'Who cares?' asks corrections worker after inmate dies inside Hamilton jail

In the days after her brother-in-law's death inside the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, Tracy Sharp watched in disbelief as negative comments made by people who never met him started to pile up on social media.

Ministry says comments don't reflect the 'vast majority' of staff

This photo was taken in 2017, the last time Tracy Sharp and her kids saw Christopher "Johnny" Sharp before his death. The 53-year-old died of a suspected overdose at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre Friday. (Tracy Sharp)

In the days after her brother-in-law's death inside the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, Tracy Sharp watched in disbelief as negative comments made by people who never met him started to pile up on social media.

"One less person on our tax payers [sic] dime," read one.

"Thin the herd," read another.

But one comment in particular stopped her cold: "Who cares," wrote Kevin Hale, whose Facebook profile says he works for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

"Is this the kind of people that work there, treating them like animals?" she wondered.

"If these are the kind of people who are supposed to be in control and looking out for these guys, that doesn't bode well."

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the ministry would not say if it's investigating Hale's comments or if he will face any sort of reprimand because it does not comment on "human resources matters."

"The personal opinions expressed by our employee do not reflect the values of our ministry nor of the vast majority of correctional staff," wrote Brent Ross.

I care and so do the families of all of these other people who have died. - Tracy Sharp

Christopher "Johnny" Sharp died at the Barton Street jail Friday afternoon of a suspected drug overdose. His death comes just months after a marathon inquest into eight overdose deaths at the facility the produced 62 recommendations aimed at improving everything from security and health services to surveillance.

The ministry has six months to respond. In the meantime, inquests have also been announced into the deaths of two other HWDC inmates — Brennan Bowley and Ryan McKechnie. 

Not just a mug shot

Beyond questions about how drugs continue to get into the jail and kill inmates, Sharp's family is left struggling to understand why people would go out of their way to attack a hurting family trying to hold onto memories of the man they loved.

"Johnny isn't just a mug shot and a rap sheet," said Tracy. "He was a person and like a lot of addicts and people who get caught up in the system, he wasn't always like this."

Carol, Johnny's mother, remembers the 53-year-old as a gentle boy with a mischievous sense of humour before addiction and 30 years spent bouncing between jails, prisons and halfway houses.

Johnny's mother, Carol, sent CBC News this photo of her son taken in 1978 "before jails and addiction." (Carol Sharp)

As a child he loved sports and art — later in life he became a tattoo artist who created his own complex designs.

Tracy knew Johnny for almost 15 years and said some of her her fondest memories are of him playing with her kids.

"He was just so sweet, I only know the sweet side to him. I don't know that rap sheet Johnny."

Hate and hurt online

The family hasn't been told much about what happened, just that Johnny was found in distress around 2:20 p.m. and died afterwards.

Hoping to learn more, Tracy scanned social media for news stories that might reveal new information. What she found was comment sections filled with hate.

A post made by CHCH News early Tuesday morning proved especially difficult. That's where she found Hale's comments in a thread started by a simple, unsympathetic question; Who cares?

Kevin Hale, an employee of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, took to social media to write "who cares" in responses to a news story about Johnny's death. (Facebook)

A couple of commenters debated whether it mattered if Johnny was innocent, and one user pointed out his family could be in pain.

Then Hale — who in other social posts said he worked "inside" — weighed in.

"No who cares is right," he wrote. "Most are not innocent ... so yes, who cares."

CBC News contacted Hale through Facebook for comment, but he did not respond.

'I care'

Tracy said she can answer his question.

"I care and so do the families of all of these other people who have died," she said. They're human beings ... and they needed to be respected. Maybe because of that insensitiveness and being treated like that, that's why they are the way they are."

It reflects poorly on the profession and officers need to show compassion.- Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of corrections for OPSEU

Tracy isn't making excuses — she recognizes Johnny's choices and his battle with addiction were the reasons why he was behind bars.

She also grew up with an uncle who worked in corrections and acknowledges it's not an easy job.

"They see a lot of stuff that's tough. Maybe they're being mentally taxed as well … maybe they need more support from the government," she said. "But there's definitely something wrong with the system as a whole."

Showing compassion

Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of corrections for the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, said staff do need more support and training for dealing with mental health issues and addiction. 

Still, he said, the union constantly reminds them their employer and the public are watching what they say on social media and there's no place for insensitive comments about the death of an inmate.

"If someone did make those comments on social media it reflects poorly on the profession and officers need to show compassion in those situations."

Tracy said some of her fondest memories of Johnny are of him playing with her kids. (Tracy Sharp)

Tracy said the Sharp family is still coming to grips with the fact Johnny is gone. Despite their suffering, she's willing to spare some compassion of her own, even to those who ask, "Who cares?"

"I feel sorry for them and those are the people I'll be praying for because if something happens to their family and someone says 'Who cares,' How would they feel?"