Archive for May, 2012

Get EvenWhile a person is in prison, they suffer through a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle insults from some staff. They are called socio-paths and worse, their file (which they can look at) reads like a horror novel. Pages and pages of evil and not one page of the good.

They soon find out there is no appeal process in prison. Oh, there is one, but you will be stooped over and walking with a cane before it’s resolved.

While you are in prison, you just have to swallow and take it. You are a number, you are called an “Offender,” even when we are all offenders. You are caged like a wild animal.

I have heard story after story of abuse, of contradictory orders, e. g. Guard A says “Go back to your cell.” Guard B says, “Get out of your cell.”

How do you get even for all this abuse?

When an inmate is ready to leave prison, there’s one message I tell him or her. “Don’t come back.” That’s the best possible way to get even. The prison system depends on criminals. Without criminals, no jobs. It’s as simple as that. By staying out of prison, the person gets even in the most effective way.

I know this is not a noble sentiment, but often it works better than the usual, “Be good.” And, of course, the prison Dollar razor wiresystem hasn’t even begun to help a man or woman when they walk out the door. This is the most critical time of all and there’s nothing for them except a crabby, overworked parole officer and a few programs. Where is the one-on-one contact? Where is the effective job help? Where is the community support (which should have started in prison)?

One might think the prison system wants the inmate back.

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Adrian is a man who did 24 years in Wisconsin for a murder in a bar fight that some said was self-defense, some said was bar fightmanslaughter, but the jury in a rural area said it was first degree. He’s a slim man, changed a lot since that bar fight when he was 19. I taught him how to write, and he learned well.

When people in Wisconsin claimed that prisoners had things too easy and should be put on chain gangs, he wrote an article called Notes from the Country Club.

One morning last fall, I awoke to the sound of water pouring on the floor of my cell at the Green Bay Correctional Institution.  The toilet was overflowing, a torrent of effluent gushing out.  I leapt from my cot and scurried to gather my belongings from the cell floor, throwing them onto the bed.  With no furniture in the cell except the cot and a very small table, I had no place other than the floor to store books, clothing, papers etc.

Water continued to flow from the toilet.  And, of course, it wasn’t just water.  Urine, feces and toilet paper were all part of the mix.  There I stood at 6:30 in the morning, barefoot, sloshing in shit-water an inch deep, unable to escape the confines of my locked cell.  Prisoners up and down the tier suffered the same fate.

Mentors are proud when their students do well. Despite my worry for his future, I rejoiced in Adrian’s writing skills and in his disclosure of the horrors of prison.

Later in the same article, he said:

When I first entered Waupun seventeen years ago, I was young, alone, slight of build — a prime candidate for all the depredations of the sexual jungle swirling in a maximum security prison filled with men who hadn’t touched a woman in years.  I suffered a baptism-by-fire unimaginable in the sheltered lives of those who now seek to put me on a chain gang.  I refuse to accept anyone’s assertion that I haven’t been punished for my crime.



My own experience tells me that the psychological torture done to inmates is far worse than “sloshing in shit-water.” And yes, even here in Canada. If someone is arrested for drugs, do we want him or her to go through what Adrian describes above?

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 We are fortunate to have a frequent commentator on this blog do a guest article. Joanne Kehayas is very knowledgeable about prison issues.

cutsIn its March 29 budget, the Conservative government announced it will cut $295.4 million from the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) annual expenditures over the next three years.

Here is a listing of some of the cuts that have been announced so far:

1.      The LifeLine program, funded through the Correctional Service of Canada and administered by the St. Leornard’s Society in Windsor ON has been in existence for over 20 years.  Funding for it will be cut in August 2012.  LifeLine offered a community connection to long-term offenders who, because of the length of their sentence, are often all but forgotten and abandoned by their friends and family.  It provided hope that re-integration was possible and reduced the effects of institutionalization by providing a connection to the outside world.  It was also one way that Long-term lifeline programoffenders could be granted escorted temporary absences and it provided meaningful employment for lifers who had been successfully on parole for ten or more years.

2.      The institutional grievance procedure had three levels.  Prisoners first complain to the department in question.  If as resolution is not reached, then a grievance is filed to the warden (1st level), then to Regional Headquarters (2nd level) if the complaint is not satisfactorily dealt with, then finally to National Headquarters (3rd level).  The government announced that the second level of grievance procedure would be eliminated.  It is unclear what effect this might have on the grievance system but it may mean that more grievances will make it to the National Headquarters where staff may not be able to keep up with the increased demand.  On the other hand, this may now be a more efficient process.

3.      The announced closure of Kingston and Leclerc Institutions, in addition to the Regional Treatment Center in Ontario, resulted in a significant backlash from staff at those institutions and across the country.  The question of where to house the up to 1045 prisoners who would be displaced, including many who have special needs, is one that has not been adequately answered.  Some of these would be sent to some of the new 96-cell facilities opening up within institutions throughout the country (a total of 2700 cells).  Of greatest concern, in my opinion, is the housing of the special needs prisoners, especially some high profile prisoners at Kingston and those who reside at the Regional Treatment Centre, a forensic psychiatric facility, of which there would only be 3 remaining in the country.  This means that prisoners with serious mental illness would have to either be housed in facilities where they would not receive optimal care or in other provinces, where they would be far from their community support.

cuts4.      Inmate pay has not increased in some 30 years (beginning in 2005, $4.00 is provided every two weeks to spend only on hygiene products).  People serving sentences rely on pay for many, many things not provided by the service, especially in this climate of cuts, where less and less is being provided (prisoners will be charged more for telephone calls, for example).  The reductions also mean that prisoners cannot save money to use upon release so they might not be a burden on taxpayers.  Not only will there not be an increase to cover costs that have risen with the cost of living, but recent announcements indicate that prisoners will be provided with even less money.  There are effectively three pay levels where prisoners are considered to be making money for employment.  The government has announced that those in the upper two levels would be paying 30% of their income for room and board.  Effectively, this means that all employed prisoners will make the same amount.  The government has eliminated incentives to take programs, to upgrade education, or to do a better job in one’s place of employment.  They have also, at the suggestion of CSC officials, eliminated incentive pay or those working for CORCAN (a corporation that allows prisoners to learn and use trades skills to provide labour for products sold for profit in the market).  CSC officials apparently said that there is a huge demand for CORCAN jobs, therefore a pay incentive (CORCAN workers currently make anywhere from $0.50 – $2.30 / hour)) is not necessary.  Many CORCAN workers would send the money they made back home to help support their families and to offset the costs of visits and telephone calls.

5.      There are other cuts being made within the Correctional Service of Canada aimed at trimming the budget that were not directly initiated by the government, but are being done to meet demands created by the shrinking budget.  These cuts may vary from region to region and institution to institution and therefore do not necessarily apply across the board.  Some of these include the elimination (or reduction) of librarian positions (this means that for many institutions there is no librarian, which means limited access to existing books and no new books coming in), the scrapping of the GED program in schools, the refusal to fund teachers for exam scrutineering (effectively preventing prisoners from taking most post-secondary courses, which they themselves pay for), a reduction in the hours that hobby shops are open, changes in food service menus and the elimination of self-serve items (e.g., salad bar; milk dispenser), a substantial increase in double bunking, whereby 4-6 cells on each range are being retro-fitted, as well as many if not all the new units having double-bunked or double-bunk-capable cells.

Vic Toews

Vic Toews
Public Safety Minister

Although these seem like substantial changes, together they account for perhaps just over half of the announced reduction in the budget over the next three years.  We are clearly going to have to brace ourselves for much more.



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crimeRestore the Victim. Though I’ve spent my life trying to restore inmates, the perpetrators of crime, I’ve paid little attention to the victims of crime. This is wrong. As I watch TV and listen to those who’ve lost a loved one, to those who’ve been robbed, I know that we are not even close to “restoring the victim.”

I’m new to this area of concern, but it seems to me that there should be a lot of people helping the victim. Many people involve themselves with the offender, judges, lawyers, clerks, prison officials, parole officers etc. Who helps the victim? No one. Where are the counselors for victims? Where are those who would help with financial losses? Where are those who help the victims see clearly?


Victim of Crime

Ruining another family does not restore the victim’s family.

TV and the media have it all wrong. “Are you satisfied with the verdict?” That’s a common question the media asks. Why don’t they ask the victim how they’re doing?

Organizations which call for longer sentences remind me of the old, sad proverb that violence begets violence. How about helping other victims? How about getting to the causes of crime, poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity etc.

abused womanVictims of crime have been neglected. That’s not right.

I strongly believe that our entire justice system needs to be revamped on the principles of restorative justice.


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surveyJack was a skinny guy in my prison class back in 03-04. He had a great sense of humor, but he was fascinated by life in the penitentiary. “I couldn’t get a pass to see the doctor,” someone would say and Jack would question every aspect of it. “Did you fill out the proper form? Did you have to do it twice? If it’s not private, can you tell me what you wrote for the reason?”

Another person might have gotten a black eye for so many questions, but Jack always sounded sincerely interested in what people said and the men just figured that was his way.

However, on December 30th, 2003, Jack distributed two hundred and fifty questionnaires to the men in general population.  Over the course of the next week, he got eighty-seven completed surveys.

Here’s just a few of the subjects he developed questions for

  • Have Programs Helped?
  • Nurses, Doctors, Dentists, Psychologists, Staff ratings –not individuals, but were the men satisfied?
  • How could health services be improved?
  • How could staff relations be improved?

I’m summarizing here, but there were thirty-one questions in all. When he put the results together, he issued a report. In a prologue he mentioned the surveys strength (one-third of the men in the prison responded—a very good sample) and its weaknesses (he had no access to scientific survey material, no comparisons, no help from a university)

A example question was number 7. He gave a commentary, a statistical summary(not here) and a graph.

Question 7  How would you rate the services of the nursing staff?

Poor                 Adequate                      Good                Excellent           I Don’t Go

The nursing staff received the highest overall approval rating of the five professional categories surveyed.  More than three quarters of the men of Matsqui rated the nurses in a favourable light.  One nurse was singled out in several of the surveys as incompetent or hazardous.  If it weren’t for her, the rating would have been more positive.  Two nurses were mentioned as outstanding.  Five respondents indicated they don’t go, and one did graphnot answer this question.  Chart 7 displays the data from the remaining replies.(I can’t seem to copy the graph with responses in blue– adequate almost 40%, poor just over 20%)

At the end, Jack and the other men on the inmate committee made 13 recommendations, a sample of which:

  • Truly involve a man in the creation of a realistic Correctional Plan.   Review and revamp all Correctional Plans to reflect a balanced approach to rehabilitation, including methods such as:  Learning a Trade, Higher Education, Individual Counselling, Drug Therapies, Medical Treatment, Sports and Leisure, and Social Contact.       
  • “Better Food” tops the list of any concern posited by the men.  Substantially increase the allowed yearly spending limits so that one may order food from savings.
  • Lift the moratorium on computers.  In addition, create a computer center with limited Internet capabilities.  Allow responsible prisoners full access to the Internet on their personal computers.
  • Relieve IPO’s (Internal Parole Officers – like social workers) from mundane tasks.
  • Eliminate the use of the words ‘inmate’ and ‘offender.’  They are unnecessary and derogatory.  Do not replace those words with other euphemisms

If anyone would like to see the whole report, I’d be happy to send it to you.

The survey was submitted to management? Result = Nothing

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A guest blog by our favourite inmate commentator

Government Math

mathIt seems that the Conservative government, and especially Vic Toews, have problems with math. They just can’t seem to make things add up but they keep trying to convince the public otherwise

On April 19 the Conservatives announced that they were closing 2 federal prisons, Kingston and Leclerc. Theses closures will save the government 120 million when they are phased out in 2012.The government is building 2700 beds worth of “enhanced capacity” and with these closures is doing away with 1000 beds for a net gain of 1700.  The problem is that they are not seeing the projected rise in prison populations but in true government fashion have made a decision and have to stick by it.

Budgets are being reduced in the public safety sector and jobs are being cut as the government is making an attempt to show Canadians that they can be responsible with their tax dollars and save money. Perhaps questions should be about these new beds that they are adding to the prisons at huge cost to the taxpayers while at the same time laying off employees in the public safety sector.

Because these new prison beds were approved out of a previous budget that money in the government’s mind has already been spent and construction continues full steam ahead. Apparently money that was earmarked for projects from previous budgets becomes a part of history to be forgotten. Everyone knows that government projects are notorious for being over budget so where is the over budget money going to come from?

So if there isn’t enough money for employees who will run these jails that are being built on the grounds of other jails? The inmates perhaps?

Our government is not being clear about what it is doing with taxpayer dollars and instead is playing a kind of shell game with the public’s money, money that has been entrusted to them to use in the best interests of the public. Is building more jails while at the same time cutting the jobs and the budget that would go into staffing them a constructive use of taxpayer dollars? This writer thinks not. But hey – I’m just an inmate, maybe people out in the public need to take the government to task for how they are using their money.math


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PS. (by Ed) Minister Toews seems to lack more than math skills. His recent cuts to prisoner work incentives indicates he lacks common sense.

The John Howard Society has awarded grants to these three men in the first distribution of the Ed Griffin Educational Bursary

  • An inmate who’s earned two bachelor’s degrees and is now working on his masters
  • An inmate who wants an electric typewriter to turn in papers for his masters at Trinity Western. People in prison are not allowed to have computers.
  • An inmate who wants to get his bachelor’s in environmental studies

I’m very happy about this because education is the proven way out of crime. All of these men have to pay for their own post-secondary education

During the rest of May, I’d be happy to send you one of my ebooks if you make a donation. Click here to make a donation and then email me which ebook you’d like. I have most in Adobe (pdf) format or epub which seems to work with most readers.

If you don’t have a reader, you can still read these books on your computer.

Once A priestOnce A Priest  –  non-fiction,  autobiography, Catholicism, civil rights, love and marriage, Canada, writing, and cancer.

Veto – fiction   a woman becomes Secretary General of the UN and changes this weak organization into Vetoan effective government

Dystopia Dystopia – non-fiction, Inmate Mike Oulton and Ed Griffin tell their stories of prison

Prisoners of the Williwaw – fiction  Three hundred convicts and their families try to make a life on an Prisoners of the Williwawabandoned, hard-duty Naval station on the island of Adak in the Aleutians.

Beyond the VowsBeyond the Vows – fiction – a young Catholic priest falls in love.

Just make a donation and I’ll send you the book of your choice. The John Howard Society uses the Canada Helps organization to collect money for the bursary. They get $3.00 or every contribution. Be sure to click the Ed Griffin Educational Bursary under Fund Designation or write it in the box.

You get a tax receipt when you make the donation. I don’t get a record of who does what, so you have to send me an email to get your book.


Posted: May 1, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , ,

sunI will never forget a student I had named Victor. He was a large black man, an intimidating presence, but the gentlest of men. He used to sit in the back of my class and look at me with those intelligent eyes and that slightly cynical expression. I used to praise the work that guys did, sometimes even if it was rough. In my mind, a man putting his ideas on paper was often a great step forward. But when somebody did something of real value, I tried to tell him it was of exceptional value, far above the usual.

The previous week Victor had given me the opening chapter to his life’s story. It was terrific. I’d made some notes on it and handed it back to him at the beginning of class. A few minutes after class started, he stood up and waved his story in the air and then he said a line I will never forget, “Griffin, are you trying to blow sunshine up my ass?”

After I stopped laughing, I said, “No, I really think that was a good story. I meant my compliments.”

The line became famous among my non-inmate friends and students in the community. One year, on my birthday, my friends presented me with a cake, some flowers and a special decoration called “The Sunshine Award.” Attached to it, was a card relaying what Victor had told me.

Every year thereafter they gave the Sunshine Award to someone who always had positive things to say about other people’s work.

Do you know someone who deserves the Sunshine Award?

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