On November 1, 2013 at 9:55AM, emergency services were called to Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre after the body of Adam Kargus was found without vital signs (http://london.ctvnews.ca/inmate-found-beaten-to-death-at-emdc-1.1523809). Apparently his torture and murder was so severe that it took staff 45 minutes to identify him. Subsequent investigation has resulted in a second degree murder charge being laid against his cellmate. Charges of accessory to murder have been laid against two inmates who allegedly helped to move Mr. Kargus’ body from his jail cell to the prison showers. (http://www.theobserver.ca/2013/11/11/jailhouse-murder-mystery-deepens)
This post’s title, taken from the opening line of his obituary, captures precisely the extent of his marginalization. In a jail packed with inmates, he was isolated, terrified, tortured and murdered. He was isolated not only from other prisoners, but from the staff who were supposed to protect him. He was isolated from family, friends and support networks. He experienced terrible violence, suffering, and death, and he did so alone.
If we ask who did this to Mr. Kargus, it is wrong to focus only on his killer. A common approach to understanding violence is to find a perpetrator and then to stigmatize his/her character and economic or ethnic background. But while there are always perpetrators in torture and murder, they play only a partial role in the violence.The society in which the violence occurs makes its own essential contribution, and so we Ontarians are also complicit. Mr. Kargus did not expose himself to the violence. He was forced into the situation by the legal and correctional system from which privileged Ontarians benefit.
He was first incarcerated in Sarnia and suffered a violent assault there. A bitter irony is that he was moved to EMDC for his protection. Once there, a range of contingent institutional and social factors made his torture and death effectively inevitable. Prison officials placed him with his killer – an individual with an extremely violent history. Inadequate staffing on the night shift meant prison guards made protection tenuous, the hostile prison environment intensified the risk of violence, and the inadequate architecture of the building made effective supervision impossible. Mr. Kargus could not have been tortured and killed in the absence of these conditions. His killer did not create them. Our institutions and, ultimately, our society did. And we do this to inmates because, by and large, we do not care about them. Enough Ontarians demonize them and believe that they deserve their suffering. Adam Kargus was tortured and died, in large part, because we marginalized and excluded him.
We should have cared for him and for the many others in similar situations. Yet we did not and, fundamentally, we do not.