A Walking Chunk of Mean-Mad

Posted: September 14, 2014 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized
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There is a scene in the movie version of Grapes of Wrath where Ma Joad worries that prison has changed her son, Tommy (Henry Fonda). She says:

But I gotta fin’ out somepin’ else first, Tommy.

Did they hurt you, son? Did they

hurt you an’ make you mean-mad?



Mad, Ma?


Sometimes they do.



No, Ma I was at first–but not no more


(not yet convinced)

Sometimes they do somethin’ to you,

Tommy. They hurt you–and you get

mad–and then you get mean–and they

hurt you again–and you get meaner,

and meaner–till you ain’t no boy or

no man any more, but just a walkin’

chunk a mean-mad. Did they hurt you

like that, Tommy?



No, Ma. You don’t have to worry about that.


Thank God. I–I don’t want no mean son

(She loves him with  her eyes)

That’s what everyone wants, that nobody leave prison as “a walkin’

chunk a mean-mad.”

I wonder how Ma Joad would feel about prisons today.

Books in Prison

Posted: September 8, 2014 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized

This week we’re featuring some information Joan McEwen sent. Joan wrote a book about Ivan Henry who was wrongly accused of sex offenses and spent 27 years in prison. Check the book out on Amazon:


 Library time and book access limited for federal prisoners, advocates say

Funding cuts lead to less access to reading material



Library time and book access limited for federal prisoners, advocates say

Funding cuts lead to less access to reading material

By Laura Payton, CBC News Posted: Sep 04, 2014 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Sep 05, 2014 5:16 PM ET

Advocates say Canadian inmates are losing some of their access to prison libraries.<br />
In this  January 2010 photo, American prisoner Michael Bennett reacts after reading a portion of a book that was shown to him by a classmate at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in Connecticut.” width=”100%” height=”349″ />
<p class=Advocates say Canadian inmates are losing some of their access to prison libraries. In this January 2010 photo, American prisoner Michael Bennett reacts after reading a portion of a book that was shown to him by a classmate at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in Connecticut. (Thomas Cain/Associated Press)


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A number of advocates say they fear federal inmates are losing access to books and libraries, making it harder to improve their literacy skills and prepare them for reintegration into Canadian society after they’re released.

Those advocates say a number of federal prisons are cutting library hours and library staff, limiting access to books.

“Access to books is really important, and what we’re seeing is an erosion in access to books,” Correctional Investigator Howard​ Sapers told CBC News.

Prisons across Canada are cutting back access due to budget cuts.

Last year, the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, Sask., didn’t extend a contract with the region’s library service, shutting down access for inmates. The library was open five days per week in the afternoons and evenings and inmates would borrow, on average, about 50 items per day. The program cost about $70,000 a year.

Several other institutions in Ontario and Quebec have seen library access restricted or cut entirely.

Advocates say reading material is vital for people living behind prison walls. There’s little to do to pass the time.

Plus, many inmates need to improve their literacy skills for when they’re released. Libraries are one of the only ways to get books because inmates can’t keep much in their cells, and there are security risks with accepting books donated by family members.

Already low literacy skills

Reading is “a huge part of our development as human beings,” said Joan McEwen, a lawyer who has taught a creative writing class at the Matsqui Institution near Vancouver.

“It’s a big part of how we become civilized and cultured, and what better thing to do in prison in your… downtime than read? It’s stimulating and you can have conversations with people, you learn about the world, you become more pro-social.”

Kingston Penitentiary library

A view of a library for inmates at Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario last October. The penitentiary closed last year. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Pro-social is a term used often by those working with inmates. It refers to positive behaviours, and it’s something the Correctional Service of Canada aims to cultivate in inmates before they’re released.

Sapers said reading helps prisoners in their rehabilitation.

“The average level of educational attainment is Grade 8 or lower, but you need Grade 8 or higher literacy skills to successfully participate in most correctional programs,” he said.

Carol Finlay, a former English teacher and an Anglican minister, started her first book club in the Collins Bay Institution in 2009. By the end of this month, she’ll have 17 book clubs operating at 14 prisons across Canada.

“When we go into the prisons, we see fellows who are starved for stimulation because you can’t take university [courses] unless you’ve got family to support you. Community college courses are very limited,” Finlay said in an interview with CBC News.

“After you finish Grade 12, and if you’re in there for a long term, there’s nothing really to do except read a whole lot of really bad murder mysteries…. [A book club gives] something for these fellows to think and talk about besides crime. That’s basically what they’ll talk about, or TV. It’s an extremely boring environment.”

Applied social skills

Finlay said the book club also brings together inmates who might otherwise be associated with rival gangs and not get to know each other without some kind of social activity to bring them together and talk. She said she wants to give the inmates an opportunity to talk about “the big issues of life” and apply the social skills they’re learning through the courses mandated by CSC.

Grand Valley Institution for Women 20130117

The Grand Valley Institution for Women near Kitchener, Ont., is one of the prisons where Carol Finlay runs a book club. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

“They really, really love that. They love that and they learn to do it in a respectful way. They listen and they speak to one another in a respectful way. We teach them how how to do that, how to have a civil conversation,” Finlay said.

A spokeswoman for the Correctional Service of Canada said library services are still available in all federal institutions.

Asked specifically whether inmate trips are limited, hours and librarian staff jobs cut back or inmate library positions cut back, she responded that “the management and availability of library services are determined at an institutional level based on the security of the institution and operational requirements.”

“The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) recognizes the benefits of education and literacy which provides offenders with greater opportunities to participate in other programs offered by CSC and to become law-abiding citizens,” CSC spokeswoman Sara Parkes wrote in an email.

“The mandate of CSC is to contribute to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. CSC assists offenders in managing all aspects of daily life including activities that promote pro-social values and behaviour as part of the rehabilitation process.” 

While inmates are provided an hour of exercise every day, Parkes said there is no stated minimum for hours of access to libraries.

‘My roommate is going to read to me’ 

But the need is there, according to a woman who has volunteered in federal and provincial institutions.

Kirsten Wurmann has been making sure people behind bars get books since 2007, first at a federal institution in Edmonton with the Greater Edmonton Library Prison Library and Reintegration committee, and then in Winnipeg at its provincial remand centre, through the Manitoba Library Association Prison Libraries committee.

Wurmann said the inmates appreciate having access to books and recalled one man who took his time carefully examining every book she’d brought in.

“I was asking, ‘Do you need some help finding something? Is there a particular author you might be interested in?’ and he said, ‘Oh, I don’t read, but my roommate is going to read to me,’ ” Wurmann said.

Another example of the prison system’s inability to stand up for what is right involves sterile needles used for tattoos.

Prisoners use all manner of tools to do tattoos, none of them sterile. The result of this was infection with hepatitis and/or other diseases. The prison staff knew that in the long run sterile needles would lead to big savings of money and lives. So they allowed the men to set up sort of a tattoo parlor in the basement of Matsqui prison. The needles used were sterile and nobody got sick.

Someone in the community got the word that those convicts were getting free tattoos in the basement of Matsqui prison.

As they always seem to do, the prison staff caved in. The tattoo parlor was closed. Apparently it didn’t matter if men got Hepatitis A, B, or C. What was important was the image of the prison.

Store Page http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GFGEBMG

The Book that was Banned in a Canadian prison.

Delaney’s Dream: to create a new type of prison in northern Wisconsin.
Delaney’s Nightmare: The first inmates he gets seem bent on destroying his dream.
Delaney’s Despair: Teaching the staff, the inmates, and the community to understand a new form of prison.
Delaney’s Hope: That his radical experiment will yield positive results before the volatile mixture blows up in his face.
Delaney’s Hope: An explosive book that has a powerful message for our era.


Posted: August 17, 2014 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized

A summer flu has knocked me out today. I’ll be back next week


In the nineties, a warden in the Ferndale Minimum Security prison got behind a project to turn an unused portion of land into a 9-hole golf course. Inmates were to develop the project and maintain it, then they could use it. The warden, Ron Wiebe did a good job in keeping the lines of communication open with neighbors and local community groups. The golf course opened. Inmates got to play a few days week, seniors groups and other community groups had some other days.

All went well until community protest started. “Those bums should not be playing golf, they should be taking programs to reform themselves.”

Readers’ Digest came out with a feature article on Ferndale, asking “Do our prisons have to be country clubs?” in the headline. The article focused on the facts that the place was attractive, well-maintained and comfortable, but neglected the fact that it was the free labor of the inmates who kept it so. The heat increased, and sadly, the prison system in Canada has never learned to stand up to the heat on any project.

Inmate students were learning how to maintain a golf course. Inmates were enjoying a positive form of recreation. But no matter. The inmates were banned from using the golf course they had created.

Dennis Haines has written articles for us in the past.

I’m back with my continuing adventures in the real world. The irony is that I have noticed that “real world squares” are not that much different from cons in the joint in some ways. In the month and a half that I have been out I have been observing people and how much the same we are. And to think that I used to feel like I didn’t fit in with normal people and now I find out that we aren’t that different after all.

Case in point, I take the same bus to work every day Monday to Friday at roughly 6:30 am and there are a group of regulars who are taking the same bus. I find that I always sit in the same spot and that everyone else tries to as well. The funny part is that if someone is sitting in someone else’s regular spot, you can actually see the annoyance on their faces at the interruption in their routine. It brings me to mind of people’s spots in the dining room in the institution, except it doesn’t end in violence.

That’s not the only place I notice the same type of behavior. In the lunch room where I work everyone has staked a claim to their chairs and although I don’t believe they would get violent over it, they will tell you if you are sitting in their spot.

So what I’m getting at is that I find it strangely comforting that regular people exhibit the same behaviors that I’m used to from the institutions. I was concerned with my level of institutionalization, but I’m finding that observing the world and putting it in perspective is really helping me along. As people we are all the same, and we all have our little comfort zones. Sometimes these zones are challenged, but it’s our reactions that set us apart.

I write these types of thoughts as a little bit of therapy for myself but also in the hope that maybe someone else who is just getting out will read them as well and maybe be comforted. I hope that I can send a message of hope to someone else who just got out and may or may not be struggling. I hope to let them know that every day out in the community is an adventure just waiting to be undertaken. For me it’s my time to take life by the horns and live it in the best way I can and, if I’m lucky, I can help someone else out along the way.

Dennis Haines has told me specifically that he wants his name and email revealed. He would appreciate any comments you have. You can send them directly to him if you want. dhaines429@gmail.com