Nadine Bauer still can’t talk about the last six years she spent in the Windsor Jail without her hands starting to shake.
The Belle River, Ont. woman has already been out for longer than she spent behind those high, concrete walls ringed with barbed wire, but nightmares of the racism and hate she claims to have experienced still haunt her.
Bauer wasn’t an inmate. She was a correctional officer.
The 40-year-old worked at the jail from 2002 to December 2010 — she said she barely made it through the final years.
High walls ringed with barbed wire at the former Windsor Jail. The facility closed when the South West Detention Centre opened in 2014.(Aadel Haleem/CBC News)
Bauer claims her fellow correctional officers distributed intimate photos of her, left her equipment soaked in urine and called her and her unborn daughter racist slurs, while she was working as a guard at the Windsor Jail.
“I didn’t want to come in,” she said, clasping her hands to stop the shaking. “I’d put my uniform on and sit on my front porch and cry.”
For the past seven years, the single mother has been left in limbo, receiving regular insurance payments, which have been just enough to keep her and her two kids going, but barred from working in corrections again by her doctor’s orders.
For all of those years, a grievance filed with OPSEU, the union representing correction workers, has been sitting untouched, according to Bauer.
She said that’s because she was warned by a union representative not to “rock the boat” by speaking out, or the insurance money would stop.
Claims coworkers used slurs to describe daughter
But after reading about the racism and harassment other correctional officers said they suffered at the South West Detention Centre, which replaced the Windsor Jail and opened in 2014, Bauer said she’s tired of staying quiet.
“There was a lot of talk about a new building that’s going to change everything, but as long as you have the same managers in there who clearly don’t respect women and don’t care for black people, then nothing is going to change.”
Bauer has stayed silent for the past seven years. But now she wants OPSEU to take action on grievances she filed about alleged abuse and discrimination at the jail.(Dan Taekema/CBC News)
Bauer said staff at the jail started to treat her differently after learning the father of her child was black.
“I heard staff call me ‘nightrider,’ there was a lot of innuendos regarding black inmates and accusations of being with black inmates,” she explained. “There were also times where I was called a ‘n–ger lover’ in front of other staff.”
The taunts didn’t just target her – Bauer said some of her coworkers referred to her unborn baby as a ‘n–glet.’
“It hurts and it’s hard to explain because people say ‘Suck it up, it’s not grade school’ but it does affect you. I lost a lot of weight, after six years of torment and … coming forward is worse because if there’s no discipline or they don’t solve the problem, people just become more hateful and more bold.”
Ministry won’t comment on guard’s claims
CBC News sent the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services a list of the words Bauer said she and her daughter were called, but despite saying the ministry takes allegations of discrimination and harassment seriously, a spokesperson responded to her claims.
“It is inappropriate for the ministry to publicly address human resources matters,” wrote Andrew Morrison.
Bauer alleges the abuse didn’t stop at name-calling. In one incident, she said a coworker joked about her having intimate photos on her phone
What should be done? A complete overhaul from top to bottom with the ministry.– Brian Chauvin , former correctional officer
Later, without her knowledge, Bauer said a male colleague took her phone out of her purse, sorted through her photos and shared pictures from what she describes as a “private boudoir shoot” for her boyfriend with several other correctional officers.
“The next morning when I came on shift somebody told me and I was crying and obviously very upset about it,” she said. “Nothing was done. Nobody wants to come forward or do anything.”
Working while pregnant
Bauer worked on a part-time basis at the jail for years, meaning she did not have benefits or access to maternity leave. So, despite being heavily pregnant, she worked right up until the day her daughter was born.
She said her supervisors did little to accommodate her condition and even suggested she should “answer codes or go home.”
“They wanted me at nine months pregnant … getting in fights, being around marijuana smells, cigarette smells,” she explained.
Bauer still has her correctional officer’s badge. She wants to get back to work, just not at a jail.(Dan Taekema/CBC News)
But Bauer came up with another option — she suggested working with an inmate to clean parts of the jail. That project was approved, but Bauer said it just led to more abuse.
The cleaning equipment was kept in a locked closet that only other officers would have access to, yet she consistently found the small room had been soiled.
“They started urinating in my cleaning bucket, on the walls and it would just ferment. It was a horrible smell.”
Segregation shift after botched surgery
In another incident, Bauer claims a routine surgery to remove a lump on her breast went wrong and resulted in a doctor removing most of one of her breasts.
She was told it would be about a week before reconstructive surgery could take place, but Bauer couldn’t afford to take time off.
Bauer said she was forced to work in the jail’s segregation unit just one day after a botched surgery.(Aadel Haleem/CBC News)
She called in and asked if she could work with women and without heavy lifting until the surgery was completed. She said that request was approved, but after arriving at work and having nurses there bandage her up, she claims a supervisor pulled her off light duty in a dorm section of the jail and made her work in segregation.
“He put me with a guy in segregation, the hole, who throws his feces and with two other male officers,” she said. “My options were if I don’t like, it go home.”
CBC News has reviewed dozens of internal grievance documents, as well as medical and financial records Bauer has submitted over the years to corroborate her claims.
Doctor told ministry to address complaints
Evaluations from doctors and a psychiatrist point to severe damage starting with her time at the jail. Both medical professionals describe the fact she exhibits symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, numbness, memory loss, panic attacks and severe anxiety.
Bauer looks over some of the documents linked to the grievance she filed years ago while working at the Windsor Jail.(Dan Taekema/CBC News)
In a 2011 letter from the ministry asking Dr. Jeffrey Dennison to help staff determine what could be done to help Bauer get back to work, the doctor calls for officials to address the issues his patient reported.
“Patient has made serious allegations about her workplace environment,” Dennison writes. “These issues need to be addressed by the employer. I cannot help her until the complaints are settled.”
In March 2012, Dennison also wrote a letter saying that Bauer was simply “unfit to return to work as a corrections officer.”
His assessment was corroborated by letter from psychiatrist Dr. Olusegun Omoseni four months later, which stated Bauer should not work at a jail again because “re-exposure to such an environment will precipitate a decomposition of her mental health and result in a severe worsening of her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Former guard calls for a ‘complete overhaul’
Brian Chauvin was a correctional officer at the Windsor Jail for more than three decades, part of which was spent as a union representative.
He worked with Bauer at the time and said he heard other officers talk about calling her racist slurs and guards sharing private photos of her.
Chauvin said Bauer’s experience was just part of the “improprieties” based on race and gender that he witnessed at the jail.
“What should be done?” he asked. “A complete overhaul from top to bottom with the ministry.”
Past management allowed Nazi materials
Chauvin worked for years to help bring about that overhaul as part of a systematic change committee aimed at ending harassment and discrimination following the case of Cheryl O’Brien, a correctional officer at the Windsor Jail who launched a landmark grievance in 1993.
A 1995 document from the Grievance Settlement Board that Chauvin supplied to CBC News states the ministry acknowledged its treatment of O’Brien had breached the Ontario Human Rights Code.
In this portion of a Grievance Settlement Board document from 1995 the then-Ministry of Correctional Services acknowledged it allowed Cheryl O’Brien, another correctional officer, to be discriminated against because of her gender. (Ontario Grievance Settlement Board/Document)
The memorandum adds the ministry also acknowledged the jail was managed in a way that created a “workplace poisoned by gender hostility and discrimination” through the actions of managers and by managers condoning the staff actions which included the following:
- Engaging in or permitting co-workers to watch sexually exploiting movies in lunchrooms
- Allowing workers to have inappropriate conversations with female staff about sex and their appearance
- Engaging in simulated sex in the workplace
- Using racist language
- Bringing in or wearing Nazi or white supremacist materials or icons, and segregating inmates by race
“The ministry agrees to take all necessary and reasonable measures to eliminate discriminatory practices at the Windsor Jail and OPSEU agrees to cooperate in facilitating such measures,” the memorandum reads.
Beauer said her experience proves those attempts were unsuccessful.
After O’Brien, the ministry spent “millions” trying to change the attitudes in corrections, according to Chauvin. One of the more recent efforts was called Restoration Windsor and took place shortly after Bauer went on disability.
The ministry confirmed the initiative was “focused on improving staff interactions in the workplace” and that it took place in 2011, but would not provide any details about why it was launched.
“As the Restoration Windsor initiative involved confidential human resources matters, sharing any documentation publicly is not appropriate,” wrote Morrison in an email to CBC News.
No longer silent
Like Bauer, Chauvin said he heard administrators talk about the South West Detention Centre as a fresh start, but said the only thing that changed with the new jail was the “paint on the walls.”
In response to questions about Bauer and her grievance Ron Elliot, OPSEU’s Administrator of Local Services and Collective Bargaining Division, said discussions between members about legal matters are confidential.
He explained it’s up to members to decide whether to seek arbitration, withdraw or settle a grievance.
Bauer knows speaking up could mean the benefit payments she relies on to survive could get cut off.
But after seven years of waiting, it’s a risk she feel she has to take. “This is just nothing new for them. I’m out of sight, out of mind. I have no reason to be on Manulife, it’s just to shut me up I guess, but I’m not doing that anymore.”