WARNING: This story contains offensive language and distressing video.
Sometime between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., Matthew Michel asked staff at the youth jail in Regina where he was being held to kill him. A motorcycle helmet encased his head and mesh straps with steel buckles and Velcro immobilized his body.
Michel’s body was bound by a device called the Wrap — a series of straps binding his torso, legs and ankles, and connected to a shoulder harness to keep his body in a near-45-degree, forward-sitting position. His hands were cuffed behind his back and locked into a carabiner.
Michel, then 15, begged for death after spending two hours in the Wrap at the Paul Dojack Youth Centre, according to internal jail video and files obtained by CBC News.
“F–king strangle me,” said Michel. “Kill me already. F–k.”
At times, Michel gagged, wept and hyperventilated, the video shows.
Two jail staff sat on either side of him, one reading a book and drinking a juice box. Both appear impervious to his short bursts of breaths and groans of pain.
A third staff member periodically enters the frame to check on Michel’s condition.
“Subject is crying, he’s crying. Now, he’s settling,” said the third staff member, wearing dark gloves.
“I’m not f–king crying, man. I’m f–king trying to f–king suffocate myself to death,” Michel says in the video, dated Aug. 17, 2010, and now made public for the first time.
At another moment shown on the video, a staff member shakes Michel by one of the straps. “No sleeping. If I’m not sleeping, you aren’t sleeping.”
Around 3:20 a.m., Michel, still bound, lay on his side. The helmet had now been removed and replaced with a spit hood, covering half his face.
A staff member wearing a Mötley Crüe shirt, who identified himself as a supervisor, asks Michel if he was willing to co-operate. Michel nods his head weakly. Staff remove the Wrap, shackle his ankles, cuff his now-swollen wrists and pull him up. Michel shuffles forward, his legs shaky.
“You might be a little wobbly for a bit,” said the supervisor.
Michel was kept in the Wrap for over three hours that day.
3 provinces allow for use of the Wrap
The Wrap was created by a California-based company nearly 30 years ago, sold to law enforcement as a safe way to restrain individuals acting violently or dangerously, compared to other methods, such as pinning a subject facedown or using pepper spray or a Taser.
Safe Restraints Inc. says its design, which forcibly places a person into a seated restraint position, ensures the now-immobilized subject can continue to breathe unobstructed.
The company says the device is not intended for punitive or disciplinary purposes.
In Saskatchewan’s youth jails, it’s meant to be used an hour at a time, unless in exceptional circumstances and under appropriate authorization, according to provincial policy. The policy further says it should only be used as a last resort to stop self-harm or violent behaviour.
CBC News obtained videos depicting 10 incidents involving the use of the Wrap on young offenders inside Saskatchewan correctional facilities between 2009 and 2012.
Five incidents at two institutions — Paul Dojack Youth Centre in Regina and Kilburn Hall Youth Centre in Saskatoon — involved Michel.
They show Saskatchewan youth jail staff used the Wrap to punish Michel and to force his compliance.
“I feel mentally f–ked up from being placed in the Wrap,” wrote Michel in a letter dated April 6, 2021, among hundreds of pages of records obtained by CBC News, charting his path through the correctional system.
“You feel helpless, abused, disgusted with yourself. You feel embarrassed because they make you scream like a girl.”
Saskatchewan is one of three provinces, including Manitoba and New Brunswick, that allow for the use of the Wrap on incarcerated youth.
Manitoba and New Brunswick, too, state the device is only for use on youth as a restraint of last resort to stop self-harming behaviour.
Manitoba said it used the Wrap in its youth facilities 11 times between 2018 and 2023. New Brunswick said it didn’t use it at all between 2019 and 2023.
Saskatchewan couldn’t provide any data to CBC News on how many times the Wrap was used in its provincial youth facilities, saying they do not currently track its use.
All three provinces also allow use of the Wrap on adults — though in Saskatchewan, only for women — along with Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia.
Newfoundland used it 40 times between April 2022 and March 2023. B.C. used it six times in its facilities over that same time span.
Device akin to ‘torture,’ expert says
CBC News showed several minutes of video that captured Michel strapped into the Wrap to Gabor Maté, a prominent therapist and author who studies and writes about the relationship between trauma and childhood development.
He said the use of the device reminded him of torture.
“You know what a good analogy is? Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq,” said Maté, referring to the images of the U.S. military torturing Iraqi prisoners that emerged in 2004.
“Except these are kids…. Traumatized kids.”
WATCH | International expert explains how restraints on youth can lead to lasting trauma:
The use of restraint devices like the Wrap piles on hurt and pain to already-damaged youth, increasing the chance of future addictions and destructive behaviour, Maté said.
“The so-called correctional system is completely devoid of understanding of brain development, of child development and of the impact of trauma on child development,” he said.
CBC News also shared the video with Sen. Kim Pate, a longtime champion of corrections reform.
“If you’re having to rely on that kind of device to stop people from acting out, then you’re likely dealing with a mental health issue that either pre-existed or one that has been created,” she said.
Pate said watching the video surfaced memories of Ashley Smith, whose 2007 in-custody death triggered an inquest that revealed the system brutalized the young woman, who suffered from mental health illness. Instead of treatment, Smith faced segregation and restraint methods, like The Wrap.
“I don’t think it should be used by the system. I think it should be completely outlawed,” said Pate.
Detained by 12
Matthew Michel’s family is from Fishing Lake First Nation, where he is a band member. But he grew up in Saskatoon, 230 kilometres to the west.
His childhood unfurled without his parents present. He was shuffled between family members and the child welfare system, according to his files.
Michel said the only stabilizing presence in his life came from his grandmother, Cecile.
“My grandma was basically my mother, my father figure at the same time. She did what she could to provide for me whatever she could,” he said.
“She either went to day school or residential school. I never asked about that because when she talked about her past, when she would drink alcohol, she would cry about it.”
As he grew older, his life moved between the streets of Saskatoon and the walls of the province’s youth correctional system.
Michel’s file begins when he lands at Kilburn Hall, at age 12, facing a handful of charges, including breaking a window of a Toys “R” Us and stealing a bicycle, stealing chocolate bars, breaking the back window of two cars with rocks, and chasing his brother and a friend with a 2×4.
“New admit to KH. Made no call to family because of no contact number,” reads an entry from a March 25, 2008, staff report on MIchel. “Went straight to his room to sleep.”
The report makes no mention of any mental health or psychological assessment.
Jail cells and walls would frame much of his young life from here.
Throughout his life, Michel told CBC News, he suffered from auditory hallucinations.
He said he first realized this was happening when he was nine; he was sitting in his room, deep in a conversation with these voices, when his uncle walked in. His uncle asked him who he was talking to and Michel said his “friends.” His uncle told him those voices weren’t real.
“I still thought everyone heard voices,” wrote Michel in the April 6 letter contained in his file.
Sometimes, when locked in his cell in youth jail, Michel said he would hear mocking voices and believed it was jail staff, triggering fits of fury.
“I would get mad and bang on the door and say, ‘F–k you. Quit talking s–t, man.’ Then I would hear laughing, thinking the staff and correctional workers were laughing at me,” wrote Michel.
“But I would keep kicking the door, because that’s what would stop me from hearing voices. But, meanwhile, staff would be getting ready to rush me.”
He wouldn’t undergo a psychiatric assessment until 2013 and was eventually put on medication to deal with the issue.
More than 3 hours in the Wrap
The incident on video that unfolded in the Paul Dojack Youth Centre began with Michel kicking his door shortly before midnight on Aug. 16, 2010.
Just one day earlier, staff had reported positively on Michel’s behaviour, writing that he helped out and communicated well with staff and other residents, according to a report.
As the day wound down on Aug. 16, staff reported it was largely uneventful, except that Michel swore at a staff member just before bed, according to the record.
Then around 11:35 p.m., Michel began banging on his cell door and covered the window with a towel, comforter and mattress.
“Night supervisor was notified. Prior to this, I asked if he was going to settle down. He said, ‘Bring it on,'” said a staff report.
WATCH | 2010 video shows teen forced into the Wrap at Sask. youth detention centre:
At 11:45 p.m., five staff entered his cell and pinned Michel to the ground. Within five minutes, Michel was bound in the Wrap, according to the record.
He would remain restrained in the device until about 3:25 a.m. the next day.
This pattern runs through the majority of the at least 12 times staff trussed him in the Wrap in three different institutions between 2009 and 2012 — anywhere from under an hour to over three hours.
“You think thoughts of suicide, things like that, because that’s how much pain you’re in,” said Michel, now 28, in an interview with CBC News.
“You’re like, kill me already, you know.”
Michel said he would sometimes bite his tongue or the inside of his cheek until it bled to try to stop himself from screaming while in the Wrap.
“I can still taste the blood to this day. That’s how I learned to handle pain,” he said.
Device used appropriately, province says
According to the record, in all instances, save one — when Michel was restrained after he struck a staff member, a headbutt — he was either acting out alone in his cell (banging, kicking the door, breaking a sprinkler or shouting) or refusing orders and causing disturbances in the unit.
Michel was classified as “defiant” in each of the 12 incidents, according to a 2020 internal investigation of his cases. In some incidents, he was classified as “active aggressive” or “passive aggressive” and “disrespectful.”
The investigation did not mention any use of the Wrap on Michel connected to instances involving self-harm or posing a physical threat to another youth inmate.
It concluded the Wrap was used appropriately under provincial policy in each instance.
“In all instances, the use of the Wrap fit the definition of ‘extraordinary’ as defined in the [provincial policy].… Each incident involved several staff members to safely apply and remove the Wrap,” said the investigation report.
“The duration of time that Michel would have been in the Wrap was contingent on his own behaviour and the agreement to ‘commit’ as per policy.… There was no evidence of abuse, taunting or inappropriate comments toward Michel.”
Use of the Wrap previously criticized
The Saskatchewan government has previously faced criticism for its use of the Wrap. In 2018, an adult female inmate at the White Birch Remand Centre in Regina was restrained in the device for five hours.
Saskatchewan Ombudsman Mary McFadyen investigated the issue, determining that the Wrap was not authorized for use in adult facilities at the time and was not used reasonably.
McFayden recommended corrections develop a policy to “ensure basic human dignity would be preserved” and include reasonable time limits, along with proper video and audio recording of when the device was used.
The Wrap has also been connected to at least five police-custody deaths in California.
Between 2014 and 2015, the Hayward Police Department faced three lawsuits following the deaths of three men, all in their 40s, who died after being restrained in the Wrap. In one case, the City of Hayward paid a family a settlement of $1 million US.
In 2018, California recorded two more deaths connected to the Wrap.
Charles Hammond, president of Secure Restraints Inc., which makes the Wrap, said he is aware of a handful of deaths that have occurred in connection with restraint involving the Wrap. He said many of those deaths were the results of heart attacks, overdoses or other types of intoxication and were not the fault of the device.
With more than 10,000 devices in the field, Hammond said the numbers back his company’s claim that the Wrap is safe to use, when deployed properly.
“The frequency is so incredibly low, the chances of preserving life is monumentally higher than any other tool in combative situations,” said Hammond.
“Handcuffs, [pepper] spray, batons, Tasers — all of those tools — have nowhere near the safety track record that the Wrap does.”
The Wrap ensures an individual is restrained in a sitting position to aid in breathing, he said, but it should also be coupled with attentive health monitoring.
“If the Wrap is being put on somebody for punitive reasons, that absolutely should not happen,” said Hammond. “We do not support that.”
‘I don’t want that to happen to other youth’
The Saskatchewan government said it could not respond to the specifics in Matthew Michel’s case because the matter is before the courts.
In 2020, Michel filed a lawsuit against the province over harms he alleges he sustained after being subjected to the Wrap up to 50 times while incarcerated in youth jails.
“I don’t want that to happen to other youth, you know?” said Michel.
Earlier this month, on a hot Monday morning, Michel walked out of the Saskatoon jail after a 16-month stint for assault. He carried clear plastic bags with remains of a life spent moving between streets and steel gates.
His sister and brother arrived to pick him up and they drove to a nearby Tim Hortons, where Michel ordered an Oreo Iced Capp, followed by a BLT.
“We don’t have bacon in the correctional, you know,” he said. “I’m telling you — bacon, so much better than I thought.”
He later took a drive into Saskatoon’s downtown Riversdale neighbourhood, to the house he lived in as a child with his aunt and uncle. It’s now condemned, windows, doors boarded up and tagged with the letters “IP” and a “G” impaled by two vertical lines — the markings of the Indian Posse street gang.
Michel has the G-money symbol inked on his neck, but says he’s no longer with the gang. There was a falling out after he backed a friend against members. It led to an attack and he was slashed in the head.
Standing in the overgrown, garbage-strewn yard, Michel said he wanted to leave the cycles of his past behind. He can now envision a future he sometimes forgot existed when straps, buckles and Velcro bound his body.
The Wrap ultimately changed the trajectory of his life, he said, as he believes much of his jail time stems from deep resentment and anger toward authority he developed while bound.
“That played a big factor in my life, that still haunts me to this day and that I wish never happened,” he said. “I was left broken.
“Now I’m in the process of going on a healing journey, finding my life and building it.”
Send tips on this story or others to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.