Regina woman says she needed spirituality while in solitary confinement
VANCOUVER — A Regina woman who spent 3-1/2 years in solitary confinement cried Wednesday as she recalled how a spiritual ceremony led by a First Nations elder helped her through difficult times at a British Columbia prison.
BobbyLee Worm, 31, was testifying at a B.C. Supreme Court trial launched by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada over the use of indefinite solitary confinement.
Worm was sentenced to nearly six years in prison in June 2006 for armed robbery. She served time at the Edmonton Institution for Women before being transferred in July 2008 to the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford, B.C., where she occasionally participated in spiritual ceremonies.
Prison officials limited an elder to certain elements of a spiritual ceremony, she said.
“The elder would still want to see me regardless of how they were telling her how to give me my spirituality because she knows how important it was to me to have that in my life at that time,” Worm said through tears.
“It helped me keep grounded and keep myself together in order to get through those times.”
Justice Peter Leask stopped proceedings to give Worm a break from testifying about her experiences, which involved long stints in 23-hours-a-day isolation, including one term that lasted almost a year.
Worm told the trial she was handcuffed in her cell while an elder met with her through a food slot.
The constitutional challenge was filed in January 2015. The federal government tried to stop the trial, saying legislation introduced last month would impose a time limit on solitary confinement terms.
However, the two groups say a warden would still have the final say and cases such as the 2007 in-custody suicide of Ashley Smith of Moncton, N.B., could still happen. The judge rejected the government’s argument.
Correctional Service Canada maintains that so-called administrative segregation is used when inmates are difficult to manage, their safety may be at risk in the general population, or if there is no reasonable alternative to maintain the safety and security of an institution.
The court heard 50 allegations were made against Worm at the Edmonton prison, stemming from damage to property, possession and dealing of contraband, fights, assaults and uttering threats.
Worm told court she once tried suicide and said in her affidavit dated June 1 that she understood through counselling in prison that her repressed anger led her to assault inmates, leading to more time in isolation.
Her parents were intravenous drug users and she also turned to similar drug use, eventually contracting hepatitis C, she said in the affidavit.
She wanted to complete her Grade 12 education in prison but sometimes refused to participate because she was overwhelmed by trying to learn while being restrained as a teacher spoke to her through a food slot, Worm told court.
When she saw a teacher in another room, Worm said she was led out of her cell in shackles and handcuffs and learning became challenging because her hands were cuffed from behind and she couldn’t use a pencil.
“I just got tired of everything that came with it, trying to get that,” she said of a high school diploma.
Worm said she eventually earned privileges such as guitar lessons but was handcuffed during that time.
“It would have been a good nightclub act,” the judge said, to which Worm responded: “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”
In 2013, she settled a lawsuit against the federal government, filed on her behalf by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which said she’d suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of abuse her during childhood and adolescence.
Correctional Service Canada is currently required to release prisoners from administrative segregation at the earliest possible time. The proposed law would establish an initial time limit of 21 days, with a reduction to 15 days once the legislation is law for 18 months.
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