Today's post is not about a woman who committed murder, but rather about a woman who was murdered by the "justice" system.
Ashley Smith first came into contact with the system in 2003 when she was only 15 years old. She was incarcerated for series of petty crimes which included throwing crab apples at a postal carrier and pulling fire alarms. Originally sentenced to 30 days for the infarctions, Ashley ultimately served over 4 years in "treatment," and was transferred a staggering 17 times among 9 different prisons in 5 provinces due to the "unruly behaviour" she exhibited. She was involved in more than 800 "incidents," and attempted to harm herself at least 150 times.
Ashley had been diagnosed with a number of mental health conditions. During her incarceration, she suffered from ADHD, learning disorder, borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality traits. In 2007, Ashley was transferred to the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; reputedly the only psychiatric hospital in Canada with a "therapeutic healing program" designed for female offenders. While she was at RPC, Ashley was locked in a segregation unit following reported clashes with guards and staff at the facility.
Ashley's long and arduous period of incarceration finally came to an end on October 19, 2009. Ashley died in her cell at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario while a team of correctional services officers watched her strangle herself with a strip of cloth via closed-circuit television. Although the young woman had been placed on suicide watch, GVI staff were apparently under strict orders not to intervene in her "manipulative" behaviour. It took prison staff several hours to realize that Ashley had died.
A formal inquest on the circumstances surrounding Ashley's death begins today in Toronto -- an investigation that her family has been fighting for since the young woman's life ended so tragically. The lead coroner in the investigation, Dr. John Carlisle, expressed the following in his opening remarks:
"We cannot now reverse the course of history as it unfolded, but we can learn from the circumstances of this death, and try to implement measures to prevent future tragedies. What's done is done. What matters now is the sincerity and success of our efforts to make from it something that can benefit the future."
What's done is done -- seems an awfully callous way to describe the tragic and preventable death of an emotionally troubled young woman in federal custody.
The following poem was written by an 18 year old Ashley Smith at the New Brunswick Youth Centre on October 1, 2007. Three years and 18 days later, Ashley set herself free from the system that systematically smothered her will to live.
My life I no longer love
I’d rather be set free above
Get it over with while the time is right
Late some rainy night
Turn black as the sky and as cold as the sea
Say goodbye to Ashley
Miss me but don’t be sad
I’m not sad I’m happy and glad
I’m free, where I want to be
No more caged up Ashley
Wishing I were free
Free like a bird.
CBC's The Fifth Estate
Ashley Smith: Report on the services provided to a youth involved in the youth criminal justice system
New Brunswick Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate