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Donald Best is an access to justice advocate and a former Toronto Police Service sergeant who spent 63 days in solitary confinement in 2013-2014.

Donald Best is an access to justice advocate and a former Toronto Police Service sergeant who spent 63 days in solitary confinement in 2013-2014.

Donald Best

Solitary confinement is pure torture. I know, I was there Add to ...

Donald Best is an access to justice advocate and a former Toronto Police Service sergeant who spent 63 days in solitary confinement in 2013-2014.

For the last four years, the province of Ontario has, on behalf of its citizens, confined Adam Capay alone in a small, windowless basement jail cell where the lights are always on, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Mr. Capay, an indigenous 24-year-old man, was kept alone. Not a single person for him to interact with, ever.

They say Mr. Capay has been moved – but what he experienced, for more than 1,500 days, I have no doubt will ever leave him. I know that for the past four years, each moment of Adam Capay’s life in solitary was nothing less than torture. Real torture by any definition.

I know this because of what I experienced during my own 63 days as a prisoner in solitary confinement at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont.

Read more: Adam Capay tread a lonely path to solitary confinement

Related: Public safety minister works to reform solitary confinement use in prisons

I met the abandoned garbage of society. Dangerous, yes – but still human, despite the alert signs over their cell doors that would have you think otherwise: Biter. Escape. Suicide. Danger: Leg irons. 2 Guards + Supervisor to move.

While travelling overseas, I was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to three months in prison for contempt of court during a civil case costs hearing that I was unaware of.

On May 3, 2013, I was taken into custody, shackled and placed into a separate compartment in a prisoner transport van.

Other prisoners were already aware that I was a former police officer. My welcome consisted of threats and gestures that I would be beaten, stabbed, have my throat slit, raped or forced to provide oral sex.

An administrator soon explained that segregation was the only place they could protect me, and warned that it was noisy but the only alternative they had.

Solitary confinement. As a mature, stable and reasonably intelligent 59-year-old Canadian, I had no doubt that I would weather my time in solitary. Piece of cake. A vacation for a tough ex-cop.

The brutal reality started the minute my cell door slammed and I saw that my new home was painted with the excrement, blood and tortured writings of previous occupants.

In the weeks to follow, I soon learned what the administrator meant by noisy: Moans, screams, sobbing, prisoners ranting to nobody – the abandoned are seldom quiet. When my feeding slot was open, I saw prisoners eat their own feces, bang their heads until bloody and fall into a zombie-like state that passes for sleep with the lights on 24 hours a day.

This is happening today. In Ontario. In Canada.

I spent my time counting the noises of impact, as prisoners ran against their cell doors, sometimes thousands of times a day. While on the floor of my cell, listening through the bottom gap of the solid steel door, I heard them moan to hear another voice, desperate for someone to acknowledge their humanity.

Like most prisoners, I found various coping mechanisms: toilet paper earplugs, scheduling intimate activities around the cell checks, waiting for the guard to pass before using the toilet or praying.

Ms. Mandhane reports that Adam Capay has speech and memory problems, and has lost the concept of time and date. This does not surprise me.

In one of my cells I could see a clock in the guard’s office. How I came to love that clock.

I talked with my fellow inmates in segregation for a minute here and there each day through our open feeding slots. Some had lost track of who they were, and where they were. Almost everyone makes it to the feeding slot and puts on the best face they can – but then the slot doors slam and the groans start again.

I had loved ones and loyal friends waiting for me at the end of the torture – but most of my fellow prisoners had no such foundation.

Most who go in come out forever devastated. This is clearly understood and stated by many studies, academics and human right advocates.

Canadians are better people than what is revealed by what I saw and experienced in solitary confinement prison cells. Solitary confinement is torture, nothing less.

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