1. In Burnside, Without Medication

This week, I have been going back and forth to court with a friend’s son. Of course, you don’t plan to have to go all week, or to have to go from courthouse to courthouse as the case gets transferred around, but that’s the way things happen. It’s stressful enough going to court and waiting and not knowing what’s going to happen only to have the case put off until the next day, and then until the next week, and that’s when you can leave court and go back to work, or home.

Obviously, it’s far more stressful to be the person applying for bail or waiting for a hearing. Obviously, it’s stressful to wait in the cells all morning to have the case put off until the afternoon and then put off again, and to go back and forth being searched and being put in handcuffs, and being pulled out of bed early to wait in cold cells, and sitting in the van in shackles, and waiting for the lawyer to come talk to you, and knowing your family and friends have been pulled away from work, and not knowing if you’ll be out or if you have to prepare yourself for another week or month or months in jail.

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And now imagine all that without the medication you need.

When Maureen MacDonald resigned this week, it was agreed that one of her legacies as Health Minister was the province’s mental health strategy. Appropriate mental health care — access to treatment, early interventions, affordable medication, increased service delivery, etc. — is not only an issue of medical care, it also has a huge impact on incarceration.

We know this, in the way that we also know that prisons are our largest “warehouses” for mentally ill people, or that solitary confinement is most often and destructively used on mentally ill inmates. That is to say, we “know” these things, and we know they are a problem, but the details and the reality of mental health care in jail aren’t really something we see discussed or that we understand.


For my friend, since he turned himself in on a breach, he has been without medication for four days. Some of the reason he needs medication comes from previous incarcerations, and the trauma that results from imprisonment. Now he is back in this traumatic situation at a highly stressful time while he withdraws from medication, without the tools he needs to help control his conditions, while he has to also try to understand legal advice and make decisions about his defence. His family is left to try to intervene, to get the temporary, overworked lawyer to advocate with the jail, to try to call over themselves, to get a list from the pharmacy of the medications — all while hoping that nothing happens while he is off his needed medication.

We say medical care is a right, that mental health care is a human right. But in overcrowded jails, where the medical staff doesn’t have full access to records, where people are coming in and out off the streets, where there isn’t full-time care and adequate mental health care to start with, there’s no way to get adequate treatment. And then when people who are off their medication struggle, they end up being disciplined and put into solitary confinement, or put on a level and locked into their cells, all of which adds more stress and makes their conditions worse.

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I keep hearing these reports from people inside. Sometimes people are cut off medication because the jail doesn’t have the same brand they use. People have told me they have had their dosage reduced because of policy. Sometimes people are accused of “cheeking” medication (hiding it in their mouths and saving it to sell, etc.) which results in being cut off. Many people have told me that at the “new jail” (Pictou) when you first come in, you are cut off medication while they assess what you are taking.

Managing medication for hundreds of people is obviously difficult. People do save their medication and sell it, and that is dangerous and something that needs to be monitored. Sometimes people are taking street drugs and self-medicating and sorting that out is difficult. For people who aren’t seeing a doctor regularly — which is very likely for people without stable housing, employment, people living on the streets, etc. — medical records aren’t going to be complete or even particularly available. Sometimes the only mental health care people are getting is in jail, and keeping track of those prescriptions as people are transferred from jail to jail and come in and out is complicated. The kinds of resources it would take to offer proper assessment and diagnosis and monitoring just aren’t available with limited staff on limited time.

But for the prisoners, whatever the reason you are cut off, it means punching the wall and breaking your hand when the anxiety is too much (and then waiting two weeks for an X-ray.) It means starting to hallucinate and ending up in solitary confinement. In extreme cases, it means ending up in restraints, or strapped into “the chair” to “control” your behaviour. It means becoming suicidal and going to health care and being put in the suicide cell which is so unbearable that then you pretend you aren’t suicidal any more. It means having people around constantly and being double-bunked and having no space or quiet while you withdraw, and not being able to take that until you explode. It means falling into an intense depression while you wait for your medication, or not being able to focus because of your ADHD, or sleeping all day, or not being able to sleep at all because you haven’t slept without sleepers for years. And then if you yell or get in a fight or hit something or “freak out,” you get punished, as if the problem is that you need discipline and not that you need your prescribed medication.

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And for families, it means getting a call from your child or partner or brother or sister where they are suicidal, or they’re in the hole, or they’re screaming or hallucinating or self-harming.

And the flip side of it all, and because there isn’t adequate psychiatric care or counselling particularly in the provincial jails, is that often the reason you’re on so much medication in the first place is because without counselling to deal with problems, it’s easier to medicate them. Can’t sleep because of the anxiety of being in jail awaiting trial? Take sleepers. Depressed because you’re in jail away from your family and you lost your job and your housing? Take something. Scared because you’re small and on a range where you might have to fight? Take anti-anxiety medication. Because being in jail no matter what is going to be terrifying and stressful and hard to deal with. And then people get used to the medication and need it, and then when you get cut off, it’s awful.

I imagine maybe people reading this and thinking, “We can’t even pay for the hospital and you want us to worry about a bunch of prisoners?” But medical care doesn’t stop being a human right because you’re in prison, and especially because, for those on remand, you haven’t even been found guilty of anything and may not be. Having a mental health strategy doesn’t just matter for people we decide are “good” or “deserving,” and it particularly matters when having access to those services and treatment could prevent people from struggling with the addictions that often lead to people being convicted.

The crisis in Attawapiskat, or the crisis in Eskasoni, isn’t separate from issues of incarceration, not when Indigenous prisoners account for a hugely disproportionate number of self-harm incidents and suicide in prison just as in the rest of society. Indigenous mental health can’t be separated either from the colonial effects of imprisonment on communities when generations of children are seeing their parents incarcerated, and are often being placed into care as  a result.


“Once our crisis was out of the headlines, all our funding dried up,” said Sharon Paul-Rudderham, the health director at Eskasoni. Whether it’s in Attawapiskat or in Burnside, waiting until there’s a crisis or until a tragedy is too late. We shouldn’t have to wait for suicides in Attawapiskat to know there is a problem, and we shouldn’t wait for suicides or overdoses or violent attacks or whatever we think would be “bad” enough to recognize a problem in our jails and prisons. Nobody doesn’t “deserve” mental health care, and your right to medication or treatment doesn’t correspond to the length of your record.

And if we want to be “tough on crime,” the best thing we can do is to invest in mental health treatment both before people go to prison and while they are inside.

2. Where’s Rebel News for This?

The fallout from the Chronicle Herald’s xenophobic refugee story continues, with Lezlie Lowe quitting the newspaper.

I was reading this article in The Coast on Lindell Smith’s bid for city council, which notes:

“Smith grew up on Gottingen Street, around the corner from the Halifax North Memorial Library he now works at as a community assistant, focusing on teen programming. He went to school at St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary (now under review), then later St. Pat’s-Alexandra (now sold to Jono Developments) before heading to St. Patrick’s High School (now demolished).”

This quote neatly sums up the precarious nature of schools in the North End, where the city is constantly closing, demolishing, reviewing, or otherwise deciding that schools are not necessary to the community.

The unsubstantiated reports about violent refugee children has focused attention on Chebucto Heights Elementary School. Meanwhile, 50 or so refugee children have been attending Joseph Howe, which had fewer than 100 students before the arrival of the refugees. It’s interesting that schools like Joseph Howe are “superfluous” and need to be closed, until there’s a crisis and then it’s Joe Howe that’s taking in refugee kids. And despite all the negative press the Square gets and all the stereotypes of people living there, it wasn’t the Square parents who went to the media complaining about refugees.


Despite the lack of services already faced by people in the North End, and the constant threats of losing what services there are, you aren’t seeing those parents attacking refugees in the news.

And the reality is even though it’s “Canada” welcoming refugee families, it’s the neighbourhoods with public housing that are actually supporting and caring for and accommodating refugee families. It’s not the South End schools that are being asked to teach large number of refugee children; it’s the same schools that are constantly having their resources cut, their teachers moved, their stability threatened. It’s the parents of children who already face incredible obstacles in the school system, the most underserved students who are already struggling for equal education, who are being asked to have those slim resources stretched further.

It is the neighbourhoods where people are struggling for housing and facing eviction, where people lack access to food, where there is little access to health care, that are actually housing refugee families. And despite the fact that the people in those neighbourhoods are already fighting to house and educate and feed their children after years of cuts to services and deliberate shortages and lack of access to resources and dealing with their neighbourhoods being stigmatized and their families being criminalized and being driven out — those communities are welcoming refugees, and are proud that refugee kids go to their kids’ school, and are working with their children to understand new communities of people, and are working with their schools and communities to help deal with the challenges.

It’s funny how that story doesn’t make the news.

3. Let Nova Scotia be Great

God, people are so sensitive.

Like, all these social justice race and gender commies in Nova Scotia who are so anti-business that they would drum out a successful businessman just because of a mere 29 deaths.

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The man who ran a West Virginia mine that exploded six years ago, killing 29 miners, is no longer involved in plans to reopen Donkin Mine.

Nova Scotia objected to Chris Blanchard operating the Cape Breton coal mine after learning of his connection to the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Labour Minister Kelly Regan said there were eerie similarities between what led to that explosion and the one that killed 26 miners at the Westray Mine in Plymouth, N.S., in 1992.

Those concerns were passed along to Kameron Collieries, which will operate Donkin.

“We indicated that to them that we weren’t comfortable with this individual being involved in the day-to-day management of the mine because of what had happened in West Virginia,” she said.

This is why Nova Scotia is so backwards! Why can’t we embrace risk! It’s a culture of defeat here, I tell you. This was a whole six years ago, like Paris Hilton was still popular then.

A U.S. Department of Labour investigation into the West Virginia mine explosion said “corporate culture was the root cause of the tragedy.” That workplace culture “valued production over safety, and broke the law as they endangered the lives of their miners.”

The explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine was triggered by a methane ignition and fuelled by coal dust, which is exactly what happened at the Westray Mine. Investigators in both instances found evidence of worker intimidation and advance notice of inspections, as well as the buildup of explosive levels of coal dust.

This article highlights some of the most tragic points from the report on the UBB disaster, including:

For example, section foreman Dean Jones came home practically every day complaining there wasn’t enough air, his wife said. He told his bosses about the problem, but action was never taken. When Dean finally took matters in his own hands and shut down the section for lack of air, this is how his boss responded.

Chris Blanchard called the dispatcher and told him to tell Dean if he didn’t get the section running in so many minutes he would be fired. Being fired was a scary prospect for a man whose 14-year-old son had a serious illness. “Chris Blanchard knows that my son has cystic fibrosis, he knew my husband needed the insurance and would have to work,” [Dean’s wife] said.

Well, who hasn’t disabled a few methane detectors so that production could continue.

One can only imagine the job interview (was there one?): “What would you say is your greatest weakness?” “Oh, disabling safety equipment, intimidating workers, violating safety standards, creating dangerous conditions. Also, I’m a  perfectionist and I stay at work long hours.”

I feel comfortable with that! You’re hired, go getter!

Blanchard was on the program for the June 18-19 2015 annual meeting for the Mining Society of Nova Scotia, so it only took, oh, at least 10 months for someone to use Google. Seems reasonable.

Local Xpress has a longer and greatly detailed piece here.

4. What a drag

Man, you can’t do anything in Nova Scotia these days. Can’t have 29 deaths on your hands, can’t have your company bid on contracts without declaring a conflict of interest (like, what is even the point of being an elected official), can’t taser disabled veterans and twist the security camera to face the wall, can’t eat berries with hepatitis A (the real nature’s touch).

Sure, we’re advertising for Americans to come here to escape Trump, but do they know you can’t even tase the elderly in this so-called land of freedom? God, next they’ll be setting a limit of no more than 25 corporate deaths if you want to work here.


El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. Depressingly great ‘Burnside Without Medication’ article. Investing in mental health treatment is the ideal but HOW? We need Clinical Social Workers, Addiction Counselors and Psychiatric Nurses tenfold and FULL TIME in correction facilities. People in desperate need wait-to-be worthy of one appointment with a mental health professional whose intervention and drug prescription could save their lives…Our society must make addiction and mental health assistance available street side, with a Health card, without the protocol and WITH a Counselor.