Archive for June, 2012

Another blog from a man in prison in the Fraser Valley Area, one we’ve heard from before. He’s a thoughtful man and a leader in his prison:

New bulletins put out on the units a couple of days ago explained more of the changes that are coming as a result of Bill C-10 (Harper’s crime bill). The impacts of the euphemistically titled “Safe Streets and Communities Act” are going to be felt here for some time.

Prisons for CanadiansWith all the talk that I hear on the unit, or complaining to be more accurate, I don’t hear many men saying that they are done with crime or with drugs, because of the new mandatory minimums and other draconian measures being put in play by the Harper government.

Why, you might ask, would people not make an immediate decision to change their behaviour in the face of these harsher consequence for their actions? There are a few reasons for this, not the least of which is that most of us don’t plan on being caught. We labour under the delusion that we will get away with it forever or that we only got caught because of chance, an informant, bad luck, etc.  What a lot of men don’t face up to is the fact that they are in jail as the result of their own actions.

Another stumbling block to the idea that harsher sentences are going to act as a deterrent is that this doesn’t take into account the desperation of an addict who will disregard the thought of consequences, due to their addiction. For these offenders there has to be another way to engage them in their own rehabilitation. Increased sentences – where  they will spend even more time in a toxic environment – isn’t going to do it.

In the Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator for 2010-11, it was reported that the CSC (the prison administration in Canada) allocated a mere 1.8% of its planned spending on nationally recognized correctional programming. The government is so concerned about public safety that only 1.8% of the corrections budget goes towards the actual rehabilitation of offenders. I could hardly believe the number myself, and I live within the system. I, for one, think that there should be more money spent on all types of programming than the pittance that is being spent on rehabilitation right now.

Our government has allowed itself to be deluded into thinking that locking people up and throwing away the key is the answer to crime. I hope that the public can see past this crazy idea and call on the government to rethink the way it thinks about crime.

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razor wireWe are used to thinking of a prison as building with lots of security around it. But one small town in Vermont tried something different. The sheriff put the men to work in the community. At first no one hired them, but slowly he was able to build trust and he found jobs for the men. They were often unsupervised, walking freely in the community. After four years, he had an amazing record – only two out of eight hundred prisoners had left without permission. Those two were recaptured and sent to a much tougher prison.

The prisoners walked among the citizens and worked for many of them. They laid sewer pipe, did farm work and odd jobs. They returned to the jail at night.

At first the townspeople were against this project, but slowly the sheriff won them over.

Was this some modern Norwegian idea of prison? Did it happen in 2011, very up to date? No, it happened one hundred years ago in Vermont, USA. It was reported in the August 1911 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.Atlantic Monthly

What worries me about this story is that I like to believe we are making progress as human beings. I’m an optimist. I think things are getting better. But here I’m wrong. Plain wrong. This is very upsetting.

A friend sent me the story from The Atlantic Monthly. If you’d like to read it, I’ll email it to you. Imagine….1911.

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Judge gavelThere is some fine print when someone is sentenced to prison. The judge may say, “I sentence you to X number of years, but the fine print says:

You are also sentenced to:

  • The real possibility of death. That’s not what the judge said, but the odds are high.
  • Homosexual rape
  • Poor medical care – prison officials choose the least expensive medical care
  • High odds to be knifed, to be the accidental victim of violence.
  • Of losing your self-esteem
  • Of divorce
  • Of becoming institutionalized.scream
  • If you need to get your high school diploma, be prepared for low pay teachers. Some are excellent, despite this, but many are incompetent.
  • You are also sentenced to being wrong in every situation. The guards and the staff are ALWAYS right and you are ALWAYS wrong.
  • You leave democracy when you leave the courtroom. There is no democracy in prison. It’s a dictatorship.
  • You are sentenced to miss family events, even the death of a parent.
  • You are not even able to practice the principles of restorative justice. How can you repay money to someone on $6.00 a day? How can you restore the community to health when you’re locked up?
  • You are sentenced to do time. Not to change yourself. Not to repair the harm done. Just to do time. How stupid.

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People look back on history and shake their heads in revulsion. How could one man, Hitler, have ordered the holocaustextermination of the Jewish people? Why did most of his country go along with such a madman? How did it happen that people captured human beings in Africa and sold them in North American marketplaces? How could they tear a mother from her children, a woman from her husband?

How could people do these things?

Yet the time will come when our descendants will abhor what we have done. “You did what with people who broke your laws?  You put them in cages and left them there for years?”

It is my belief that a Christian cannot support the idea of prison. It’s evil, it’s a sin. If one sits down and reads any chapter of the New Testament, then closes the book, that person cannot say that prisons are a good idea.

Muslims respect the dignity of people as does every religion I’ve ever heard about. First Nation’s people have given us restorative justicethe principles of restorative justice, which respect both victim and offender. Beyond the religious perspective, any true humanitarian must denounce the concept of imprisonment.

What can a person of conscience do about prison?

  • Get involved with your local prison or jail. It won’t be easy. The Correctional Service of Canada says on one hand that it wants volunteers, but on the other hand it makes it very hard to do so.
  • Insist that the proper Christian message reach prison. A lot of prison religion is namby-pamby, about acceptance of one’s circumstances, rather than liberation.
  • Help a person who’s just getting out of jail. The system spits a person out without providing the help they need. Cynics say the prison really wants the person back, because that means more jobs. Help him or her get a job and stay off drugs. Provide them with new friends, instead of the old crowd who will drag them back into crime.
  • Visit someone in prison. Send them a Christmas basket. You would be surprised how many men and women have no visitors, no one to care about them. (see Matthew 25:36)
  • A creative parish in New York State has opened its own halfway house, a model for any church.
  • Watch legislation. Write letters. Drug addiction is more a medical problem than it is a criminal problem. Don’t let the media circus legislate for our country.

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InternetThe man in 222 North has two daughters in elementary school. Every night they send him an e-mail and he writes back to them. Sometimes they ask him for help with their history homework. He checks his facts on the web and then communicates with them by instant messenger. Since his wife has to work longer now that he’s doing time, the kids depend on their father more for help with school. Because of the Internet, he can help them.

In 333 South the pictures on the wall show scenes from 3000 miles away. This man’s parents worry about him and he worries about them. Phone calls cost too much, so he keeps in touch with them by e-mail which is free. Being connected to his family  makes a big difference in his life. His mother frequently scans in pictures of  friends and of their small farm. 333 South sees a picture of their rice field ready for harvest. These scenes from home make him regret his drug-running.

After e-mailing his parents, 333 South logs on to Dave’s ESL café and takes an English grammar test on the web. email in jailAfter each test question he can see the answer right away. He doesn’t have to wait a week until his teacher corrects him. He’s doing a lot better with English now.

But evil lurks in 444 East. This man wants some hot Internet sex. He types in an address a guy sold him for 3 smokes. A blue screen comes up: BLOCKED. He goes to a good search engine and types in SEXY SLUTS. Oh man, too good to be true, 133,000 sites. He clicks the first one: BLOCKED. And the second and so on. All BLOCKED just as they are in any secondary school.

555 West works late into the night. He’s getting out in three months and he needs work. Even though the crisis has eliminated a lot of computer jobs, he knows there’s room for a system administrator who knows UNIX and LINUX. He studies hard. No more prison for him.

He finishes at 1 AM. Used to be the last drink of the day at that time. He misses it, so he signs on to AA ON-LINE.

supervised internetIn the central guard room, On-Duty Joe sips his coffee and smiles. Three months ago he got a lay-off notice. “Electronic security has eliminated the need for…etc. etc. “ But Joe is working again. He monitors all Internet action. It’s a beautiful job because he knows who to watch. He sees 444 East go for the SEXY SLUTS. He chuckles because he knows what’s going to happen. But when 444 East gives up on sex and sends an e-mail to someone demanding money, Joe goes into action. He types a few numbers on his computer and 444 East is off the web forever.

Up in the front office during the day, the budget director is happy. Internet access costs each guy $30 a month. 300 guys have signed on, that’s $9,000 a month. “After expenses,” he tells the warden, “we’ll have a profit of at least $5,000 a month. Imagine that – a profit.”

There are great advantages and some disadvantages to the Internet. Some American prisoners now have access to email. A more fundamental problem exists in Canada, because our prison officials forbid almost all personal computers.

What is your opinion? Should the Internet be allowed in prison?

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programmingA guest blog from … call him ‘Donald,’ a federal prison inmate in British Columbia. Donald has blogged here twice before. He’s a prison leader, a quiet man who makes a difference with his thoughtful approach to everything.

Often I overhear inmates talking to each other about having to get their stupid program done so that they can get support for parole, going to a minimum prison, etc. It is this attitude towards programming that makes it difficult for others who are sincere to really get involved in the program materials.

Another one of the problems with the current programming model is that it is fashioned for efficiency rather than effectiveness. In saying this, I mean that the CSC is trying to get as many people through programs as possible to satisfy the parole board so that they are not criticized for not preparing cases for consideration. The programs do not really take into account individual needs and instead run a group of men through a “cookie cutter” program whose effectiveness is questionable at best.

The program model in place in the federal prisons is the ICPM moderate or high intensity. There are no separate substance abuse programs, anger management, cognitive skills, just ICPM. The idea was that incorporating everything into one “superprogram” would be more efficient. The problem is that many are not relating to the material as this thinking programprogram model is not geared to specific needs.

Many inmates are merely playing the game by taking programming and are not shy to say so to other inmates outside the programs classroom. What effect does this have on those who are sincere about change? In my experience it makes it more difficult for someone to express themselves, if they know the majority of people taking the program are not sincere. It is hard to be open when the minds of those you are surrounded by are closed.

programmingSo while the CSC is able to quote numbers that say that they are getting inmates through programs to aid in their reintegration the truth is that the model they are using is not effective. I am not trying to say that there should not be programming. That would be worse than the ineffective model in use right now that does get through to some people. What need to happen is that the CSC needs to take an in depth look at programming and get input from outside agencies and perhaps even inmates to build a model that is more effective in achieving the goal of successful community reintegration.

Do you agree with Donald? Do you think prison programs are ineffective?


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