The blood-smeared door of the prison cell in which Solomon Uyarasuk died is covered with messages scratched into the paint by other prisoners.
Yesterday I looked through over 100 photos of the scene of death, entered into evidence at the coroner’s inquest in Igloolik, being held more than two years after Solomon died at the age of 26.
“Help me God for Free,” one message reads in cell number one of the Igloolik RCMP detachment.
“Going to BCC (Baffin Correctional Facility),” another reads, with a chart of columns and numbers I couldn’t make sense of.
“Praying is good for you,” somebody else scratched into the door, with “everybody” etched under “you” by a different prisoner, it seems.
And “I love you” appears in three different messages, with indecipherable writing following each time.
The words are scrawled around the meal slot of the prison cell door, a slot some two feet off the ground. Most of the words are covered with a dry film of blood.
Both an external investigation done by the Ottawa Police and the autopsy report by a forensic pathologist found that Solomon—drunk, stoned, aggressive and violent—was found hanging from a nylon belt, jammed into the meal slot door.
They both testified that the injuries found on Solomon, besides the “encircling ligature mark” around his neck—a black eye, cuts and bruises and abrasions scattered around his face, chin, neck, shoulders and wrists—are consistent with the RCMP’s account of Solomon’s behavior that night: Solomon injured himself by thrashing around in the back seat of the RCMP truck, banging his head against the plexiglass partition, gouging his forehead on the metal cage portion.
A nurse who performed CPR on Solomon after he was found hanging in his cell, testified that the RCMP officer who called him said Solomon had been stripped before being put in the cell, except for his belt and his ring. Solomon was too aggressive for officers to remove his belt or his ring, the nurse testified.
Some of the pictures show Solomon’s bloodied face, relaxed after death, with a chipped tooth, bruises and marks on his jawline.
“The psychological state of people…cannot be determined by my examination,” the forensic pathologist testified. Indeed.
“An act like this,” Albert Camus wrote of suicide in The Myth of Sisyphus, “is prepared within the silence of the heart, as in a great work of art. The man himself is ignorant of it.”
In no way does this make suicide into an artistic pursuit—Camus dispels that notion by concluding that Sisyphus’ great affirmation is the renewal of ambition as he descends the mountain, before he begins, anew, his perpetual labour of rolling the boulder up the mountainside, against gravity and the gods.
But it speaks to the passion of life, to the ideals and energy of man.
“In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world,” Camus wrote.
When I see footage of Solomon in the documentary, SOL, I believe that.
As I was looking through the book of photographs in the makeshift courtroom, Solomon’s family, about a dozen of them, came up to the adjacent table to look at another set of the same photographs.
A woman from his family came over to me and asked if the family could see the book of photos I was looking at too, since there were so many of them.
There was reproach in her voice. A raw, underlying emotion, that made me feel like I was invading her privacy, or being indecent.
Of course I was invading her privacy. What a grotesque invasion of privacy it is to have photographs of a loved one, dead, naked, bloodied, lying on a concrete prison floor, shown to the media, or to anybody else. How traumatizing to see that for yourself, let alone to share with the public, without your direct consent.
Has that always been the way forward for man? Must humanity on the individual level be sacrificed, at times, for the humanity of society to be upheld?