Mike Williams was outside Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s bright and early Thursday morning as he had vowed.
The idea of a hunger strike was over as Williams — dressed for the weather in orange reflective winter gear, a Boston Bruins hat and sealskin mitts — was handed an egg McMuffin.
“Yeah, that’s out,” he said, adding he was advised to keep nutrition up to prevent acting erratically and keep his strength.
The self-described former convict of 21 years in prisons across Canada was joined early by a handful of supporters, including actor Andy Jones.
Cars passing by blew their horns for Williams, who flew in from Toronto earlier this week to prepare for the protest he described as bringing awareness to conditions for staff and prisoners inside Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, as well as issues of mental health and addictions in Newfoundland and Labrador, and youth issues.
The Shea Height’s native’s protest plans were revealed in a series of his Facebook posts and were reported by The Telegram.
Jones said he read about Williams’ plans and wanted to show him some support.
“It’s really good he is doing this,” said Jones, who listened intently to Williams’ stories of street fights, crime and experiences in HMP as well as other prisons.
“Somebody has got to do something about the situation in prisons here and around North America. Anything anybody can do should be supported.”
Jones told Williams about losing his son to suicide, and spoke about gaps in the mental health system.
Williams said he got treatment for mental health issues while serving federal time in British Columbia.
Williams says he has been clean and has avoided trouble with the law for nine years, except for a couple of drug relapses.
“The diagnosis saved my life,” said Williams, who gave comments to the media and spoke to supporters.
At times, he took on an evangelical tone as he described wild stories of a troubled life of drug use and crime, followed by a kind of redemption.
“Thirty years straight of violent crime, non-stop chaos and anarchy, slashing … gunfights, wanting to die, ‘Kill me cop,’ every day. Nine years, I don’t say that no more now,” he said.
“One day I said, ‘Lord, I asked for you once, you came and I didn’t ask for you again until now.’ I said, ‘Show me my way or I will kill myself. God said, ‘Don’t worry about going into churches and saying Hallelujah. … You’re not built for that. Tell your story and tell it right.’”
Williams told Jones he’d been involved in a street shooting and was in the Mission, B.C., prison itching to take somebody on, yelling, “Who wants to go, come on out in the yard with me?” when he was taken by the guards and put in a psychiatric program.
“For two years, they treated me every single day,” he said. “God bless Correctional Services Canada.”
Williams’ plea for changes at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary — a provincial facility — had him in tears at times Thursday morning, as he called for assessments of two prisoners he knows inside and said he would give up the protest if they get those assessments and the province agrees to seriously address the need for a new prison.
“I will die here or freeze to death,” Williams said of his intentions if the assessments aren’t done by someone other than the controversial prison psychiatrist.
Some staff stopped to speak with him as they passed by into work.
Williams told Jones and others he fears that a prison guard will die in the next six months if tensions and conditions aren’t addressed by the province.
Gordy Kennedy, who said he spent six months in HMP two years ago, also turned up to stand with Williams.
“He’s right,” Kennedy said.
Among the visitors dropping by was childhood pal Robert McIsaac, who said he last did a six-month stint in HMP in 2006, with a chunk of it in the hole and shoe — disciplinary areas of the prison — and did time in other Canadian prisons before he managed to straighten himself out. McIsacc spoke proudly of his children’s accomplishments, but hasn’t shaken his experiences inside the prison doors just several feet away.
“When they put you in the hole in the summer, the ventilation doesn’t work right and the humidity builds up,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing fellows are going through in there.
“I had no shower for the first three weeks and then they hit me with the hose to wash the feces off me. … What Mike’s doing is a good thing.”
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says he has not met with Williams, as a request for a meeting was not sent to his office. But Parsons says he’s more than willing to speak with Williams.
Parsons says replacing Her Majesty’s Penitentiary remains among the top priorities for the government, but details and timelines are hard to find.
“I do understand what he’s spoken with the superintendent of prisons for the province … where he listened to the concerns,” said Parsons.
“It’s something that I’ve been making the case for with my colleagues. We do have the value-for-money analysis that’s been done showing if it were to be built, the way it would be done. No announcement to be made yet, but there’s no dispute amongst anybody that it’s a need. But we’re still not there yet.”