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Mothers fight to protect jail prisoners

Janis Leering
The Advance
Feb. 14, 2003

Two Barrie mothers with sons in jail have formed an organization to protect prisoners at the Penetanguishene jail. Sharon Storring-Skillen is ready to listen to inmates at the Central North Correction Centre in Penetanguishene to see how they are being treated.

Storring-Skillen is the director of FAPPA (Families Against Private Prisons Abuse), a group she started to make sure inmates aren't neglected.

Her interest revolves around her son Ryan Skillen, who has been jailed for months.

"My son is bipolar, and he is in a fragile state," said Storring-Skillen.

Her son is in custody for creating a pipebomb and setting it off in a field in Barrie last summer.

During the accident, Ryan lost most of the fingers and thumb on his left hand.

"He went to specialist Dr. Ross in St. Joseph's Hospital in London, where he had 78 stitches. His thumb, baby finger and ring finger were saved, but his index and middle finger had to be amputated."

Ryan was sent to the Central North Correctional Centre to await his trial, and the doctor requested his bandages be changed daily, to prevent infection.

But Storring-Skillen said that didn't happen.

"There was one time he wore the same dressing for six days. There was swelling and he had to go on antibiotics. Ryan also had a check-up with Dr. Ross, and the jail cancelled that medical appointment, because I believe they didn't want to drive to London."

Although Storring-Skillen doesn't condone any of the crimes committed by those in jail, she wants inmates to have rights too.

"He (her son) could've developed gangrene, which could've sent poison to his heart or brain."

Recently, Ryan was sent to the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre for a psychiatric evaluation, and Storring-Skillen said he was given the proper medical and nutritional attention there.

He had physiotherapy for his left hand, and his needs were looked after.

Once Ryan was sent back to the jail, Storring-Skillen decided it was time to speak up.

And she found a friend in Debbie Abbott, deputy director of FAPPA.

"My son Mike Abbott is in the jail after a fight in Barrie on April 6. He was hit with a billy club and had a mild concussion," said Abbott. He was not sent to the hospital, but instead went directly to Penetanguishene, and approximately two months later, he had a seizure and hit his head on the cement.

"He was finally taken to the hospital, but because it was time for the guards to change shifts, he had no CAT scan."

Abbott called Penetanguishene resident Sharon Dion, chair of Citizens Against Private Prisons, to complain, and she was put in touch with Storring-Skillen.

"As a parent, it's hard to imagine not being able to give your child basic medical care," said Abbott.

She said the riot at the jail in September was over lack of medical treatment, and she predicts there will be more problems if the situation is not changed.

"The remand inmates have less rights than the rest of the population. They don't get to go to any of the classes, like anger management. They are supposed to sit in their cells day after day."

Although both of their sons' cases are still before the courts, they want to create fair and proper treatment for all inmates, whether they are sentenced or awaiting trial.

Storring-Skillen has scheduled meetings with facility administrator Doug Thomson, and has already met with him for more than an hour, to inform him about the FAPPA task force.

"We want to let people know we are out there, to give people some education. Yes, the people in jail have made a mistake, but it's only two years less a day. They are still human, and deserve to be treated fairly."

Storring-Skillen wants to make FAPPA a provincewide group, which will work with the John Howard Society.

She also plans to have an information night in Barrie to talk to other parents, spouses, or families who have someone staying at the jail sometime in the next few months.

If you have concerns about an inmate's health at the jail, contact Abbott at 721-9730, or e-mail her at

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