A fatality inquiry got underway Monday morning into the death of a 23-year-old man who died by suicide in a solitary cell at the Edmonton Remand Centre.

Timothy McConnell, better known as TJ, took his life in January 2021.

Three years later, his mother, Lana Greene, smiled while talking about her son.

“He was full of energy and had a real zest for life,” she said to reporters in Churchill Square.

She said he loved sports and thinks a few head injuries were the beginning of McConnell’s troubles.

“He suffered a few concussions and then started to deal with depression, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” Greene explained.

After that, he began self-medicating with drugs, she said.

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He was arrested in September 2020 and taken to the Edmonton Remand Centre (ERC).

Court heard McConnell repeatedly filled out health service request forms, asking for help with his mental health and drug addictions.

Greene read one of those requests aloud. “He says: ‘I’m having a lot of trouble refraining from using drugs in here. And I’m scared I’m going to lose my life’.”

Roughly a month before his death, McConnell was scheduled to sit down with a psychiatrist at the remand, but he didn’t attend his appointment.

Court heard there is no follow-up in those situations, unless an inmate puts in another health service request.

“There should most definitely be follow-up,” Greene said.

She said her son was crying out for help.

“He was scared he was going to die. He very much wanted to stay alive.”

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Fighting back tears, Greene continued reading her son’s writing: “I want to leave this life behind. I’ve overdosed 16 times. I was on suboxone on the outside. Please, start me on that again.”

But that didn’t happen.

Click to play video: 'Alberta mother seeks justice after incarcerated son’s suicide'

Alberta mother seeks justice after incarcerated son’s suicide

Court heard there are complications accessing someone’s full medical history, including previous prescriptions.

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ERC psychiatrist Dr. Curtis Woods explained medications previously administered at other institutions would likely not show up on Alberta’s NetCare system, as they weren’t filled at a community pharmacy.

Court heard there’s a policy with Alberta Health Services that inmates and their families are the best way of finding out someone’s medical history and required medications.

McConnell had been hospitalized a number of times prior to his arrest for drug poisoning.

Greene said she was never asked about her son’s medical history or medications.

Just days before he died by suicide, McConnell again asked for help.

“He says: ‘I’m sorry to bug. I know I’m on the waiting list but I’ve been here for four months. Soon I’ll be back out on the streets, surrounded by drugs and hopelessness’.”

McConnell was found unresponsive in a solitary cell on January 11.

He was on a waitlist for suboxone at the time.

Greene said the autopsy revealed he didn’t have any drugs in his system.

In court, McConnell’s mother, grandparents and partner listened to the details of his time at ERC.

At one point, Dr. Woods started talking about the challenges of treating mental health in jail, especially during the pandemic.

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He said he’s surprised more inmates didn’t die by suicide.

Brandon Shaw, who is a recovering addict, was in and out of remand himself, and sees himself in McConnell.

“I’ve been using drugs since I was 13 and it took a long time for me to reach out (for help),” he said at a rally in McConnell’s memory.

“TJ was a young man who had a mother, a beautiful son and a partner, and it’s because of a broken system he wasn’t able to come home.”

Those gathered in Churchill Square Monday said more timely help is needed for those suffering from mental health and addictions issues, especially at ERC.

“When people come in, they need to be assessed. I think there needs to be more of a healthcare aspect to that, in order to assess someone’s wellbeing, how they are,” Shaw explained.

“When someone arrives with a well known history of mental health and substance abuse issues and they’re asking for these things, or even if they’re not, we should be assessing them and prescribing medication so their brain and body becomes well while they’re in the remand,” Greene added.

The fatality inquiry is expected to take three days, however the findings and report could take months to be released.

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