Sunday, March 3, 2013 | Categories: Documentaries
If you have a child who's heading off the rails, acting out inexplicably, getting into real trouble, you might have to wait months, even years for the help they need, and a safe place for them to receive it. Psychiatric beds for young people are few. Treatment centres have endless wait lists. But the prison door is always open. And punishment is easier to dole out than care.
Canadian jails are full of young people with serious mental health problems. The young people are difficult and complicated, to be sure. And they often get much worse inside. Sometimes, they end up dead.
Ashley Smith went from throwing crab apples at postal workers to being left in a bare segregation cell with nothing but a security gown to cover herself.
More than five years ago, she choked herself to death in a federal
prison while guards stood by and watched. Her death is now the subject
of a long-awaited inquest.
Like Ashley Smith, Tona Mills was adopted when she was only a few days old. Her early years were uneventful, but as she grew older, she began throwing tantrums and lashing out.
From then on, she was in and out of trouble. She was in group
homes, juvenile jail, provincial jails at both ends of the country, then
ten years of federal prison, six in segregation. Through it all, she
was watched and assessed, over and over again. But she never got the
treatment she needed. Until one astute judge intervened. Finally, after a
diagnosis of schizophrenia, Tona Mills was released and admitted to a
mental health hospital.
Although still under supervision, and with the help of a lot of medication, she now functions in the world. She thinks a lot about what
she has been through, about the lonely, angry, attention-seeking girl
she used to be. Tona Mills feels lucky to be alive.
Devil in My Head
By Tona Mills
I'm no longer a prisoner behind the wall
But I'm not really free at all
In my mind I do carry
A world that is very scary.
The devil dances in my head
Long tail and pointed, dressed in red
And taunting me, he wants me dead.