This is a rather tragic story of a young woman who fell into an structural blindspot of the correctional system of Canada.  Because her behaviours were so extreme, she was passed around from institution to institution, always segregated and alone with herself, often 23 hours a day.

Home for 23 hours a day?

“The death of Ashley Smith, a 19-year-old woman from New Brunswick who died of asphyxia in an Ontario prison cell while guards watched, was likely an accident, not a suicide, according to a report from a psychologist retained by the Correctional Service of Canada.  Smith was in solitary confinement — and on suicide watch — when she strangled herself with a piece of cloth in October 2007 at the Grand Valley Institute for Women, a federal prison in Kitchener, Ont.”

Ashley was escalating her self-harming behaviour.  The guards had been instructed not to intervene until she had stopped breathing, and they did not.  A sad end for a youth with serious mental health issues.

“Smith had been transferred 17 times in the final year of her life, and spent most days in isolation, shackled and handcuffed.”

Corrections Canada shuffled her around to avoid broaching the 60 day isolation cell limit.  In each new institution the 60 day clock was reset allowing her isolation to continue.  When you strip out hope and human contact nothing good can come, Ashley’s diary reflects her misery:
“If I die then I will never have to worry about upsetting my Mom again… It would have been nice today to stick my head in the lawn mower blade. F***, I really did have to hold back the urge. Maybe the next time I will give it a try.

Most people are scared to die. It can’t be any worse then living a life like mine. Being dead I think would just suit me fine. I wonder when the best time to do it would be. I’m not going to get locked because then I’m back on checks and they will expect me to act up then. I will call my Mom before bed and have one more chat. Somehow I have to let her know that none of this is her fault. I don’t know why I’m like I am but I know she didn’t do it to me. People say there is nothing wrong with me. Honestly I think they need to F***off because they don’t know what goes on in my head. When I use to try to hang myself I was just messing around trying to make them care and pay attention. Now it’s different. I want them to f***off and leave me alone. It’s no longer a joke. It kind of scares to think that they might catch me before it’s done and then I will be a vegetable for the rest of my life. That’s why the most important thing right now is to stay unlocked so they don’t think anything is up. It’s over.

Maybe I will use a brand new pair of socks. Fresh for me. No I don’t f***ing deserve a new pair of socks. I will use the old dirty ugly ones. Ha Ha that kind of explains me. Dirty and ugly. Two peas in a pot (sic). F*** THIS WORLD!!! Ha Ha. When [name omitted] told me she took me off fifteen minute checks I almost s**t myself. Can she help me anymore. I should ask her for a razor blade. Maybe she will give me that to. Joke of the day. Ashley Smith is no longer on checks. 12345 what the F*** is the point of being alive…. I can’t have another apartment visit because I’m f***ing DEAD! I want to die. I went to court yesterday and I though he was going to send me to adult! Time is running out. My chances are getting fewer and fewer. F***. I give up! I’m done trying.”

[Excerpt, Ashley Smith journal entry (September 4, 2006) New Brunswick Youth Centre]

This is an extreme case, but needs to brought into the public light so people can better understand what is being done on the correctional side of things.  Society needs to realized that more prisons and more guards are not the answer, but rather the front end social programs that help people when they are in need and help get them established in society.