Prisoners speak: Tales from the hole

Pinegrove Provincial Correctional Centre. PHOTO: BRADLEY RUSZKOWSKI

You’re alone, hemmed in by four walls. You get a book, a paper and a safety pencil – a radio, perhaps. At night, you can’t see the stars.

A guard checks on you once an hour. It’s your main human contact. For one hour, you’re let out of the cell. You shower, then pace around the yard.

There is no one else there.

That’s life in the segregation unit at Pine Grove Correctional Centre. Inmates call it “the hole.”

Megan Mandes spends a lot of time in the hole. Her longest stint, she claims, was 52 days straight. Altogether, she calculates, she’s spent nine of fourteen months at Pine Grove in segregation.

The hardest part is figuring out how to pass the time. Inmates spend 23 hours a day in their cells. Even out on the yard, the monotony continues.

“You just stand around,” Mandes said. “There’s a little pathway that goes to a little gate, and I just walk back and forth.”

Kaylynn Smoke does the same thing. At least, she said, you can look up.

“You just walk around and look at the sky,” she said.

At Pine Grove – at all provincial prisons, in fact – inmates go to segregation for two reasons. The first is discipline. Saskatchewan’s Correctional Services Act authorizes segregation as a form of punishment, to a maximum of ten days straight.

But some prisoners, like Mandes, are confined for much longer. The Act places no limit on what’s called “administrative segregation.” Prison staff can segregate prisoners they consider a threat to the security of the prison or to the safety of other inmates. They can also use administrative segregation to prevent self-harm, or to protect an ongoing investigation.

The main safeguard is a review process. A panel considers each segregation case within two days after a prisoner is confined, and every 21 days thereafter. According to regulations, the review must include an assessment by a medical professional.

 

For more on this story, please see the Dec. 24 subscription-based print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.

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