The commemoration for 2023 was on August 10 at 10:00 am on the grounds of the Sudbury Jail. It was an exceptionally moving and thoughtful commemoration. Many thanks to all who attended.
This material was published by the Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee in 2001. This history does not cover all of the many ongoing issues and struggles facing prisoners in Canada today, nor does it cover all of the struggles of the past, or even all of the many events organized in honour of Prisoners´ Justice Day both inside and outside of the prison walls. Our goal was to recreate the climate of the struggle and oppression in the prison system during the early part of the 70´s leading up to the first National Prison Justice Day.
Wherever you find the shackles of oppression you also find the spirit of resistance. There are a great many prisoners who were and still are involved in the struggle for prisoners´ rights within the walls. Out of respect for these prisoners we have decided to tell the story without naming them personally, except in the cases of Eddie Nalon, Bobby Landers, Jack McNeil, Howard Brown, Jack McCann, Leonard Peltier, and Dino and Gary Butler. As seen throughout the history of this movement, all prisoner protests, whether peaceful or not, hold the threat of serious repercussions from prison administration. Documentation for this history of struggle came from many sources, first of all from our own involvement in organizing on the outside, as well as from the experiences of other prisoners´ rights activists, many of the struggles outlined here are well documented in the numerous books about Canadian prisons.
We would like to thank all of the people who contributed in their own way over the past 44 years, and most of all we would like to thank the many prisoners who have shared their stories and struggles with us.
The Death of Edward Nalon
On August 10th 1974, prisoner Eddie Nalon bled to death in the segregation unit of Millhaven Maximum Security Prison located in Bath, Ontario.
Eddie was serving a life sentence and had been in and out of segregation from the start of his sentence. He was well familiar with prison procedure and knew the workings of the Segregation Review Board. Even though Eddie took his own life in the early morning hours of August 10th, evidence clearly shows that the hand that held the razor blade belongs solely to the prison system and its apathetic administrators.
In June of that year Eddie was housed in general population in one of the working living units in the prison, and wanted to transfer from this unit to one of the non-working living units. He was told by guards that the only way this might happen is if he refused to work, so he signed a form saying he refused to work in the hope of getting the transfer. Instead he was taken to segregation on June 7th to await a hearing on the institutional charge of refusing to work. On June 14th, he was tried in the Warden´s Court and given the maximum penalty for a lifer, 30 days in solitary confinement (the hole) with restricted diet. On or about the 14th of July, he was released from the hole and sent back to segregation. On the 24th of July the Segregation Review Board dealt with Eddie´s case and recommended that he be left in segregation but added that if he wanted to get out of segregation he should make a request to that effect. On July 28th Eddie sent a note to a classification officer asking to get released back to general population. That note was received on July 29th. The Inmate Training Board dealt with the case on the 31st and recommended this transfer. Releases from segregation in that prison normally took place on a Friday. Between July 31st and August 10th, no one in the institution communicated to Eddie that he had been ordered to be released from segregation. As an experienced prisoner, Eddie was aware that if he was going to be moved from segregation, he would have been moved on August 2nd or August 9th. In the early morning hours of August 10th Eddie slashed his left inner elbow severing all veins and arteries.
August 10, 1975
On the first anniversary of Eddie´s death, August 10th 1975, prisoners at Millhaven refused to work, went on a one day hunger strike and held a memorial service, even though it would mean a stint in solitary confinement. Many of the alleged leaders in this one day peaceful protest would still be in segregation a year later. Note: although refusing to eat or refusing to work are among the only options for peaceful protest available to prisoners, both are viewed as disciplinary offences by prison administrations.
The Death of Robert Landers
On May 21st, 1976 another prisoner died in the segregation unit of Millhaven Prison. Bobby was very active and outspoken in the struggle for Prisoners Rights. He had been doing his time at Archambault Maximum Security Prison, near Montreal, Quebec. He was on the Inmate Committee at Archambault, where prisoners were in the process of organizing a prisoner strike to better conditions inside*. Bobby was involuntarily transferred to Millhaven just before the strike in January 1976 and thrown into the Hole. On the night before he died Bobby tried to get medical help, however, the panic buttons in the cells had still not been repaired. He wanted to see the nurse, who could be heard laughing and talking with guards out in the office, at the end of the range. He and three other prisoners all called out for her to come on to the range, but were ignored by both the nurse and the guards. In the morning they found Bobby dead and a scribbled note on his bed that requested medical aid and described symptoms that indicated a heart problem. At the inquest into his death it was determined that he died from a heart attack and a heart specialist confirmed that he should have been in an intensive care unit, not in solitary confinement.
August 10th, 1976
Thousands of prisoners across Canada went on a one day hunger strike. Prison Justice Day Committees were formed in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia to organize community events to draw attention to the prisoners concerns.
Prison Justice Day becomes International Day of Solidarity with Prisoners
In 1983, prisoners in France refused to eat in recognition of August 10th. By the mid 1990´s prisoners in parts of Germany, England and the United States would join this day of peaceful protest.
PRISONERS’ JUSTICE DAY IS…
August 10, the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily — victims of murder, suicide and neglect.
The day when organizations and individuals in the community hold vigils, worship services and other events in support of prisoners.
The day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison.
Is the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Indigenous persons, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons.
The day to oppose prison violence.
The day to publicize that, in their fight for freedom and equality, the actions of many political prisoners have been criminalized by government. As a result, there are false claims that there are no political prisoners in north american prisons.
The day to raise public awareness of the economic and social costs of a system of criminal justice which punishes for revenge. If there is ever to be social justice, it will only come about using a model of healing justice, connecting people to the crimes and helping offenders take responsibility for their actions.
Prisoners Justice Day is remembered every year by a collective of organizations in Sudbury.
The commemoration for 2024 will be on August 10 at 10:00 am on the grounds of the Sudbury Jail.