Archive for March, 2012

Poetry in Prison

Posted: March 31, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison
Tags: , , , , ,

poetryWhen I first went to teach in prison, I was surprised by the guys’ interest in poetry. They wrote poems and they wanted me to comment. When they discovered that I had only a surface knowledge of poetry, they asked me to bring in real poets to help them, which I did.

Why? Why the interest in poetry? Only once or twice a year am I moved to poetry, when something hits me hard. I wanted them to write about prison reform and they wrote poetry.

Here’s a poem by a man who attended my class faithfully. He organized a weekly Poetry Night and put the notice on the bulletin board. Some in the public might think he’d be beat up or worse for such a notice. In fact he attracted a core of men who met with him every week in a dirty, little office, and they wrote poetry.

 

The External Gatekeeper

 

Until he got to minimum Joshua wore an external conscience;

loud and insistent, a full metal jacket

the Man would call the shots

If he knew what was good for him Joshua would take instruction.

The uniforms would decide when he ate, when he slept…

they’d tell him when to report to work and what ailed him…

in a cyclical way. The days kept coming like a revolving door…

Slave wages. Jump through hoops. Pray to your maker for more.

Then one day the walls were no more. There were trees, birds,

green grass, Escorted Absences lay in store.

Now out of himself he must fashion a clockwatcher bore

To keep track of the free movement hours, no lock on the door

A strange world to a caged bird, mythical lore

The cage just got bigger, would someday be no moreJail Writer

for Josh, no longer a sapling, had caged rage at his core.

 

Why? Why is poetry so popular in prison?

 

Images courtesy of:

  • asylum.com

 

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A few years ago two creative men stirred my creative writing class in prison with idea after idea. They came up with creative writing projects, with proposals to the prison administration, and even with ideas for TV shows.Creative People

They were good friends not only in the classroom but in the gym and in sports. Jack was the boxer and the storyteller, while Andrew was the humorist. Andrew didn’t have the physique Jack had, but he tried hard. (not their real names)

One night Jack heard a disturbance in the cell next to his. He got up and saw three men beating up Andrew. Jack broke up the fight.

Prison officials followed usual procedure and put everyone in segregation until they could figure out what had happened. It turned out that Andrew had made enemies in the prison, reason unknown, but some suspected that his success in criminal ventures had stirred jealousy.

Jack was released from segregation the next day. Andrew was moved to the federal prison set aside for those who needed protective custody.

Officials scheduled release for the two men at roughly the same time, but Andrew got out first. I met him for coffee and we talked. I knew he was headed back into crime and I argued and pleaded with him. A few weeks later we were to meet again for coffee. He stood me up and I knew my influence was over.

Jack got out almost a year later. He was a changed man, but he said it was the writing that had helped him, more than the prison. That, and our friendship, for he and I had become good friends. While he was in prison, we wrote a book together.

We met for coffee when he was released. He told me that Andrew had set aside a gift for him in the tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, I opposed him accepting it, but Jack already had reservations about it. He knew the money came from crime and accepting it meant he would join his old friend in new criminal ventures.

Jack turned the money down. He struggled for a few years, but has now built a little entertainment company. He works hard, but he’s happy.

Andrew did well in crime. He made a lot of money in drugs and in financial crimes. He had a child with a young woman Engagement Partyand he’d planned an invitation-only engagement party in a downtown restaurant. Guests started arriving for the evening event. A friend drove Andrew and his fiancé there, but as they neared the restaurant, a volley of bullets slammed into the car, killing Andrew, but sparing his partner.

I planned to attend the funeral and I asked Jack if he’d like to come with me.

“I’m so bleeping mad at Andrew. A creative guy, gunned down and it’s his own bleeping fault. No, Ed, I can’t go. It will be a gang event and I want no part of it.”

He was right. The pallbearers looked like the muscle from a gang and the usual undercover police stood outside the Pall bearerscemetery taking pictures of who was there.

Every time I drive by the cemetery, my heart aches for Andrew. I guess I should be mad at the prison system for failing to change him over his seven-year sentence, but I’m just sad. Creativity is buried there, innovative ideas in business or the arts, dead in a gangland shooting. How sad.

 

Images courtesy of:

  • depositphotos.com
  • goldentriangleevents.com
  • mafiatoday.com

You are Somebody

Prison works to destroy a man or woman’s self esteem. Few prison programs do anything to resolve this problem. At least twice a year, I took time out to remind the men that, “You are somebody.”

Check out this interview with Ed Griffin about his inspiration for  “You are Somebody”

Prison Industrial ComplexEvery politician serves those who elect him or her. Do you wonder why the Harper government has such strange things in its omnibus crime bill? Just stand outside a prison and watch all the supply trucks lumber through the security gates. Note the names on the sides of the trucks. Big companies. Then take a look in the parking lot and see little groups of guards talking together. You know they all want work next year. If there are no inmates, there’s no work. The guards’ union wants more prisons. Same with the big companies. No prisoners, no hot dogs to sell. Instead of Creating chainsbasing his crime bill on protecting the public and decreasing crime, Harper has opted to just give the prison industrial complex what it wants – more prisons and more inmates. How embarrassing that this is our government.

Images courtesy of:

  • ironboltbruce.blog.com
  • bilerico.com
  • vanseedbank.blogspot.com Bill C-10

TheologyCall him Charlie, he waited seven years in Pre-trial. While he waited for his trial, he finished his university degree and worked for another one in theology. Charlie wasn’t a Bible thumper and he wasn’t a jailhouse convert, as some inmates get religion to please the parole board. His mother was Anglican and his father, Jewish. Religion ran deep in Charlie.

Prison does not pay for post-secondary work, so Charlie had to raise funds on his own. Course fees, books etc. – he had to pay for everything. A friendly volunteer brought him special journals and papers he needed for his work. And computers in prison are as rare as an animal rights supporter at the Calgary Stampede.

Charlie was sentenced and now has only a few more years to go. He found a university in Wales, UK that had a distance education masters program in theology. He signed up and worked his way through difficult courses and papers.

I have read all his papers and corrected his grammar and logic. I’ve seen the most amazing development in his work – from that of a sloppy college student to a confident professional theologian.

The piggy bank is empty now and he’s struggling to pay for the last few courses and his thesis work.Theology

This scholarly work has changed Charlie. He’s a new man, yet the prison system has not contributed a penny toward his large expenses. To help men like Charlie, I set up a bursary through the John Howard Society to provide funds for post-secondary education for inmates. http://edgriffin.net/bursary.html

educationI don’t get it. Education is the proven way out of crime, but education is not a priority in prisons.

Images courtesy of:

  • tillhecomes.org // theology
  • onlinedegree.net // window
  • onlinedegree.net // eduction

Hard HatGuest Blogger. An inmate in a federal prison in the Fraser Valley. He’s a leader in the prison and a thoughtful writer.

I wonder how many people out there in the general public remember Vic Toews saying that the Conservative government wasn’t going to build new prisons with taxpayer’s dollars, but rather were going to enhance the capacity of existing ones. Judging by the public’s silence on the matter it would seem that his play on words had the intended effect, to deflect the public concern over building new prisons in a model that clearly isn’t working.

While it was said that no new prisons were being built the “enhanced capacity” is in fact the building of ninety-six bed units on the grounds of existing prisons. The interesting thing is that for those of us who are watching them being built, it looks to us like a new prison is being built in the yard of the old one. That’s the feeling we get here anyway.

Our government would have the public believe that enhancing the capacity of existing prisons by building new prisons on the prison grounds is what will help our safety.prison

The Conservative government would also have the public believe that the new omnibus crime bill is the answer to crime. Couldn’t two billion dollars be better spent?

What is needed is for our government to become a lot more progressive and forward thinking in the way it deals with crime. Instead of enhanced capacity how about enhanced rehabilitation? The current punishment based model isn’t working, so how about a call for change?

Maybe the time has come to look at a treatment centre type model for dealing with our nation’s criminals. Prisons are populated with men and women who are dealing with substance abuse and other serious issues that need to be addressed in treatment centers, not warehouses.

Images courtesy of:

  • fiusels.wordpress.com
  • aecom.com

Bill C-10

Posted: March 13, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison
Tags: , , , ,

A note of sadness today as the conservatives in Parliament pass the crime bill, C-10. It’s one thing for me and my left-leaning friends to oppose this bill, but when Texas conservatives disagree with it, that’s another thing. They tried to tell Ottawa that it wouldn’t work, that it’s been tried in the USA and it didn’t work there.

‘Been there; done that; didn’t work,’ say Texas crime-fightersTexas badge

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/10/17/pol-vp-milewski-texas-crime.html

Canadian Bar AssociationThe Canadian Bar Association also opposes this bill. http://www.cba.org/cba/blastemail/pdf/10_reasons_to_oppose.pdf

I worked for eighteen years in Canadian prisons and now I work with people with drug and alcohol dependencies. All of the people I’ve worked with will be negatively affected by this bill, even those who are trying to do better. I suppose Harper thinks we will forget about this by the time of the next election. A sad day indeed. I feel guilty today that I didn’t do more to stop this scar on the image of the country I love.

What is your opinion of bill C-10?

 

Images courtesy of:

  • County.org
  • sources.com