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This knife was found in Martin Blackwind's cell the morning he was founded unconscious and bleeding to death in 2006. He was allowed to have it in his cell after being granted permission under a prison hobby craft program. ((Maureen Brosnahan/CBC))

Fellow inmates of a Manitoba aboriginal man who bled to death in 2006 in a federal penitentiary in Ontario had told prison officials weeks before his death that he needed psychiatric help, a former prisoner says.

Martin Blackwind was 52 when he slashed the artery in his left arm and bled to death in his cell at Warkworth Institution in Campbellford, Ont.

Blackwind had pushed an alarm button in his cell at 2:37 a.m. ET, but 33 minutes passed before paramedics arrived and found him unconscious and not breathing, his mattress soaked in blood. He was declared dead an hour later.

An inquest opened last week in Port Hope, Ont., and is expected to last nine days.

History of mental illness, alcoholism

Former inmate Richard Laforge, head of the aboriginal inmates group in Warkworth at the time, said there were warning signs that Blackwind's mental illness was getting worse.

Laforge, who was in the cell directly across from Blackwind the night he died in October 2006, said Blackwind had begun to hear voices and hallucinate. Shortly before, during a substance abuse program, he disclosed that he had been abused at a residential school in Manitoba decades earlier .

"They were trying to bring up stuff as to why people commit the crimes that they did, and they opened up a bad can of worms with that one," Laforge told CBC. "He had nowhere to vent and, all of a sudden, he started losing his mind within days."

Blackwind, from the Sioux Valley First Nation in Manitoba, had a troubled past, including several previous suicide attempts. He was serving a 17-year-sentence for manslaughter for the beating death of his common-law wife, Kathleen Hart.

Laforge said he and other inmates went to prison managers and nurses, urging them to help.

Prison response slammed by ombudsman

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Canada's prison ombudsman Howard Sapers has already issued a report of recommendations on the death at Warkworth Institution in 2006. ((Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press))

A Correctional Service assessment identified Blackwind's alcoholism and depression and referred him to the psychology department. But he never met with psychology staff at Warkworth after transferring there in 2000, though he did meet with the prison's psychiatrist, who worked with the institution's medical department.

Two weeks after his fellow inmates sought help for him, Blackwind took his own life.

Last week the inquest heard from corrections officers who said they couldn't find the wound on Blackwind's left arm and did not try to stop the bleeding.

Keith Payne, the lone guard on duty at the time, also told the inquest last week he waited for the arrival of two additional guards before calling for an ambulance.

Canada's prison ombudsman Howard Sapers has already issued a damning report of the incident, in which he said Correctional Services employees failed to administer first aid, determine the nature of the wound, respond in a timely manner and report information related to the death in a consistent manner.

The inquest continues this week.