Your cart is empty.
The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney

The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney

Paperback : 9780889778979, 304 pages, October 2022

Table of contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Initiations
  • Solitary Confinement and Special Handling Units
  • Advocacy and (a) Prison(er's) Choice
  • Prison Culture in the Time of the Code
  • The Keepers and the Kept
  • The Bodies of the Condemned
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Opportunities and Restorations
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography


  • Short-listed, Book of the Year, Saskatchewan Book Awards 2023


Through poetry, letters, essays, and interviews, The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney relates the harrowing experiences of a man who spent nearly thirty-five years in the Canadian prison system.

Rik McWhinney spent thirty-four years and four months in Canada’s federal penitentiaries—sixteen of those in solitary confinement. His incarceration began in the 1970s, as a system-wide war was raging over the implementation of penal reforms. Though he was physically confrontational during the early years of his imprisonment, resulting in his segregation and medical torture, McWhinney eventually turned to writing to combat the conditions of his confinement.

The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney collects his poetry, essays, grievance forms, letters, and interviews to provide readers with insight into the everyday life of incarcerated individuals, amplifying the lives and voices of a demographic that society would rather ignore. McWhinney relays the horrors of solitary confinement and provides a vivid account of the violence and psychological turmoil that he endured while incarcerated.

Ultimately, McWhinney’s words are an indictment of the prison system, a system that institutionalizes individuals, subjecting them to an environment that manufactures post-traumatic stress rather than fulfilling its mission of rehabilitation and reform.


Shortlisted, Book of the Year, Saskatchewan Book Awards 2023

"The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney is a rock thrown squarely into the still waters of what Demers calls a “culture of indifference,” which allows society to forget or ignore that the incarcerated are first and foremost people." —Literary Review of Canada

"Essential to understanding the crisis in Canadian prisons." —Toronto Star

"Remarkable." —Winnipeg Free Press

"A searing indictment of the violence of the prison system." —Brett Story, author of Prison Land

"The most visceral and literate first-hand account I’ve seen of the brutal realities of prison life in Canada."  —Gary Garrison, author of Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth about Canada’s Prisons

“An incredible example of the power of prisoner writing. Brought me to tears with its stories of human caging. Riled me up with its subtle and wily analysis of systemic injustice.” —Kevin Walby, co-editor of Journal of Prisoners on Prisons

"This study is timely; an emerging academic demand in criminology and penology is the need to take into account the prisoner (criminalized) as an essential actor in the study of criminal justice and incarceration. This book addresses that demand." —Robert Gaucher, editor of Writing as Resistance