Russell Williams enters 'grim' prison life

From flying military jets and meeting dignitaries to living in a cell the size of a walk-in closet at Ontario's Kingston Penitentiary — Russell Williams has entered a grim existence.

From flying military jets and meeting dignitaries to living in a cell the size of a walk-in closet at Ontario's Kingston Penitentiary — Russell Williams has entered a "grim" existence.

The former airbase commander turned sado-sexual killer was sentenced Thursday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of Jessica Lloyd and Cpl. Marie-France Comeau.

As Williams was being promptly whisked away to the maximum security prison, the lead detective in the case said he'll serve his sentence in the segregation unit, home to some of Canada's most notorious inmates, including schoolgirl killer Paul Bernardo.

"In general people of his nature are taken down into solitary confinement, kept by themselves. They don't have access to any other inmates," Det. Insp. Chris Nicholas said outside the Belleville, Ont., courthouse.

Defence lawyer Tony Bryant, who represented Bernardo, expects Williams will be on the same range as his old client, where the prison cells are 2.5 by three metres.

Bernardo's tiny cell — his home for the past 15 years — is not much larger than a typical household washroom, equipped with a cot, desk and toilet.

Prisoners can talk to the inmate in the adjoining cell, but can't see them at the prison, which opened in 1835. 

"It's a grim existence, no question about that," Bryant said. "Most people would say rightly so, given the horrific nature of the crimes these people have committed." 

Williams would likely be in the segregation unit for his own safety, said Bryant, adding prison officials have an obligation to take care of everyone. They can't pick and choose.

That doesn't mean Williams is free from the risk of physical harm.

Bernardo has been attacked and harassed at the prison. He was punched in the face by another inmate while returning from a shower in 1996. In June 1999, five convicts tried to storm the segregation range where he lives and a riot squad had to use gas to disperse them.

Williams's military training gives him an edge in defending himself in prison, said lawyer and psychologist Patrick Baillie in an interview from Calgary.

But the former colonel's life behind bars is a stark contrast to the one of privilege that he has experienced.

"That will be a huge adjustment. It is a massive change from the lifestyle he's had in the past which was independent, which was widely respected and which had with it all sorts of future possibilities," Baillie said.

"Now you're an individual who's going to be told what you eat, and when you eat and how many people are going to be living in your cell and which cell you're going to be in."

The transition will be particularly difficult for someone like Williams, who is used to having a large degree of control over others and who is very smart, Baillie said.

He will have to adjust as well to the monotony of being in custody.

"Some people will rebel and fight. Others will have an initial period of shock and then a decision that they need to get on with it," Baillie said.

23 hours a day of isolation

Prisoners in the segregation unit get an hour outside their cell for exercise. For the other 23 hours a day, they are locked in their cells. They can watch television — if they buy a television. They can read and have writing materials. But there's no access to computers or the internet.

Prisoners cannot receive telephone calls but can make them to people on an authorized call list, if they pay for the calls.

Offenders can hug and touch approved visitors, even have conjugal visits with spouses.

During his time at the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee, Ont., since his February arrest, Williams could only speak to visitors from behind glass.

Prison officials will likely monitor Williams's state of mind, given his suicide attempt at the Quinte Detention Centre over the Easter weekend and his subsequent hunger strike.

Early psychological treatment or training programs for Williams are unlikely, said Baillie and Bryant, who note space in programs is limited and reserved for those closer to release.