A jail cell in the north wing of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

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The prisoner El Jones spoke with last week provides an update on the situation at the Burnside jail.

What’s happening in Burnside right now?

Things are starting to deteriorate in here. Programs, resources, everything’s basically becoming non-existent.

Have any health officials been in to talk to you?

Lisa Barrett did come in and she talked to us.

What else are they doing? Have they cleaned?

Yeah, not really. They are very, very small changes. Like they’ve changed whatever the substance was inside the spray bottles. They gave us one or two more spray bottles for the whole range of everybody here.

Ultimately, they haven’t done shit.

What have they done to replace the programming?

Well, they did come in and give a couple of assignments for one program. There’s only one program being offered in the first place for only a select group of people. I don’t know how I wasn’t involved. Like, I’ve been here for years and I’ve only been able to complete two programs and I have signed up and asked to be a part of them every single time.

People fall through the cracks and I just happen to be one of them, unfortunately.

So they haven’t put anything else in place? Is there anything for mental health? Is anyone talking to people about that?

No. Mental health is actually pulling back. So now mental health is basically considered only for emergencies. I would assume that emergency only means people who are on suicide watch. I don’t know what an emergency really is.

Like me? This is going to sound fucked up to you. I’ve been asking for mental health since I came in here. I have well over two dozen receipts of health care requests asking for mental health help.

And they haven’t taken any extra measures to make sure there’s more support?

No. They actually sealed off the library, which we don’t really have access to anyway. But it does prohibit people from going down and putting some books on one of those carts and bringing them down to the range. So now we’ve got maybe twenty some books on the entire range and that’s it.

Are people sharing those?

Everybody here, it’s escalating. You can see the tension. It’s affecting everybody. People are panicking. Because, obviously, there’s a lot of people here that are dealing with pre-existing mental health issues.

And when you’re relying on other people in authority that have only shown abuse over years and years, there’s going to be a heightened sense of mistrust.

How are people coping?

Everybody’s just panicking. They’re trying, but you know, the news gets on the TV every day, and, it’s hard.

I had a bail hearing in place [information about case redacted for privacy] but the judge called and said we’re not going to go forward. It’s not an emergency. I’m really bothered by this. If I were given the opportunity for a hearing maybe I could explain myself and I’d be able to get out.

This is arguable, but I know from other people who have done time in other jails and in other provinces, this is arguably one of the worst jails in the country. For a provincial system, it’s much worse. It’s night and day difference from if you’re doing time federally where you’re able to just have more resources.

Is anybody double bunked?

No, everybody is single bunked.

Are they still using segregation?

No. Well, they are, I want to say it’s less. But what they do now is they’re sticking people on ranges and it’s a “behavioural modification range.” So they basically stick you on this range and just give you an hour or two outside your cell. Which is almost the exact same thing as the hole.

But there’s no structure to get out. So you can get over there and all they say is just behave yourself.

And that’s still open? People are still on this range right now?

Just a couple of weeks ago they pulled the last people who were over there [from December]. Some people go over there for a few days and then come right back. It’s disproportionate in every way you can think of.

Is there anything else people should know?

We don’t get visits, we don’t get programs, and it’s clearly going to get much, much worse. And it could get extremely bad immediately for all we know. Like, this could be the last phone call I get for a very long time.

So how are you feeling?

My anxiety is through the roof. I’ve got bad anxiety already. And I’ve been asking for help. Trying to get better help for myself, trying to get schooling, just trying to do something with my time. But it doesn’t matter if I can beg and beg for this, but I don’t get help.

Even though they say they offer these resources, they really don’t. I haven’t seen them. I haven’t gotten anything. I’ve been here for years, I should have been able to do something.

They are releasing people, and they’re working seven days a week now, and I see all these people pile at the door and my bail hearing gets denied. Just seeing people at those doors makes my anxiety worse.

But this is a right of mine. I didn’t even put this in because of COVID, I put it in because it’s my right.

I’m sorry, I’m all over the place.

This is an institution, and we already see what happens with just the flu or a cold. The whole argument about COVID is it’s highly transmissible, so when it passes around, people are just going to drop. There will be no stopping it.

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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. It must be terrifying for some prisoners to have little or no information on what is going on. I wonder if the province has an actual response plan in case Covid-19 does make it inside a correctional facility?