A Newfoundlander living in Toronto says he’s coming back to St. John’s to stage a peaceful protest and hunger strike outside Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP).
Mike Williams is getting some buzz on social media after his Facebook posts on the planned March 7 protest.
Williams, who said he’s originally from Shea Heights, claims to have spent more than two decades in prisons around the country, including time in HMP.
“I am closing Her Majesty’s Penitentiary by myself or I am closing it with support,” he said in a Facebook Live video this week.
Williams told The Telegram he intends to be at the Pen at 8 a.m. next Thursday and is expecting some supporters to join in, based on the feedback he got on his posts.
In the video, he calls for all prisoners to undergo assessments for physical and mental abuse and torture.
“We need to send a team of investigators in to assess the living conditions in the penitentiary,” he said.
The post also delves into Williams’ plea to bring awareness to drug addiction, prostitution and youth issues in the province.
“I feel your pain,” he said. “I want to be your voice.”
Though he blasts some broadcast media organizations for “fake news,” Williams’ message seems mostly heartfelt about addressing drug addiction and mental health struggles in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in wanting to see longstanding issues at HMP addressed, including both the living conditions and treatment of prisoners and the stress and overwork he said guards are faced with.
“You need to treat the offender before you release them back to society. It’s misguided and misled and causing so much violent crime. Somebody has got to put a stop to it.” — Mike Williams
He said his protest will either result in being shot, put in jail or — the best-case scenario — “my movement is going to be heard.”
According to Williams, his ticket has been booked. A Go Fund Me page has raised roughly $600.
“I didn’t think it would take off like it did,” Williams said Wednesday of his posts.
According to Williams, he’s seen the inside of the justice system across Canada and his rough start in life included being sexually abused at the infamous Mount Cashel boys' orphanage.
“All my friends are dead or in prison doing life sentences,” he said.
He said he felt compelled to speak out as a self-described someone who formerly dealt drugs, and was an offender involved in violence and gangs, but also based on what he is hearing from people back home about addictions and other issues, and his own time in the Pen years ago.
Williams voiced concerned similar to those expressed by advocates, inmates and ex-inmates over the years — that people with mental illnesses and addictions aren’t getting proper treatment when they are in the HMP. Williams said they don’t belong with the general criminal population.
“The guards don’t know how to treat them,” he said.
“You need to treat the offender before you release them back to society. It’s misguided and misled and causing so much violent crime. Somebody has got to put a stop to it.”
He said programming offered by the Correction Service of Canada changed his life and he’s been clean for nine years.
St. John’s defence lawyer Mark Gruchy, who has been a well-known advocate for a replacement of the HMP, was tagged on Williams’ Facebook post, and said his feedback should be taken seriously and he deserves at least a listen. Gruchy said he doesn’t personally know Williams, but he seems sincere in his concerns.
It’s a grassroots reaction from someone who has been in the prison and those actions — based on the principle of one’s right to protest — can eventually push the change that’s already been called for by advocates and some politicians, Gruchy said.
“The bottom line is it’s important for us to pay attention to the expressed opinions and concerns of those who have experienced the business end of this,” said Gruchy.
“That he’s trying to do something positive … that’s commendable. … Not many people will do that. A lot of people will put their heads down and go away.”
When people such as Williams — inmates, former inmates and their families — stand up and do something, that contributes to pressure on the issues and might be the watershed that results in them finally being addressed, Gruchy said.
“Everybody has a bit to play in this," he said.
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