“It was the hardest day of my life without question.”
Former corrections officer John Tsentouros of Kenora is paying close attention to security reforms at the Kenora Jail, while he continues on his road to recovery. On September 14, 2018, Tsentouros was taken hostage by a number of inmates in the facility, and he has since been recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I’m doing well. I’m much better than several months ago. I’m progressing well with my treatment and recovery plan. Getting a little better everyday. It’s something that I’m moving away from and something that I’m working through and dealing with. It gets a little bit easier as more time passes, but it’s a part of me whether I like it or not. Just working on getting better.”
Tsentouros was released several hours into the situation following a large police response and a long negotiation process. Tsentouros underwent horrific treatment throughout the incident, including physical and mental threats and assaults. Seven men were arrested and charged following the situation.
Tsentouros says that the province’s recently-revealed action plan for the jail is encouraging, as it addresses a need to improve security and equipment, infrastructure needs, information sharing between police and corrections staff, a field intelligence officer and new training facilities.
However, he says that while the announcement made by Kenora Rainy – River MPP Greg Rickford on behalf of Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Sylvia Jones is promising, he’s patiently waiting to see how it plays out in action.
“This is a step in the right direction. I’m glad that there are plans put in place on paper. Once I see it and it’s happening then I’ll believe it. I’m encouraged by it, it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m cautiously-optimistic. I’m eager to see this plan progress going forward.”
“But, I still think that even with all of the facilities in place, you still need front-line staff to staff those areas. That has always been an area of concern not only in the Kenora jail, but in corrections as a whole across the province. We need the people on the ground to effectively put this plan into place.”
Staff at the jail estimate they're short 18 out of 54 positions. They're hoping to work with Seven Generations Education Institute in Kenora, in an effort to train more new correctional officers to fill gaps. A local training program might be particularly helpful for mature students, who may have family obligations. The province says that it may help to attract more First Nations candidates.
Overcrowding in the jail has meant cells built for one person were holding three and four inmates. The jail was originally built in 1926, but it has been expanded since then. It currently has 129 beds for males, but at the time of the court testimony in 2017, they had 149 - along with another 40 female inmates. There are usually two inmates in each cell, but when the jail is overcrowded, a mattress on the floor is provided.
In the court case surrounding the hostage situation, the jail’s superintendent described the creation of fight clubs and gang affiliations, which add to the tensions within the facility. An average stay in the jail is eight to 12 weeks. In 2016, the superintendent said they dealt with 4,000 inmates.
While the Kenora Jail continues to search for more staff, Tsentouros will help to alleviate the pressure. He is currently working to return to work in a different role with the facility, in an effort to return to normalcy and assist with his recovery process.
“I have been given an opportunity to return to work in a different capacity. I don’t look at it as a back-to-work plan, more of an extension of treatment. Nobody has pushed me to return to work, it’s been at my own pace and my own discretion. I felt that the time is now to start looking at that plan.”
“I will continue my treatment back in the work environment, and we’re taking it one day at a time. I’m nervous, scared, anxious, but I’m excited. I know that this is the right thing to do.”
While acknowledging that returning to the jail environment will bring stress along with it, Tsentouros says that he is confident in his support structure surrounding him, with support from his family and his community.
“As far as the help, support and love thrown my way, it’s been overwhelming. It’s still overwhelming to this day. I’ve had more than enough help from the ministry, help from friends and family, the local WSIB branch, and the community. There’s more help than I know what to do with.”
Initially overwhelmed by the support, he added that the biggest step in his road to recovery was to accept the help that had been given to him – something that he suggests to anyone on their own road to recovery.
“Having the courage to accept that help is usually the biggest hurdle for people who are recovering. People have to want to accept help to get better. There was only so much that I could do on my own. In order for me to get better, I had to be willing to accept that help. It’s been amazing, and I continue to be humbled by that.”
Tsentouros has also been asked to speak at a Helping the Helpers Awareness Day for emergency responders, taking place in Nova Scotia in October. He’s been asked to share his experience with the situation, as well as his road to recovery.
For more information:
Action plan for jail released
Court dates for hostage takers