In yet another startling example of bodies that matter, a report released today accuses Corrections Canada of negligence in the death of Martin Blackwind, a Native inmate. Blackwind intentionally severed a major artery in his arm, and then hit the emergency button in his cell. It took ten minutes for staff members to call an ambulance.
According to CTV:
The report, which is based on two separate investigations, found that:
- Staff failed to extend first aid.
- Staff did not determine what Blackwind’s injuries were.
- They left him alone and locked in his cell, bleeding to death, for long stretches.
- They did not call for an ambulance until 10 minutes after the man’s distress call.
Four corrections staff have been disciplined for failing to administer first aid and failing to take action to save a human life.
Their punishments range from 10 to 20 days without pay.
- Videotaping responses to medical emergencies.
- Delivering a “diversity awareness-sensitivity program” to all correctional staff.
- Sharing all information related to inmate deaths and injuries with police in a timely fashion.
- Developing a response policy to allegation of discrimination.
Corrections Canada says it will respond fully to the recommendations and that an investigation into the discrimination allegations has already been convened.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. On October 19, 2007, 19 year old Ashley Smith was left to asphyxiate in her cell. According to CTV, Staff members allegedly saw the girl on a video monitoring system with a ligature around her neck. However, officials reportedly did not intervene immediately, believing she wasn’t seriously harming herself. Smith suffered from a mental illness.
How could it not be readily obvious that someone is trying to commit suicide when they are viewed putting a noose around their neck? Even if they thought that she was not serious, they had an obligation to intervene immediately, especially with the knowledge that she was mentally ill. I suppose saving a life was just to much effort. After all, she was a convicted criminal, why should it matter if she lived or died? Never mind that she had her whole life in front of her. Who cares what she potentially could have contributed to society. She was just a woman, and we all know what female lives are worth — nothing.
Travis McDonald, 36; Karen Eves, 52; Valentino Burnett, 47, and Blaine Phibbs, 31, have all been charged in connection to her death at Kitchener’s Grand Valley Institution.
The charges fall under a section of the Criminal Code that relates to “omitting to do anything that it is his (or her) duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.”
Another corrections officer is facing charges in connection with a separate incident with Smith at a Saskatoon prison.
Correctional supervisor John Tarala was fired from his position last September, accused of assaulting Smith.
We place so much emphasis on punishment, that once an individual is incarcerated we fail to see them as fellow human beings. The Head of the Correctional Officers Union disputed the report in Blackwells case claiming, “we did the best we could under the circumstances.” The best that they could do was to let a man bleed to death. To them Blackwell was not a man that had a family that loved him, or a life that was worth living in any regard, he was a murderer. Yes he committed a heinous crime, but he was more than that crime. No act, no matter how violent or shocking is totally descriptive of a person. Negligence in his death should have been punished by more than a 20 day suspension. Prison officials may not have inflicted the wound that led to his death however, their negligence and apathy, certainly were factors in his death.
Smith and Blackwind were both negotiating multiple locations of stigmatization, and marginalization. Blackwind was an aboriginal man, and Smith was a mentally ill woman in the Canadian penal system. Considering that we live in a ableist, racist society, is it really shocking that they were allowed to die? Both Smith and Blackwind stand as a testimony to what bodies matter in Canadian society. If you want justice in this country, you must be white, not mentally ill and certainly not incarcerated. Any combination of the above, and you could end up dead.