The Millbrook Correctional Centre sits ominously atop a steep drumlin just outside the quiet and quaint village of Millbrook and was commonly referred to by inmates and criminals as The Brook. It began operations in 1957, at which time it was known as the Millbrook Reformatory. It opened with a capacity of 268 inmates, but after double bunking and renovations over the years, capacity grew to 490. For decades it was Ontario's only maximum security incarceration facility, housing provincially sentenced male inmates serving 'two years less a day', that were deemed unmanageable in other jails.
I had the pleasure of sitting down recently with my friend Keavin Kelly, the former Super-Intendant of the Millbrook Correctional Centre. Keavin began working at Millbrook as a guard in 1978 and worked his way up the ladder to Super-Intendant, and then acting Super-Intendant at CECC before retiring from the Department of Corrections. I took him through the building in photos and he described the uses of each area and shared stories from within the walls.
In 1957-58, homosexual inmates, regardless of their offences, were shipped to Millbrook and housed with sexual deviants and predators. At this time, this segment of the inmate population was 'treated' with electro-convulsive therapy (electro-shock) and narcotics including sodium-pentothol (truth serum).
Aside from that sad fact, three interesting events top the list in the history of this facility: The Millbrook Nine murder, the suspicious death of an immigrant, and the riot.
On March 16th, 2000, at 6:25pm, in the day room of 6 Wing, where inmates gathered, inmate Scott Dufty was severely beaten. He died in a Toronto hospital eight days later. The convicts charged in the jailhouse homicide came to be known as The Millbrook Nine. Eight of those inmates were eventually convicted of manslaughter. The primary aggressor that reportedly landed the death blows by stomping on the head of Mr. Dufty, was Emmanuel Bedard.
Manny, as I knew him in the mid 1990s, was declared a dangerous offender in 2005, meaning he will most likely never be released back into society.
During my teenage years I was no stranger to the world behind bars, albeit in young offender facilities. While serving time in Brookside Youth Centre in Cobourg in the mid-nineties, Emmanuel 'Manny' Bedard was housed in the cell next to me. He was rarely allowed out of his cell, under lock and key for perpetually bad behaviour. He was prone to self harm and attacking hacks (guards). Stories flurried about the jail regarding his past in orphanages and wearing helmets in white-padded rooms.
I have since researched his past and discovered it is arguable that he may never have even had a chance in this world.
There were two interactions between Manny and I that I have never forgotten: One was something he said, the other was something he did. I'm not going to tell you what he said. But what he did, well that may have saved my life. I was a little guy, but I never backed down, always stood my ground. I may have been biting off more than I could chew standing my ground against a certain individual on that day, and a physical altercation was inevitable. It was just before this fight was about to pop off when Manny did what he did, protecting me. As this hostile inmate leaned in to drink from a water fountain Manny stepped up behind him and kicked his face into the fountain, knocking out his teeth. The threatening inmate was brought to hospital and then transferred to another facility. Manny was put back on lock down.
With the same feet he used to murder a man in Millbrook four years later, he stood up for the little guy on that day. By no means am I naive enough to think he truly did that for me, as there is no way of understanding the actions of a psychopath, and Manny Bedard is a psychopath.
As the story goes regarding the Millbrook Nine murder, Mr. Dufty was released from the hole (administrative segregation) just hours before the murder and placed in Range Area 6, a special needs unit. He was warned by guards not to return to this unit, but ignored those warnings. He had reportedly been doing taxes for other inmates and skimming off the top, as well as muscling other inmates. Seeking revenge, those inmates concocted a murder plot while Dufty was in the hole, utilizing Manny and his fragile psyche and psychopathic nature. They fabricated a lie and told Manny that Dufty had been calling his sister and threatening to rape her. Mr. Dufty spent less than a half hour on the range before Manny reportedly draped a pillow case over his head and began to strangle him with it. Inmates then attacked him with a melamine mug stuffed with wet tissue and and pillow cases packed with detergent. At this time, with the victim down and vulnerable, the other inmates got their kicks in. As the other inmates stepped away from the altercation, Manny continued to stomp repeatedly on the head of the unconscious man.
It was rumoured that Manny saw this murder as his ticket to the Kingston Penitentiary, where he had long hoped to be transferred.
Every once in a while I think about Manny and I feel grateful for the things I have and the loving family that I took for granted as a teenager.
The second noteworthy event in the history of this facility was the suspicious death of a fifty year old Vietnamese immigration prisoner named Nguyen Cao Son. On April 18, 2001, Son died in custody under suspicious circumstances, after reportedly being beaten by guards.
Thirdly: the riot. In the last days of March 2002, during an OPSEU strike, thirty-nine inmates took control of an entire unit, including gaining access to the control room. They smashed windows, destroyed property and unsuccessfully attempted to access the yard. Coincidentally, one of the two instigators of the riot was also a teenage acquaintance.
As part of the Ontario government's Infrastructure Renewal Program, Millbrook was closed in 2003 and the inmate population was transferred to the new super jail in Lindsay, known as the Central East Correctional Centre, or CECC. Another identical facility was also built at this time in Penetanguishine, known as Central North Correctional Centre. Many other provincial jails were also closed as part of this program, including the Rideau Correctional & Treatment Centre.
The old prison on the hill sat vacant for years before being accessed and documented by countless urban explorers and vandalized by local youth until 2009, at which time it was resealed. Welded so tight and with so many layers it seemed impossible that I would ever get to see it for myself.
Every couple of weeks though, we would return for a nice Sunday morning walk around the prison. We wanted it so badly. We checked everything, but nothing ever changed, it was all welded shut. The irony was never lost on us here either, continually returning, just dying to get inside of the jail that so many inmates have desperately wanted to get out of over the years.
Just as we had done at the Rockwood Insane Asylum, we continued to return every few weeks, hoping for a better result, expecting more of the same and getting it.
In early 2011, a gentleman that accessed the prison with his proficient mountain climbing skills shared images that told a tale of Police Emergency Response Training with military grade equipment and explosives within the prison walls, which only excited me more.
We continued to circle like vultures. But still, nothing ever changed.
And then it happened: In September 2011, a newspaper article caught my eye on my iphone, as I lay in a hospital bed dealing with an ear infection from a mould allergy brought on by exploring hazardous buildings. The article spoke of a man and woman from Whitby in their late thirties arrested by Police ERT and K9 Units breaking in to the old prison. I sat up so quickly that I got dizzy from the morphine.
As soon as I was released from hospital I poured a splash of ear drops into my ear, threw back a couple of prescribed pain pills, and finally explored the long awaited Millbrook Correctional Centre.
Just like that I was finally inside The Brook. A heart pounding adventure ensued. Hours and hours flew by and as every second passed I was all too well aware that at any moment someone could show up to weld the opening once more, locking me inside the abandoned jail.
Originally designed as a new Segregation Unit, the North & South Wings operated as the Treatment Unit for inmates with mental illnesses. The design proved effective as the Treatment Wing had an observation corridor with one way glass for guards to view the inmates in their cells.
In the late 1980s, Dr. Duncan Scott, Psychiatrist, used behavioural modification techniques in combination with pharmacological treatments to improve the health and functioning of this difficult segment of the inmate population.
Inmates housed in the Treatment Unit spent 12 hours in their cells daily, as did gen pop inmates. They did the rest of their time in the tiny day room at the end of the wing, and in the miniature outdoor yard with towering concrete walls in what was designed to be the Segregation Yard.
The black mould growing and residing on the walls of these cells is as dangerous to ones health as the inmates that once called them home.
A cell becomes a home quite quickly when you spend most of your day, every day, within it's walls.
The different segments of inmate populations called these eleven Wings home. GenPop (General Population), PC (Protective Custody), and Super PC which was made up of sex offenders and inmates that couldn't hack it on the GenPop or PC Wings.
The majority of inmates lived in these ranges, spending most of their time here when not working or participating in programs and activities. The walls were painted with "snowy peach" and the orange doors were at one time painted "gun metal green".
Millbrook housed 26 inmates on each Wing and every inmate had their own much coveted cell to themselves until the 1990s when cost cutting brought double bunking and each Wing began housing 40 inmates.
I tried to imagine these wings bustling with activity, or dead quiet with inmates in the cells assessing and judging me from behind the small windows. I tried to picture inmates gathered around watching TV in cliques. I imagined the politics and beefs and put myself in the middle of it. I tried to wear that discomfort.
The ranges go on and on, repeating themselves. The varying levels of decay and damage often the only differentiating features.
5 Wing, aka AdSeg (Administrative Segregation) housed inmates that couldn't function in a regular Wing or that the Administration had any reason to believe would endanger themselves or others.
Inmates serving time in AdSeg would spend 23 hours and 40 minutes per day in the cells on this Wing, and a mere 20 minutes in the yard, often alone. This was their entire existence while serving time on this Wing, not even the rest of the jail existed. Their world just kept getting smaller and smaller. At the rear of 5 Wing are the closed confinement cells, aka the hole. The double doored cells held inmates that had committed severe infractions inside the institution and were sentenced to spend time in solitary confinement. At one time, these inmates were fed only white bean cake and it was reported that many took days before becoming hungry enough to choke it down.
A prison chapel is often much more than a house of God. It is usually the prison marketplace, where inmates from different units intermingle for church services, AA meetings and movie nights, and move contraband between units.
I ventured forward into the darkness.
The Methadone Clinic.
The Dentist's Office.
The food at Millbrook was known to be the best jail food in Ontario, and inmates would often request a transfer to Millbrook just for the food
Under the ever watchful eye of guards, inmates at the facility worked on-site. They produced license plates for the province of Ontario's Ministry of Transportation in the Marker Plant, where GenPop inmates worked the morning shifts and PCs worked the afternoons.
PCs also worked in the jobbing shop and the laundry, laundering prison clothing and bedding in industrial washers and dryers.
Sex offenders worked in the tailor shop, producing shirts and pants, then jumpsuits, t-shirts and underwear.
The Tailor Shop.
The Marker Plant.
These demo copies of silent beta videos from the 1980s depict inmates at work on this process.
Inmates spent most of their time either working or behind bars.
For recreation, they exercised on the yard, walking, working out, or playing basketball, baseball or hockey.
The guards were everywhere, including up in the towers. This is a view that the inmates never got.
And then the inmates were eventually released. Set free into society, much like I felt as I exited.
We will continue to walk the perimeter, hoping for another opportunity to get back inside.
********* UPDATE *********
******February 2, 2013*****
The Southeast Guard Tower
We continue to enjoy perimeter walks and hope for new opportunities. This is not an echo.
Rumour has it that the end is near and a demolition notice is not far off after environmental assessments are made public in the near future. That rumour swirls around but is not yet substantial in any way.
And now inmate, your sentence is served. You are free to go.
********* UPDATE *********
*******April 5th, 2015******
On Thursday March 31st, 2015, the demolition of the Millbrook Correctional Centre officially began. The following is an excerpt from the demolition plans...
"This project involves the deconstruction and demolition of the main complex of buildings and fire training tower as well as the removal of all roads including the main "ring" road, transformers, septic beds and lagoons, all wells and storm water management systems. The design approach was first to de-construct the site by identifying what can be reused/recycled/diverted from landfill. Environmental remediation work was identified in a phase 1 and 2 ESA and is included in the scope of work. This work includes the clean up in the lagoons, septic beds, former dumpster area, onion field and sand pit, creek area, powerhouse area and sludge beds. Work will also be required under the fire tower."
Of course with the demo crew setting up the day before the Easter holiday weekend we couldn't resist going for yet another perimeter walk. And it paid off.
Not much has changed between visits and most of my photographs look eerily similar to the last batches. The cell blocks however have seen some change, in the form of weathering and further decay.
I will return at least once a week throughout the course of the demolition and hopefully capture some photographs that will tell the end of the story.
********* UPDATE *********
*******May 24, 2015******
After weeks of monitoring the seemingly slow demolition process from outside the walls, a mere step inside the gaping hole in the wall today revealed a completely different story. Much of the jail has been demolished and the remaining piles of rubble resemble an Iraqi war zone. All that is left standing inside the walls are some of the cell blocks and a gutted Chapel and Medical Wing, everything else is just history. Outside the walls, for the first time in many years, all of the guard towers are accessible, offering a variety of vantage points of the demolition below. We wandered the demo site freely, meeting 8 other explorers along the way.
According to the foreman, whom I spoke with this morning, the demolition will be wrapped up within the next few months and the environmental clean up is scheduled to be completed by the end of November 2015.
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