Fire That Volunteer

Posted: December 5, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 

volunteer

Call her Gertrude. She’s from a European country and even though she’s been in Canada for thirty years, she still has a slight accent. Gertrude is—make that – was – the perfect CSC volunteer. She treated the men and the staff with respect. Everyone who met her knew that she cared about them. Inmates knew that and staff knew that.

She was formally trained as a volunteer and gave up an evening to attend the necessary course. Her husband and high school children agreed with her effort to help prisoners. In the 2011 she paid about $3,000 of her own money to produce a book of the inmate’s writing

Volunteers are a big part of CSC’s mission, to connect the prisons with the community.Community

A year ago at this time, Gertrude attended one of my creative writing classes. She didn’t say much in class, but people could tell by her looks and her clapping that she appreciated what the men were reading.

When she got home after the class, she dropped a note to two of the men who read that day in class. It was part Christmas Card and part support letter.

In January she returned to the prison to attend another class. Her badge was taken away and she was ‘fired’ as a volunteer. The only explanation given was that she had broken a rule by writing to the two inmates.

I polled all our volunteers. No one had heard of such a rule. On reflection, one volunteer said she understood, nothing in/nothing out must mean letters, too.

Note that Gertrude was not warned, “Don’t do that again,” she was just fired.

I couldn’t believe it. She asked for a hearing and if I had been smart, I would have gone with her. She’s one of those gentle, kind people who agree with everything you say. She figures out what you want her to say and she says it.

“Did you know it was wrong to mail a letter to an inmate?” she was asked. She paused and looked at the person across the desk from her. “Oh yes, I knew it was wrong.”

Nonsense. Not one volunteer I talked to knew this. I know Gertrude and I’m sure she never gave it a thought that it was wrong to mail a supportive note/Christmas card to an inmate.

Of course, her statement confirmed her suspension. I suggested we appeal to the regional office and I said I would go with her. A date was set for us and then Gertrude backed out. She said, “I’m happy in my life. I have many interests and I don’t need this controversy. Just forget the hearing.”

Of course it’s occurred to me that this rule of NO mail to inmates isn’t a very good one. It contradicts the key tenets of CSC.

I grieve for Gertrude, and like so many things with CSC, you just have to swallow it. Inmates swallow a lot more than I do, if that’s any consolation to me.

Images courtesy of:

  • shileche.wordpress.com
  • vencolibrary.org
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Comments
  1. Heather says:

    Hi, Ed….
    Seems weird to me. How would this apply to “nothing in, nothing out.” I would have thought that applied to actual visits. Seems to me that anyone can send mail into a prison and it would simply go through the customary checks.
    A shame to lose a wonderful volunteer like that. A caring, bridging service, true dedication … and free to the taxpayer. Rats,

  2. Joanne says:

    Nothing surprises me anymore. CSC seems to make up the rules as they go along and there is truly very little recourse. Even if Gertrude had decided to go the the hearing, chances are great the decision would have stood. One thing CSC employees rarely do is admit they were wrong. If anyone wants a result in their favor, they need to find a way of doing it that would allow the CSC employees involved to remain completely blameless. Apology is not in their lexicon (not officially anyhow–they see it as a loss of authority–there may be an individual staff member that is the exception).

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