Remand prisoner makes plea for psychiatric overhaul

Says prisoners' cases not getting thorough review

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on May 18, 2010
David Anthony Tobin, 32, at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's. - Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

David Anthony Tobin is affable, well-spoken and a self-confessed con man.

He has a lettered tattoo on his arm, but he appears neither menacing nor extraordinary.

If you relied on appearances to typecast him, he could be your plumber or your lawyer, depending on his clothing and the setting.

But he's neither. He's in Her Majesty's Penitentiary on remand for drug trafficking charges.

David Anthony Tobin is affable, well-spoken and a self-confessed con man.

He has a lettered tattoo on his arm, but he appears neither menacing nor extraordinary.

If you relied on appearances to typecast him, he could be your plumber or your lawyer, depending on his clothing and the setting.

But he's neither. He's in Her Majesty's Penitentiary on remand for drug trafficking charges.

He has a criminal record that includes jail time for possession and dangerous operation of a vehicle.

In short, 32-year-old Tobin is no saint.

The trafficking charge has yet to be dealt with in court and stems from a highly publicized drug bust this winter.

On this day at the Pen, he wants the public to hear his plea on behalf of himself and other prisoners with mental illnesses.

His is a familiar complaint - it's been lobbed at prison psychiatrist Dr. David Craig by other prisoners over the years, and was noted in a report on the provincial corrections system, Decades of Darkness: Moving Towards the Light.

Tobin insists the system is doing prisoners an injustice by taking them off their prescription medications when they see Craig at the Pen and that their medical history isn't being given its due.

"He just rushes you through. He thinks he's cleaning us up. He believes everybody in here is a drug addict," Tobin says.

He understands the public may not find him to be the most credible of advocates.

"What does the public want? Does the public want me released with my mind all out of whack, restless and unfocused and not feeling my best? If the public will agree with Dr. Craig, no sweat," he says.

Tobin said some prisoners have severe conditions, but he isn't one of them.

He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he was a kid, and still suffers from the adult version.

At 16, he defied his parents, Jean and Jim, when they wanted to move the family back to St. John's after transferring to Ottawa. He had stopped taking his Ritalin.

"I wasn't having it, no way. 'I'm staying here. You're not taking me from my friends and my life,' he recalls.

"If I had listened to them I wouldn't have been in this mess. I stayed there. I manipulated my way into getting on the student social assistance. I was a good con man. 'My parents are moving to Newfoundland. They are uprooting me from this and that and whatever,' and (the authorities) believed me. I had a doctor agree with me, crying to my psychiatrist, 'Oh, my family is so bad to me.' I lied to them. My family was great to me."

By the time he was in his twenties, Tobin says he was into cocaine and had to get his father to come to Niagara Falls to bail him out. In return, he had to agree to come back to Newfoundland.

"I got involved in trafficking - well, I was accused of trafficking. I got involved in a high-speed chase with the police and I got additional time for that. The cops thought I was trafficking," he says.

Tobin says the more he "grows up," the more he realizes he screwed up his life.

But he claims he did start to put his life back on track. He met his girlfriend, moved back to Ottawa and says the pair got cleaned up from drugs. He had two jobs going, as a car salesman with a travelling auction, and construction work.

In early March, however, he and his girlfriend were charged after the bust in St. John's and Tobin was denied bail.

Officers got a search warrant and seized a kilogram of cocaine, 5,000 ecstasy pills, hash oil, money and drug paraphernalia at a St. John's home. The drugs, money and equipment were put on display in a media splash.

Tobin intends to plead not guilty to the charge.

As he poses in front of the cells at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, Tobin quips, "Mom would be proud now."

His parents aren't pleased, to say the least.

But Jean Tobin says she still loves her son to death.

"He's told a good many lies in his day. He can talk the talk," she says of the story he gave the Ontario authorities as a teen.

But she also remembers him doing OK on Ritalin until he stopped taking it and wanting to be around people like him.

"The big problem here is that mental health - I think, and most people agree with me - mental health and criminal activity go hand in hand," Tobin says.

He said he tried to get Craig to listen to his case, but the doctor put him on another drug, an antidepressant that made him aggressive and didn't treat his condition.

"If I was trafficking in (Ritalin), I would understand why they took it away from me. I took those faithfully every day," said Tobin.

"Why would he want to give me something that would make me feel aggressive and violent? Ritalin calms you, give you focus and takes away that restless feeling you get."

Tobin blames the wrong treatment for hampering his ability to focus on his court case.

"I am looking at a lot of years in jail. I'm not guilty but I may be found guilty. I need my medication to go over my disclosure to try to help my lawyer with my case," he says.

Tobin says if he is eventually released, it will take him awhile to readjust, and that's the same for any inmate who's been off their proper medication.

"I have a good family and I have people I can deal with. I would rather not, but I can deal with it for a couple months until I get my balance back. A lot of the guys in here don't have that kind of support," he says.

"They are going to get out with no medication, nothing - no help."

Tobin says he feels Craig is trying to punish prisoners, not help them.

"My personal opinion on him is he wants us here. ... We are criminal. We don't deserve a chance. He doesn't want us better. He has a 'one strike and you are out' policy," Tobin says.

"Nothing will help fast enough to help me personally. But six months from now, a year from now, maybe the inmates that come here will not be treated as drug addicts and nothing but drug seekers."

But at the same time Tobin expresses hope for a clean future, he worries about again having to combat his condition and about finding and keeping a job.

Craig has refused interview requests,

During a comprehensive review of the province's prisons, nearly half of the inmates interviewed brought up his treatment methods.

"Dr. Craig is known for his conservative approach to prescribing medications, and soon after he began work at the prisons, he started cutting back on prescribed medications to inmates," the review stated.

"He felt that some medications were inappropriate as he observed that most inmates had substance-use disorders and/or personality disorders and were not otherwise mentally ill."

The review also noted that "not all professionals agree with Dr. Craig's approach."

bsweet@thetelegram.com