They watched as blood vessels broke in her face or eyes. They were reduced to counting the number of breaths she took. They saw her nose bleed and her face turn purple.
And yet when guards at the Grand Valley Institute for Women in
Kitchener, Ont., tried to rush into Ashley Smith’s segregation cell to
cut off the makeshift ligatures around her neck and save her life, they
were occasionally physically stopped by superiors or told to pull back
and “re-assess,” and if they went in anyway, they were warned, verbally
and in writing, that they would face disciplinary hearings for excessive
use of force.
Perhaps most cruelly, in an email sent to managers just eight days
before Smith’s death, Cindy Berry, then the acting warden at Grand
Valley, criticized the guards for “not removing warmth” — ordinary human
warmth — from their interactions with Smith. Ms. Berry had reviewed
video of an incident where five female guards and a male had gone into
Smith’s cell to remove a ligature. In correctional lingo, this
constitutes a “use of force” — indeed, physical force was often required
to get the ligatures off Smith — and sets in motion the requirement for
video and a great whack of paperwork.