Solitary Taking Toll on Melvin
By STEVE BRUCE Court Reporter
Sat, Mar 19 - 4:54 AM
Jimmy Melvin Jr. says all the time he’s spent in solitary confinement in jail is taking a mental toll on him.
"I’ve been suffering serious anxiety attacks and breakdowns," the notorious Halifax crime figure, who’s been locked up for the past 13 months, told a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge this week.
"I don’t want to make it sound like I’m crazy, but I need counselling. I need help."
The 28-year-old convicted drug dealer made the comments Wednesday, when he appeared before Justice Kevin Coady at the Halifax Law Courts.
Melvin pleaded guilty to 11 charges stemming from run-ins with correctional or police officers since April 2008.
Coady accepted a joint recommendation from lawyers and sentenced Melvin to another year in jail.
Melvin has been in custody since February 2010, when he was arrested in Dartmouth on charges of kidnapping and assaulting a man. Those charges are still before the courts.
He’s been in solitary confinement for much of that time, either at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth or at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility near Sydney.
The charges for which Melvin was sentenced Wednesday include two counts of property mischief, for breaking a sprinkler head and setting a blanket on fire in his cell at the Dartmouth jail on back-to-back days in April 2008; threatening to put out a contract on a guard at the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B., in October 2008; assaulting two Halifax police officers by spitting on them after his arrest in February 2010; threatening to shoot a guard at the Cape Breton jail in April 2010; three counts of assaulting guards at the Cape Breton facility in June 2010, by throwing a banana at one and spitting on the other two; and spitting on a guard in Cape Breton in October 2010.
Defence lawyer Josh Arnold told the court that Dr. Stuart Grassian, who has studied the effects of long-term solitary confinement on prisoners, says Melvin has suffered "significant psychiatric difficulty" from spending so much time in isolation.
Grassian, a Boston-area psychiatrist, has written that solitary confinement syndrome can aggravate an existing mental condition or result in the appearance of a psychiatric illness where none had been observed before. He says the syndrome makes it difficult for inmates to adjust to life in the general prison population and to reintegrate into society upon their release.
Arnold said the doctor’s opinion was offered to the court not as an excuse for Melvin’s behaviour towards the various officers "but certainly as an explanation."
"There’s a snowball effect, I would suggest, occurring with regard to Mr. Melvin’s custody and what happens while . . . he’s held in custody," Arnold said.
Melvin was shot on two different occasions after he was released from prison in November 2008. He was also stabbed at the Dartmouth jail last summer.
He told the judge that he’s in segregation again at the Dartmouth facility and that "the mental torture (has) been getting in my head."
"It has taken a lot not to really kill myself," Melvin said. "If I did have two lives, I would love to use one of them to have them slip on my blood in my cell."
The judge thanked Melvin for sharing his experience with the court.
"I’m very sympathetic," Coady said. "I can’t imagine being locked up in a segregation unit. Most people can’t imagine what it’s like.
"I hear you loud and clear. It must be hell. All I can say by way of advice, and you know I’ve been in this business for a long time, is that you’ve just got to get out of there. The only way to get out of there is suck it up for a while and get out and stay out.
"Unfortunately, whether it’s your doing or the public’s doing, you have developed . . . a profile that a lot of other prisoners don’t have. I can only imagine that that brings upon you lots of things that wouldn’t be brought upon the average prisoner."
After imposing the sentence, the judge wished Melvin good luck.
"I hope things go better for you and I wish you well," Coady said.
"I don’t know," Melvin replied. "It’s going to take a while to get me well again."