Grieving family says Canada abandoned son in Florida prison
TORONTO -- Sacha Bond’s family was looking forward to 2022, when, after more than 15 years in the United States, he would finally return to Canada. Instead, his mother is by his side at a hospital in Tallahassee, Fla., watching him die.
Bond, who turns 36 at the end of August, has been moved around various Florida prisons for nearly half his life. Now chained to a hospital bed and supervised by armed guards 24/7 while in a coma, this is not what his family wants for his final days. They blame the Canadian government for not doing enough years earlier -- and for not doing more now.
Bond was found with a fever of 40.5 C around 8:30 a.m. on July 13 after having spent almost three months in confinement, according to his mother, Diane Levesque, and brother, Eric Bond.
“There’s nothing we can do at this point because his brain is completely gone. He’s gone through so much cruelty at that place, and basically now my mom is risking her life … in the worst place in the world for COVID,” Eric Bond told CTVNews.ca.
“It is really, really heartbreaking.”
When he was taken out of the cell, he collapsed and never woke up, Eric Bond said. His temperature had climbed to 41 C by the time he was admitted into the hospital, where he was put on life support. Scans revealed severe, irreparable brain damage. His kidneys and lungs were failing and he had a blood infection.
But the family, who live in Quebec, said they would not have even known Bond was dying in a hospital had Levesque not been in regular contact with him and the Canadian government.
She had called the consulate to ask when they would be visiting her son and was told they couldn't because he was in the hospital, Eric Bond said. When she tried to find out which hospital he was being treated at, she was met with further roadblocks. A sympathetic staff member at the prison eventually told her.
Doctors diagnosed Bond with serotonin syndrome and neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), his family said, both of which are triggered by certain types of medication. Over the last year or so, the prison had been changing his medication for his bipolar disorder, Eric Bond said, changes that were affecting his serotonin levels. The family had asked doctors at the prison to stop making the drug switches because the ones he was taking were working well, he added.
NMS is a very rare reaction to drugs that treat mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder.
Bond had been on life support for about two weeks by the time Levesque, who had power-of-attorney, made it to Florida. She was shocked by the severity of his condition. He was taken off life support two days later.
He is surviving longer than doctors expected because his lower brain stem, which was not damaged, is helping him breathe on his own, his family said.
“How can his soul leave his body when he’s stuck, chained to the bed?” Levesque asked in an interview.
“Canada does nothing. They’re standing by ... He’ll be another statistic - that a Canadian died in a U.S. prison. You know what? He’s a human being, he’s my son.”
Neither the Florida Department of Corrections nor the warden for Apalachee Correctional Institution, which currently has custody of Bond, responded to questions about prisoner hospital policies and requests for comment from CTVNews.ca.
A 20-YEAR SENTENCE AND TRANSFERS DENIED
Bond was 19 when he got into a drunken fight at a bar during a January 2004 trip to Florida. He returned to the bar with a gun and tried to fire, but there were no bullets in those chambers, according to the family and media reports on the case. He was convicted of four counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years.
He was set to be released on Sept. 15, 2022, according to public inmate records from the Florida Department of Corrections.
His family tried many times over the years to transfer him to a Canadian prison under the International Transfer of Offenders Act, where they hoped he could get better treatment for his bipolar disorder, diagnosed just six months before his arrest. Canada approved the transfer twice, but U.S. authorities denied the request each time, Levesque said.
“Canada has made no effort to work with the U.S. government in order to have them send my boy back home,” she said. They sent the family funeral home pamphlets following their most recent pleas, saying there was nothing they could do, she added.
Global Affairs Canada told CTVNews.ca they are aware a Canadian citizen is being detained in Florida and said they continue to provide consular services to both the individual and their family.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and consular officials are in regular contact with local authorities to ensure he is provided the necessary medical care,” spokesman Jason Kung said via email. Citing the Privacy Act, Global Affairs said it could not disclose any further information.
Correctional Service Canada, which oversees international transfers, said they are not able to comment on the specifics of the case under the Privacy Act.
However, spokesperson Esther Mailhot added that the International Transfer of Offenders Act allows Canadian offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship, when there is an agreement between the two countries or jurisdictions, and with the consent of the offender.
"Denial of an application for transfer by either country (at any level) prevents the transfer of the offender at that time. The offender may re-apply after one year from the date of the denial in the event of a denial by the Minister or at a time specified by the sentencing country," the emailed statement says.
SCARED OF COVID-19 AND THREE MONTHS CONFINEMENT
Prison had “broken” Bond and made him a changed person, his family said. Still, in Levesque's last phone conversation with him, “he was OK, he wasn't sick ... He was fine, happy, laughed,” she said. But he was very concerned and scared about the COVID-19 situation at the prison, where he said social distancing was non-existent.
The Apalachee East Unit is a large, dormitory-like space that holds some 150 inmates, according to Levesque, with cots set up side-by-side and just enough room to get in and out of bed.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, there have been 152 positive COVID-19 tests among inmates, 25 among staff, and no deaths reported at that facility. Staff are provided with protective equipment including surgical-grade and N95 masks and Tyvek suits. Inmates are required to wear “cloth face coverings” and are monitored by medical staff with temperature checks conducted throughout the day.
Bond tried to ask for “protective management” on health and safety grounds -- which would segregate him from other inmates -- but his mother said that request was denied. They put him in 45 days of confinement instead, which placed him in a cell with one other inmate, she said.
When the 45 days were over, Bond refused the order to go back to the general prison area, so he was given another 21 days of confinement, this time in a different type of cell that had no bars on the solid doors, a small window with no sunlight, and no ventilation. Phone calls were not allowed.
“My brother was sending letters to all the consulates saying, ‘This is insane, I’m going freaking nuts, I have a rash from head to toe. I can’t even breathe in here,’” Eric Bond said.
Levesque was also exchanging daily letters with Bond during this period, but after his first 45 days, she got a call: “Sacha wants me to pass you a message -- stop writing in French because they’re keeping all these letters. He’s not getting them.”
In his last letter to his mother, Bond said he was breathing in black mould all day long, had a body rash and was sweating 24/7. He fell into a coma 10 days later.
Now, Levesque keeps him company in the hospital room day and night, sleeping in a chair and holding his hands under the watchful eye of two prison guards who stay in the small room with them. She is no longer allowed to keep a phone inside the room to connect with her other son, who worries he will not be able to see his brother’s last moments.
“We’re a very strong family. Sacha stayed in prison, did his time for 17 years and we just wanted him to come out of that tunnel … There is zero per cent chance of him pulling out of this and the prison is insisting on chaining his body to that bed,” said Eric Bond.
“I’m 100 per cent going to lose my brother. I’m really scared of losing my mother in this whole process.”
The guards’ presence has made things especially tense, said Levesque.
“The hospital is the best, co-operative and very empathetic, sympathetic, you know. But that prison? They want to control him up to the last minute,” she said, adding that the guards told her: “‘He’s still ours. He still belongs to us.’”
Her presence in the room outside of visitation hours was also questioned, even though she received permission from the hospital to remain with her son.
“There was no way I wasn't coming over here, even though COVID is like a cesspool down here,” Levesque said. “It's one of the worst places, but that's where my son is. That's where I need to be.”