Archive for May, 2013

I’m working on a novel that scares the hell out of me. Here’s how it happened. People kept talking to me about prison. “You’re against prison, Griffin. So what’s your answer?

I’m trying to write my answer. It’s called Delaney’s Hope and it’s the story of a man with a dream. Delaney wants to set up a prison that really works. Right now 1 out of 2 people who get out of prison will return. Delaney wants something different.

To do this novel I had to look up a lot of prison programs. But the bigger challenge was to make the characters come alive. A rule of mine is NO PREACHING, which means I can’t push my ideas in the novel. I can’t say what I think. I can’t say so-and-so is a jerk, I can’t say Delaney has a good idea. I have to respect my characters and let them do what they will. While the book started out as my idea, I hope I let the characters do what they wanted to do

I’m trying to get Delaney’s Hope out this year.prison

I’m always amazed at the popularity of poetry in prison. I love poetry and I admire those who write it, but I know I’m not a poet. I bring in poets to teach my class.

One of the poets saw things I had never noticed. This was in Wisconsin, a maximum security prison built in 1854. It had high stone walls.

Harvey Taylor wore his hair long and played a guitar. In the summer he operated a crane on the docks in Milwaukee. When the Great Lakes froze in winter, he spent his time writing poetry. Here is what he saw in the prison yard:

 Tree Tops


There’s no shortage of sunlight

In the hot prison yard.

Shade is another story. . .

just outside the high walls,

beyond the guard-towers,Waupun Prison

upper branches sway, and

leaves dance with the wind,

as, a mere bird-swoop away

from that green realm,

down inside the compound,

human beings somehow survive

season after season

with only the memory of

a miracle so commontree

it’s usually unappreciated:

seeing a tree rise out of the ground.

Imagine a world in which,

you never see anyone’s feet,

legs, torso, arms, face –

only fingertips,

and a few wisps of hair.



never looking

a tree in the eye.


Harvey TaylorAlong the Shore, by Harvey Taylor, page 17

Images courtesy of:

houseCanadian federal prisons have a few houses on their premises for some inmates to spend time with their families. These houses are just like a normal house. A wife or a husband shows up at the prison on a Thursday afternoon. She’s got enough groceries for three days or so. Guards inspect her purchases and clear her to go to one of the two houses. Soon her husband joins her. The kids are happy to see their father.

The family is the basic unit of our society. The prison system does the right thing, in my opinion, by reuniting families like this. The trouble is that there are about 300 to 400 prisoners and two houses. After each family visit, another inmate’s job is to be sure the house is clean and ready for the next family. A man has to follow the institutional rules in order to win a chance to use these houses.

I’m not familiar with other prison systems as to whether they have personal family visits or not. I don’t think the USA does. In some cases, it seems to me, that a family visit would help an inmate or a wife or husband who is having trouble adapting.

This kind of family visit also helps the partner who lives in the community and has to care for the kids. There’s a prison saying – The man gets the sentence and the woman lives

What is your opinion of this kind of family visit?

Images courtesy of:

This week we welcome Attorney Joan McEwen, who tells us the story of Ivan Henry.


Tracking one man’s beating by the Canadian justice system, this book tells the true story of Ivan Henry’s fight to prove his innocence. Convicted in 1983 of 10 sex crimes, thereafter sentenced indefinitely as a dangerous offender, Henry—an import to B.C. from Manitoba—served 27 years before being released in January 2009. Why was he subsequently acquitted by the B.C. Court of Appeal? A Special Prosecutor reported that rapes involving an MO similar to the “Henry crimes” continued after his incarceration—in the very same Vancouver neighbourhoods.

Indeed, 20 years after the fact, a DNA match was made between a man called Donald James McRae and three of the rapes that took place after Henry was in custody—the only three (out of as many as fifty) where recoverable spermatozoa had been found.

Though Henry was originally charged with 17 sexual assaults, no physical evidence was ever found linking him to any of those crimes; a number of police witnesses almost certainly committed perjury; and the Crown went to extraordinary, and improper, measures to convict.

Now sixty-six years old, Henry lives in his daughter’s basement suite in North Vancouver. Working at the odd job from time to time, he is essentially penniless. After waiting in vain for the government to provide him with a fair compensation package, he filed a lawsuit. As the highpriced legal team representing the defendants debate the finer points of law, Henry is forced to defend accusations that, because he represented himself at trial, he is, at least in part, responsible for his downfall.

Wrongful convictions are a fact of life. In some cases, the police rush to judgment; in others, misidentifications occur, or the state cuts corners in the belief that the end justifies the means. “False confessions” occur—either because the accused is ill-educated and/or mentally challenged, or because he or she buys the argument that pleading guilty will net a lighter sentence.

When a person is declared to have been wrongly convicted, it is invariably because the Crown failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Never in Canada has a court found a wrongly convicted person to be factually innocent. And so it is with Henry.

The goal of my book—currently being sent out to prospective agents and publishers—is twofold:

  • 1. To prove in the court of public opinion that Henry is not just “not guilty”, but factually innocent;
  • 2. To bring public pressure to bear on the defendants such that Henry will receive fair and reasonable compensation as soon as possible.


Called to the bar in 1978, Joan McEwen practiced labour law until becoming a labour arbitrator in 1990. In the years that followed, she had time to explore two long-neglected passions: writing and volunteering in the long-term inmate community. Between 2006 and 2011, she wrote two novels—unfinished, but “promising”; located in the proverbial bottom drawer.

In considering topics for her second novel, she decided to “write about what she most feared”, namely the loss of freedom experienced by inmates. So visceral was her fear that it kept her from pursuing a career as a criminal lawyer. Why? Because she could not bear the thought of a client being sent to jail.

Having spent three years immersed in prison culture—tours of B.C.’s federal jails; countless interviews with inmates and parolees, guards and parole officers; helping veteran (volunteer) teacher Ed Griffin teach creative writing in Matsqui Institution, every Friday morning for eight months—she was instantly intrigued by what she saw on TV in October 2010: the calm, almost cheerful, image of Ivan Henry the day he was acquitted.

After trying for months to track him down, she did. According to Joan, every day of the past two years has been more shocking than the last. The day they met, Henry said, “Yous lawyers should be ashamed of yourselves for what the justice system’s put me through.”

No truer words were ever spoken.


If you’d like more information or you’d like to be put on a list for when the book is published, put your name and email in the comments and I’ll pass them on to Joan.