Mark Jeffrey was ‘hurting and angry’ before dying in prison, parole office testifies

Coroner’s inquest looking into Inuk murderer’s suicide enters second day of testimony

Mark Jeffrey, 34, died while in custody at the Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ont. He was found unresponsive in his cell after an apparent suicide. Pictured here is the outside of his cell door. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario)

By Madalyn Howitt

An inquest into the 2015 death of prison inmate Mark Jeffrey entered the second day of witness testimony on Tuesday, including from a fellow inmate and from a parole officer.

Jeffrey, a 34-year-old Inuk man, died on June 29, 2015 while in custody at the Beaver Creek Institution, a medium-security federal penitentiary in Gravenhurst, Ont. where he was serving a life sentence for the 2002 murder of 13-year-old Jennifer Naglingniq in Iqaluit.

Jeffrey hanged himself in his cell after spending 74 days in segregation for consuming drugs he had purchased from another inmate.

The jury learned that shortly before he took his own life, Jeffrey had communicated with Ronald Grieve, an inmate who was in a cell across the hall from Jeffrey’s.

By using a makeshift string line, Jeffrey and Grieve passed items to each other under the doors of their cells, an act commonly known as “fishing” in prisons, counsel Kate Forget explained. Jury members were shown a video of the inmates fishing approximately 40 minutes before Jeffrey was discovered unresponsive in his cell by corrections officers.

Grieve testified that Jeffrey had passed him a note under his door asking if he knew how to make a noose. Grieve said he didn’t take the note seriously and instead passed Nicorette gum and candy to Jeffrey to help him calm down.

“Guys in jail always say that they’re going to kill themselves,” Grieve said. “I didn’t think he would do it.”

Grieve said that he was aware Jeffrey was “stressed” and had been wanting to speak to an Indigenous elder.

“He really needed it. He mentioned that to me many times,” Grieve said.

“For something like this to not happen again, the staff need to be more involved while he’s down there, not just leaving him for 23 hours a day. Go talk to him,” Grieve added of the now-defunct segregation unit at the institution.

Forget then read from a journal that Jeffrey had written in shortly before he died. He wrote that he was “tired spiritually” and was struggling in segregation.

“I’ve always been on edge have been in segregation over two months,” Jeffrey wrote. “I had worked on accomplishing a lot of my goals but still could have worked on myself … Drugs and alcohol really affects the mind. We need more activities to keep … busy. I miss my hometown.”

In the same passage he wrote that “there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not very sorry for what I have done.”

In lengthy testimony Tuesday afternoon, Jeffrey’s parole officer Roy Singh said that his client had become frustrated that he had been unable to contact his family for a few months prior to being put in segregation.

He testified that Jeffrey had also been accidentally outed as an informant in an investigation that Corrections Services of Canada was conducting into drugs at the prison, adding to his concerns about where he would be placed after segregation.

The jury heard that Jeffrey had wanted to be placed in the minimum-security section of the Beaver Creek Institution, in a next-door building, but because of his relapse into substance abuse and potential to reoffend, Singh recommended he return to medium security.

“When I looked at the case, he still needed work on that and he needed to be in an environment that offered greater security,” Singh said. “He was a man who needed some help and healing and I needed to get him to a place where he could get that adequately.”

“He was not quiet in saying he was unhappy with where he was at and where he was going,” Singh said of Jeffrey’s frustrations at his recommendation.

Jeffrey spoke harshly of Singh in his journals, including using racist terms to describe him.

“I don’t care about he wrote about me. I don’t give that any weight. He was hurting and angry.” Singh said in response to Jeffrey’s criticism.

“I’m sorry to Mr. Jeffrey’s spirit that it was broken to the point that he saw [this] was his only way out. From bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.”

The inquest was called by the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario to examine the facts of Jeffrey’s death and to consider ways that deaths in similar circumstances could be prevented in the future. In particular, the inquest will look at ways that access to Indigenous-specific resources may help prevent situations like Jeffrey’s from reoccurring.

It is expected to last eight days and witnesses will include employees of the Beaver Creek Institution and experts in mental health and specialized Indigenous services. A jury verdict is expected to be delivered on Dec. 1 when the inquest concludes.

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