TRURO - For Brenda Hardiman there is no if. It is entirely a matter of when.
And the Truro mother lives in absolute horror at the thought of what could happen after one of her daughter's future mental outbreaks.
"Coming to the press is a last resort. I have been working diligently with the Department of Community Services now for five years trying to get (them) to stop police intervention and they won't," Hardiman said, regarding her 25-year-old daughter Nichele Benn, who suffers from various intellectual and physical disabilities that sometimes cause her to lose control.
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Benn is currently living in an adult support and rehabilitation facility in Lower Sackville and during one of her "escalations in behaviour," Hardiman said, her daughter scratched one of the facility employees. That resulted in the police being called, and Benn was taken to jail and charged with assault.
She was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 18 months probation, given 25 hours of community service and ordered to provide a DNA sample.
Over the past five years, however, Hardiman said other behavioural escalations have resulted in about a total 17 police interventions and seven incarcerations ranging from periods of several hours to overnight lockups.
“And to take some somebody with an intellectual and physical disability, because she has right-sided cerebral palsy, and the intellect of a 12-year-old, an organic brain disorder, take her, cuff her, put her in a police car and take her to jail. Like, just stop and think about that for a minute and how frightening that would be for somebody with that mental capacity,” she said.
Having her daughter processed through the justice system is heartbreaking for Hardiman, who is adamant her daughter does not act out because of criminal intent, but because her mental disabilities leave her unable to control her actions during such periods of behavioural escalation.
And she does not believe jail is the proper recourse for such people. Instead, she believes her daughter should be permitted to live in a community setting – as Benn did for 10 years – that was better equipped to deal with her daughter's condition than her current residence.
Because the Department of Community Services is insistent on dealing with her daughter's behaviour through the justice system when she does act out, however, Hardiman believes it is only a matter of time before Benn is again placed behind bars, perhaps for an extended period.
"Well, the Department of Community Services is maintaining their position of calling police for intervention," she said. "And Nichele has never gone 18 months of not having an episode. So it's not if, it's when, she has another episode, she will be breaching probation and taken to jail."
The possibilities of that scenario, Hardiman said, cause her to lay awake at night dreading the worst for her daughter, especially given her knowledge of the Ashley Smith situation.
Smith was a troubled teenager from New Brunswick who committed suicide more than five years ago while serving time in a federal prison in Ontario. Like Benn, Smith suffered from mental health issues and from what she has witnessed from that experience, it brings Hardiman to tears over her concern that the same fate could befall her daughter.
"When she goes to jail, again, she will continue to have her episodes and she'll have them there and incur further charges, which will extend the amount of time that she has to stay," Hardiman said.
"I met Coralee Smith, that's Ashley Smith's mom," she said. "I know what goes on in jails with people like Nichele and that is very frightening. And for a society like today to be aware of what's going on and to allow it to continue, is just beyond my comprehension. And it's frightening.
"I watched Ashley Smith's death video and it was very disturbing ... and I've watched some of the videos of Ashley being strapped to a gurney, legs stretched out, tied independently, along with her arms, and being given forced chemical injections and she is crying, saying it is hurting."
Despite the lessons that Hardiman believes should have been learned from the Ashley Smith situation, however, she doesn't feel anything has changed.
"I think it's a time when we've got to get together as a human race of people with respect of how people with disabilities and intellectual disabilities are being treated. Incarcerating them and forced injecting them and handcuffing them is not a humane way of doing things and it has to stop and I really hope that people will speak up because now would be the time," Hardiman said.
"And I have to wonder, how many other people is this happening to right now? Like, my daughter Nichele is not the only one."
A Facebook page called: Help Nichele Benn, have we learned nothing from Ashley Smith? has been activated for those who would like to learn more about Benn's situation and how they can become involved.