prisonCall him Alexander. He came from a non-English speaking country and met some Canadian guys in a bar. They sort of adopted him and when they did crime, they blamed a lot of it on him. A fellow teacher told me that Alexander’s problem was not crime, but English. The fellow teacher said he didn’t know what the crime was, but he suspected Alexander didn’t have a big part. But he got a big part of the sentence.

Alexander came to my class to improve his English writing skills. He and I hit it off right away. He had this subtle sense of humor  — he would say something and an hour later it would hit me. And he was a fast learner, his writing advanced from “See Spot run” to good English sentences.

psychiatristThe prison system determined that Alexander had mental problems. They strongly suggested that he agree to be moved to the Regional Psychiatric Centre where they could help him.  I didn’t say anything, but I suspect he picked up my attitude. I knew a person who was a psychiatrist in one of our prisons. This person had very little control over their own person and life. If anyone needed help, that psychiatrist did. I’m not saying all prison psychiatric staff are like that, but the prison system does hire people who can’t get jobs elsewhere.

“I’m going to the Psych Centre next week,” Alexander said.

He looked at me and I know we had a conversation without either of us saying a word.

He finally shrugged his shoulders and said, “What are you gonna do?”

He spent a year in the Psychiatric Centre and he wrote to me often. His letters were a real joy prison shrinkto read. Everything was fine on the surface, but below it all, the message was something like I have to be nuts enough for them to feel they’re helping me, but sane enough so I can get out of here.

Today Alexander is out, in a loving relationship and works very hard in a full time job. He and I meet for coffee and we have spoken and unspoken conversations. I know that for Alexander, prison worked. It was so terrible, he’d never want to go back. Especially the part about psychiatric staff helping him.

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  1. Joanne says:

    This story is quite common in prison, unfortunately. The problem is not always a language barrier, but it can also be a social or intellectual deficit or a misunderstood mental illness, such as Asperger’s Disorder. Correctional Institutions are not the best places for many people. especially for those who are not truly antisocial, like seems to be the case for Alexander. I am happy he was able to survive his sentence and then get away from crime.

    Although I do agree that correctional mental health professionals are not usually the cream of the crop, there are some good psychiatrists and psychologists that work there from time to time. It is the same in this field as it is for parole officers, as you have pointed out in past comments. Just as with parole officers, however, the system, as it is set up, makes it difficult for the good people to actually do good work. Soon enough the good people give up and leave. The system believed for years that it was the salary that was the problem or that it was the patients they had to work with. In fact, it is mostly the bureaucracy and office politics that drives good professionals away. Their hands are often tied when they try to implement good practice.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      As always, Joanne, you deepen my knowledge. Thank you

      I need your help this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m giving away Prisoners of the Williwaw, the E-book, on those days as a way to get known as a writer. It’s a story I’m proud of. An inmate at pretrial say it so well. After she read the book, she said, “I really like how all your criminals are guilty. Hollywood gives us inmates who are innocent and get caught in the system. Your inmates actually pulled off something great. Thank you for that.”
      Like no one else, she hit my purpose. More details in mid week

  2. I had a friend, Ed, who committed a murder while during a schizophrenic breakdown he refused to believe he was having. When I visited him in gaol, I asked him why he hadn’t pleaded insanity. He said he’d rather do the time and know that, at the end of it, he’d get out. The other way, he thought, he could be stuck in the back wards forever, depending on who was in charge. He did 12 years, but he never regretted his decision.

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