Ontario Prisoner Punished on False Grounds

*After the publication of this article, BASICS learned that Nathanael Williams has been transferred to a prison in Quebec, where he is currently continuing his sentence.

by Sara Jaffri

Nathanael Williams, a 34-year old prison inmate in Kingston, Ontario, is currently under solitary confinement. He will be forcibly relocated across the country to Alberta at a moment’s notice as punishment for an act of self-defense. The transfer will take him away from his family and his network of support.

Williams has spent the past 18 years serving a life sentence in the maximum security section of the Collins Bay Institution, a multilevel correctional facility. In April of this year, authorities reacted to an incident involving Williams by removing him from his regular cell and placing him into solitary confinement, where he continues to live in complete isolation.

The incident was documented by Justin Newrick, a law student in Osgoode Hall, who reviewed the details of Williams’ case and determined that he had acted to protect himself from other inmates who attacked him.

Speaking from prison with BASICS, Williams shares that the decision to transfer him to Alberta came along with an extension of time he has to serve on his sentence. He also recognizes that the administrative expenses of charging inmates within prison are often overlooked by the tax-paying public.

“You can’t add more time on to a life sentence,” says Williams. “That’s redundant. On top of which, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) had to transfer me back into the judicial system to find me guilty of a ‘charge’, and that costs money.”

The CSC and authorities at Collins Bay are not held accountable for their failure to prevent attacks within prison. Meanwhile, an inmate found guilty for an act of self-defence faces serious consequences. Following such an incident, prison authorities intensify unjust punishment by sporadically placing inmates in complete segregation, regardless of who is really at fault.

Furthermore, inmates like Williams are continuously kept in maximum security and denied transfer to medium security prisons, which have slightly better living conditions and are a bit more conducive to rehabilitation.

Finally, putting a charge on an inmate’s record pushes them further away from any chance of parole. Williams had maintained a clean record for the past year and a half, but because of the current charge, he will not be eligible for a hearing at the parole board for another two years.

Williams’ experience at Collins Bay is just one example of how the prison system actively prevents inmates from working towards reintegrating people back into society.

 

Nathanael Williams, currently being held at Collins Bay Institute in Kingston, Ontario. Photo credit: Charlyn Ellis

 

“You become a better criminal in prison,” says Williams. “The prison system is not to rehabilitate, but to punish people.”

Williams is more than familiar with parole being kept out of his reach. In all of the 18 years he has been in prison, he has never once been granted parole. It is simply too easy for prison authorities to invent arbitrary charges and deliberately undermine an inmate’s chance for the limited freedom that parole grants.

“You could be on the phone, and a guard can pass and hear your conversation, and actually frame anything you say as an ‘incident’ to report you for. That can affect your ability to go in front of the parole board.”

“You are really set up to fail. In order for you to avoid being reported on, you’d have to stay in your cell every single day. You’d have to stop being social at all.”

When Williams is transferred to Alberta, he will be disconnected from his mother, Charlyn Ellis, who lives in Toronto and will no longer be able to visit as frequently.

“There is no support for him in Alberta,” says Ellis. “His family lives here in Ontario. He had almost reached that stage where he could go to a medium security facility where conditions for family to meet inmates are easier, and now he cannot.”

Ellis has been fighting Williams’ transfer to Alberta, as well as providing support to incarcerated youth over the years. Ellis’ years of work include founding Not a Lost Cause, a non-profit organization dedicated to prison inmates, in addition to collaborating with anti-prison coalitions on numerous initiatives. These include letter-writing drives, fundraising for resources, and generally building a support system to connect inmates to their loved ones through phone calls.

The CSC and Collins Bay’s system of tarnishing inmate records and resorting to transfers has severe consequences for the lives and families of prison inmates.

“The real work of prison rehabilitation has fallen on inmates’ family members and activists in the community,” says Ellis.

For Williams, the struggle to survive in Collins Bay continues under harsher circumstances in solitary confinement. Soon, he will be isolated further and forced to live out the terms of an endless process of unjust punishment in Alberta, removed from even the little bit of support an inmate can hope for from their family and community members.

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