Doing hard time?

Former inmate speaks out about treatment at HMP

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on January 8, 2010

A former inmate at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's says he was singled out for harsh and disrespectful treatment by correctional officers because of his involvement in the dismissal of a fellow officer.

Harbour Grace native Steven Yetman was released from prison Christmas Eve after serving 14 months of a nearly 20-month sentence for theft and fraud convictions.

A former inmate at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's says he was singled out for harsh and disrespectful treatment by correctional officers because of his involvement in the dismissal of a fellow officer.

Harbour Grace native Steven Yetman was released from prison Christmas Eve after serving 14 months of a nearly 20-month sentence for theft and fraud convictions.

The 26-year-old said his time in prison was complicated by a series of seizures, that on several occasions, nearly took his life.

It was following one of these seizures Oct. 14 at St. Clare's hospital that Yetman alleges his treatment deteriorated.

He said he was segregated in the prison's special handling unit for 14 days after his return from the hospital for no apparent reason, had his phone and other privileges suspended, was the recipient of hostile comments from officers, and was even denied an opportunity to take a shower for many hours after vomiting over himself and his cell during a seizure.

Yetman also believes he was held in custody for much longer than most in his situation.

"It was payback," Yetman said. "At least two officers made a comment that, 'It don't pay to open your mouth, does it?'"

Yetman said he was hospitalized at St. Clare's from Sept. 3 to Oct. 31, and was supposed to be monitored by a guard at all times.

Yetman said one officer routinely left his room to go outside and would often leave his weapons, radio and shackles in the room.

On the evening of Oct. 14, Yetman said he told the officer he was feeling ill and feared he might soon have a seizure. Yetman said the officer ignored this, and left Yetman alone in the room.

"The last thing I remember is him going out and the next thing I know I'm coming too lying in my own vomit and there's a big old lump on my forehead and nurses and everything around me. I couldn't move my right leg for a couple of weeks after," Yetman stated.

He said a catheter he was wearing was also dislodged. Yetman said he might not have suffered any injuries if the officer had stayed, like he requested.

"A stranger wouldn't do that to you," Yetman said.

Things didn't get any better when the guard returned, said Yetman.

"He asked what happened. I said, 'I don't know.' He hauled out his stick and threatened me. He said, 'tell me what happened or I'll beat it out of you.'"

Yetman said he reported the incident to officials at the penitentiary, and the officer was terminated. Sources confirm that a correctional officer was fired.

The RNC also began an investigation, but Yetman declined to press charges.

"I just didn't want him around me," Yetman said of the officer.

Yetman said he attempted to share his story with The Telegram in the following days, but was denied phone privileges. A Telegram editor acknowledged that when he returned a phone message from Yetman, a male answered the phone and said Yetman could not take any calls.

Yetman's mother also contacted The Telegram, the editor added, and expressed concern that she wasn't able to speak with her son.

"It caused a lot of hardship for them. They were going through a lot," Yetman stated.

Yetman wrote Justice Minister Felix Collins the very next day, and received a reply on Nov. 23.

Collins wrote: "It is my understanding that HMP assistant superintendent Don Roche has investigated the issue related to your stay at St. Clare's. Assistant Roche has advised that this matter has been addressed."

Yetman said the situation worsened when he returned to the prison. He alleges that correctional officers singled him out, and attempts by him to get an early release were continually denied.

Yetman said he exhibited good behaviour, but a letter to Yetman from Roche on Nov. 27 raises some doubt about this.

In his letter, Roche explains why Yetman's request to move to another location in the prison was denied, and why his request for an early release was rejected.

Roche also writes: "I would also recommend that you keep up with the good behaviour you have been displaying over the last period to ensure no other offences are committed during this incarceration, as this could also have an impact on your release date."

Yetman said he would never speak out about his experience if there was ever a chance he might go back to prison. He said he made a mistake, paid a high price, and wants to get his life back on track.

But he said he has hired a lawyer and plans to take legal action against the Department of Justice.

A spokesperson for the justice department said the minister has reviewed the situation and feels it was dealt with appropriately.

troberts@thetelegram.com