Family of HMP inmate who died by suicide holds protest, demanding justice

·4 min read
Samantha (left) and Courtney Pike stand outside the of the HMP to protest lack of addiction help after their brother died by suicide.  (Meg Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Samantha (left) and Courtney Pike stand outside the of the HMP to protest lack of addiction help after their brother died by suicide. (Meg Roberts/CBC - image credit)

Standing outside Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's, Michelle Pike holds an urn with her son's ashes tightly in her arms.

"Gregory should have been watched … I wouldn't be here with my son today in this," Pike said, hugging the urn closer to her chest.

"His little heart would be beating and he would be home with his family where he belongs."

Pike and her daughters led a protest outside Her Majesty's Penitentiary on Saturday morning after her son, Gregory Pike, died by suicide while incarcerated at the jail. He was found unresponsive in his cell on Sept. 16 and was taken to hospital, where he died three days later.

Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

The family said Gregory was unsupervised and desperately needed help with his addictions and mental health issues, but instead fell victim to a dangerous system.

Chance at rehabilitation

Gregory's sister, Courtney Pike said her brother was actively seeking rehabilitation services. She said he had written letters begging for someone to help but his cries went unheard.

Courtney said Gregory breached his bail conditions, which were to not use drugs or alcohol, but he relapsed and was sent back to jail. She said while he was incarcerated, his family was able to get him into a rehabilitation treatment centre but the court denied him bail.

Gregory Pike took his life two days after being denied bail.

"How many more people [have] to die before they say enough is enough?" Gregory's sister Courtney Pike said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"These are people, beating hearts. They have families and many cries go unheard. I know my big brother's did and he paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

Joanne Power drove from Gander on Saturday morning to participate in the protest. Power's son is incarcerated and suffers from similar addictions and mental health issues as Gregory did.

She said Gregory's story, and others around the province, have led her to be fearful for her son's life. She said she's also demanding answers and a promise for more support in the future.

"We know there are shortcomings behind these walls but Gregory Pike should have never ended up behind these walls. Gregory Pike was an individual in recovery," said Power.

Internal investigation

The Department of Justice and Public Safety turned down multiple interview requests from CBC News following Pike's death, but the department said in a statement it is conducting an internal review and cannot discuss any details related to specific inmates for privacy reasons.

"The Department of Justice and Public Safety takes the responsibility of having inmates in our care very seriously," read the statement.

"We recognize that mental health and addictions within our institutions is a complex issue and changes are currently underway for Eastern Health to take on a greater role in situations requiring medical attention within adult corrections."

The department said medical care is provided to inmates through certified medical professionals, including nurses, physicians and psychiatrists who are contracted by the department.

It said if it's determined an inmate requires the help of a psychiatrist, an appointment is made and the psychiatrist develops a treatment plan.

The statement also listed a number of addictions programs that it said are offered to inmates and said the department's correctional officers receive mental health awareness training, mental health first aid and are trained in suicide prevention.

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

But that's not what the Pike family heard from Gregory.

"He called me crying all the time," said Michelle Pike. "There's no one here to talk to, there's no help, there's no program, there's nothing."

Courtney Pike said she won't stop speaking out until a change is made.

"That place is not for mental health and addictions," she said, pointing toward the 1850-era building.

"I hope this opens the eyes of people in the province and they realize these people are just as deserving for medical care and access and something has to be changed in that place."

Mental health resources, and where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service

Toll-free: 1-833-456-4566.

Text: 45645.

Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

CHANNAL peer support line

A "warm line" is available across Newfoundland and Labrador seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Local: (709) 753-2560; toll-free 1-855-753-2560

Kids Help Phone:

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6868.

Chat: kidshelpphone.ca

App: Always There by Kids Help Phone.

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs:

  • Suicidal thoughts.

  • Substance abuse.

  • Purposelessness.

  • Anxiety.

  • Feelings of being trapped.

  • Hopelessness and helplessness.

  • Withdrawal.

  • Anger.

  • Recklessness.

  • Mood changes.

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