do they really think I'm a mental case that can't associate with
other people. If this is their thinking, why keep me here when they can
send me to the bughouse. I'll tell you why, because they don't know what
I am and they reject the words of the people who know me. You know something,
I don't think they believe I'm human. They can' To them I'm some sort
of object, yet undefined, that they must fool around with once in a while
to amuse themselves. Dear, I'm not only frustrated, I'm bitter. I think
I'm a real first -class cynic. I question their motives on anything or
everything and don't believe a word they say any more. I am ...envious.
Not envious of your freedom on the street as much as your freedom to the
right to fresh air and freedom to the sunshine.80
McCann gave evidence that when he was returned to the population after
five years of solitary confinement he felt 'lost in the fresh air.' When
McCann escaped in 1973, he got in touch with a member of the press and
asked him to publicize the condition of men in solitary confinement. He
also stated that his escape was precipitated by rumours that he was going
back into solitary.
Dr. Stephen Fox, in commenting on the effects of solitary on McCann, said,
'self-immolation, setting yourself on fire ...is as far into it as I can
imagine anyone can go, into total insanity, of reduction to nothing, the
hopelessness, the meaninglessness, the violence, the cycle of destruction.'81
On the cumulative effect of McCann's long years in solitary, Dr. Fox states
that 'there is a scepticism and a doubt about the nature of himself and
his own ability to deal in any positive way with another human being.
There is a serious undermining of the capacity to feel and to communicate.
There is a substantial anger which endangers everyone, endangers himself
and those around him, not physically, but endangers his relationship to
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