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Canada: solitary confinement is pure torture. I know, I was there

Donald Best is an access to justice advocate and a former Toronto Police Service sergeant who spent 63 days in solitary confinement in 2013-2014.

For the last four years, the province of Ontario has, on behalf of its citizens, confined Adam Capay alone in a small, windowless basement jail cell where the lights are always on, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Mr. Capay, an indigenous 24-year-old man, was kept alone. Not a single person for him to interact with, ever.

They say Mr. Capay has been moved – but what he experienced, for more than 1,500 days, I have no doubt will ever leave him. I know that for the past four years, each moment of Adam Capay’s life in solitary was nothing less than torture. Real torture by any definition.

I know this because of what I experienced during my own 63 days as a prisoner in solitary confinement at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. I met the abandoned garbage of society. Dangerous, yes – but still human, despite the alert signs over their cell doors that would have you think otherwise: Biter. Escape. Suicide. Danger: Leg irons. 2 Guards + Supervisor to move.

While travelling overseas, I was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to three months in prison for contempt of court during a civil case costs hearing that I was unaware of.

On May 3, 2013, I was taken into custody, shackled and placed into a separate compartment in a prisoner transport van.

Other prisoners were already aware that I was a former police officer. My welcome consisted of threats and gestures that I would be beaten, stabbed, have my throat slit, raped or forced to provide oral sex.

An administrator soon explained that segregation was the only place they could protect me, and warned that it was noisy but the only alternative they had.

Solitary confinement. As a mature, stable and reasonably intelligent 59-year-old Canadian, I had no doubt that I would weather my time in solitary. Piece of cake. A vacation for a tough ex-cop.

The brutal reality started the minute my cell door slammed and I saw that my new home was painted with the excrement, blood and tortured writings of previous occupants.

In the weeks to follow, I soon learned what the administrator meant by noisy: Moans, screams, sobbing, prisoners ranting to nobody – the abandoned are seldom quiet. When my feeding slot was open, I saw prisoners eat their own feces, bang their heads until bloody and fall into a zombie-like state that passes for sleep with the lights on 24 hours a day.

This is happening today. In Ontario. In Canada.

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