Peter Collins has been in prison for more than 30 years and is one of Canada’s longest-serving prisoners. He is currently incarcerated at Bath Institution near Kingston, Ontario. Collins is an award-winning human rights activist, writer, artist and peer health educator. In 2008, he was awarded the Canadian Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights for his work fighting for the health and human rights of prisoners. He has tutored others in prison, led seminars on HIV and Hepatitis-C prevention, and helps individuals prepare for parole hearings. While incarcerated, he taught himself to play the guitar and to paint. He has become a champion of prison justice issues and is a vocal advocate on issues such as systemic racism, overcrowding, harm reduction programs, and the importance of remembering those who have died behind prison walls.
Collins, who was convicted of the murder of a police officer, has been eligible for full parole since 2008 but has been repeatedly denied. He was raised in Canada but has British citizenship and is under a deportation order that would see him immediately sent to the UK if released. This puts him in a catch-22 as the parole board claims it has inadequate mechanisms to ensure mandatory supervision in a foreign country, despite his submission of a comprehensive release plan in England. Collins was recently diagnosed with aggressive, terminal cancer and told he has only months to live. His case has been sent to the parole board for another early hearing under a provision allowing for compassionate release of dying prisoners. He is still waiting for a date for the special hearing.
Collins was originally placed in the Secure Housing Unit of a super-max prison and has spent long stretches in solitary confinement, including a six-month period when he was falsely accused of another prisoner’s murder. He recently wrote, narrated and directed from inside prison this short film called Fly in the Ointment about a prolonged period he spent in solitary. —Garrett Zehr