Books·Canadian

The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney

The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney is a book by Rik McWhinney, edited by Jason Demers.

Rik McWhinney, edited by Jason Demers

The all-white book cover features a prison cell window in the top-right corner. Three white bars cover the black square of the window.

Through poetry, letters, essays, and interviews, The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney relates the harrowing experiences of a man who spent nearly thirty-five years in the Canadian prison system.

Rik McWhinney spent thirty-four years and four months in Canada's federal penitentiaries—sixteen of those in solitary confinement. His incarceration began in the 1970s, as a system-wide war was raging over the implementation of penal reforms. Though he was physically confrontational during the early years of his imprisonment, resulting in his segregation and medical torture, McWhinney eventually turned to writing to combat the conditions of his confinement.

The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney collects his poetry, essays, grievance forms, letters, and interviews to provide readers with insight into the everyday life of incarcerated individuals, amplifying the lives and voices of a demographic that society would rather ignore. McWhinney relays the horrors of solitary confinement and provides a vivid account of the violence and psychological turmoil that he endured while incarcerated.

Ultimately, McWhinney's words are an indictment of the prison system, a system that institutionalizes individuals, subjecting them to an environment that manufactures post-traumatic stress rather than fulfilling its mission of rehabilitation and reform. (From University of Regina Press)

The late Rik McWhinney was an avid reader and while incarcerated, an "activist inmate," often investing his time advocating for prison justice. 

Jason Demers is an assistant professor at the University of Regina, where he teaches, among other topics, a course on prison writing. 

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