Monday, January 14, 2013

Ashley Smith: "Wishing I were free..."

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
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.

More Information...

The Star

CBC News

CBC's The Fifth Estate

New Brunswick Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate


  1. Does anyone know any more circumstances about Ashley's birth family/adoption? Was FAS a factor?

    In the Kayla Borque case I would imagine her birth circumstances factored hugely into what she eventually became.

    Sadism is very rarely every talked about - even in criminology circles. The little I've found tends to indicate that it is likely to come from very early childhood experiences of pain/torture combined through learned association with experiences one would normally associate with being parented/cared for/loved. For instance, being hurt every time you're fed or diapered. It also, another non-PC piece of information that probably directly relates to why it's so rarely discussed, is most often experienced (not exclusively, but mainly) at the hands of mothers &/or female caregivers (which is one of the reasons women are primarily targeted when sadists reach adulthood). (It's for exactly this reason that I fear for Karla's children, btw.) It also must be combined with a profound lack of any connection/caring for the child; from what I understand it requires both the presence of negative attention to the infant plus the absense of positive affection to develop.

    This would make sense for Kayla - I believe she wasn't adopted for 8 months, which is more than enough time for horrendous things to have happened to her. Given the little I've read about Eric Newman, it wouldn't surprise me at all if it were true for him as well.

    However, for Ashley (not trying to imply in any way that she was a sadist, btw - only that she was troubled even at 5 days old beyond what her obviously loving family could correct) there just, imo, wasn't enough time in 5 days for her to have developed personality issues this strong, and wonder what else may have been a factor. Like sadism, FAS is another one of those things we rarely talk about and yet impacts hugely on our MH and corrections systems. Again, not trying to blame Ashley AT ALL for the circumstances she found herself in, nor am I implying that she had FAS (but I am asking); it seems to me she was a perfect example of wrong place/wrong time, and had the great bad luck to have been picked up and put into the youth 'justice' system for extremely minor crimes at a time when her corner of it was populated by people who were despots themselves. But her inability to extricate herself and compulsion to keep committing this behaviour when it clearly wasn't helping her indicates, imo, that something important was overlooked. No way should that child have been allowed to, or more accurately abandoned to, spin endlessly out of control, further and further away from the hands and influence of her mother and family - even if her own behaviour was exacerbating it.

    Several people in 'Justice' Canada need to go down for this. But if we're going to avoid repeating this, I hope this inquiry can get a handle on what other factors should have been addressed here, but weren't.

    1. R.I.P. Ashley.

    2. Thanks, Anon, for your thoughtful comments. I agree that there are still many "taboo" subjects which, until addressed, will continue to play their respective roles in our systems.

      I haven't been able to locate any further information concerning Ashley's natural parents or the circumstances surrounding her adoption. Not that I think knowing any of that would (or should) matter with respect to this inquest, as why Ashley wound up/was held in custody does not justify the way she her case was handled.

      I think Ashley's case is even more unbelievable in the wake of Kayla Bourque's release earlier this week; why was one clearly troubled young woman with a high risk of re-offense (we're talking predation here, not merely causing a public disturbance) released to probation while the other was doomed to die in captivity reminiscent of the insane asylums of old?

    3. Oh, that's easy. Ashley was actually making life difficult for the corrupt/lazy/inept/immoral people within the system she came in contact with. She p***ed them off by not submitting, and they had the power to ensure she would be maximally punished for that.

      Kayla, otoh, was a predator, but from what I read not particularly a 'bother' for those in the system (same as JR, and same as Karla). So, I'd imagine the difference came down to 'she's someone else's problem' as far as they're concerned.

      I'd imagine the difference came down to this: Ashley ticked off the 'box-tickers'. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Kayla, JR, & Karla, otoh, were well-behaved enough for the 'box-tickers' to tick the right boxes to pass them on through, on their way to being somebody elses nightmare.

      At least Karla got enough bad press that her easy passage through the system and out the front door encountered a few bumps along the way that slowed her down a tad.

    4. ITA, Anon. Furthermore, I am willing to play Devil's Advocate and suggest that physical appearance may factor in to these respective cases, as well.

      I think it's at least worth considering that the crimes perpetrated by Homolka, Richardson, and (to a lesser extent) Bourque were minimalized in some way due to their appearances? Could they have been perceived as less of a threat based on the fact that each of these women have been described in official documents pertaining to their cases using terms such as "slight," "slender," and "diminuative?"

      The d-word was used ad nauseum in a number of official writings about Homolka, often inappropriately so. I noticed an odd pattern: the most detailed (and damning) descriptions of her crimes often began or ended with qualifiers about her appearance. The overall effect of contrasting the way she looked against what she is known to have done was quite successful in terms of securing a much lower level of responsibility for her compared to that of her partner, Paul Bernardo.

      I have often wondered if anyone would have bought what she was selling if she had been a 50 year old hag with limp breasts and greying roots... Assumptions are dangerous things, especially unconscious ones.

  2. Especially unconscious ones!

    Hmm, makes me reconsider the McClintock case. I'd thought her life sentence was an indication that we've finally started to change that dynamic, but looking at it through the lens of your theory (which I think is totally a factor - horrible!), perhaps we haven't progressed as far as I'd thought.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I would have thought that Ms. K showing up for her police interviews dressed like a schoolgirl would have been enough for investigators to want to - well, I was going to misquote Jack Nicholson from 'A Few Good Men' - but that's probably better left unsaid.


    1. I hadn't even thought about her, but McClintic definitely fits the pattern of females outside the 'little woman' stereotype who receive not-so-lenient sentences, at least in comparison to other women facing similar charges.

      What did Terri-Lynne get in exchange for her testimony? Not a blessed thing, and yet a jury of Michael Rafferty's peers was still able to convict him. I wish I could say that the reason she wasn't molly coddled the way that Karla was is because things have changed since then, but I'm not so sure... Maybe Terri-Lynne just doesn't look like someone that anybody was particularly interested in saving?

      Great comment; thanks for sharing!

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  4. They gave her what she wanted, death, and so freedom from her agony. I don't see lack of justice here.

  5. McClintic not McClintock two different family's similar areas