Archive for June, 2013

In the early fall, I will be marrying the man I love.  He is a long-timer incarcerated in an Alberta prison.

Let’s play a couple of rounds of Would You Rather, shall we?  The first dilemma is one I am constantly faced with.  The second is one that I pose to all of you.

  1. 1.      Would you rather stay in a relationship founded on love with a man
  • who worships you
  • treats you like gold, and
  • encourages your most important endeavours, but
  • cannot live with you for up to 15 more years, because that is how long he has to go on a sentence he has already served 20 years on

OR would you rather walk away from this relationship and

  • focus on doing all the things in life that you want to do
  • be accepted by the mainstream
  • forget about having to hide a part of your life from people you fear may not understand, but

know all the while that he

  • is in there alone,
  • feeling increasingly hopeless, and
  • unable to do the things you are doing?

 

  1. 2.      Would you rather have the correctional service gradually reintegrate a middle aged man back into the community
  • who has served 20 years of his sentence,
  • has not been involved in any criminal behaviour for 10 years,
  • has gained a tremendous amount of insight into his past behaviour,
  • has developed a solid plan to avoid falling into the same patterns that led to his violent behaviour in the past,
  • has a significant number of supports in the community who are willing to help emotionally, financially, and practically, and
  • is motivated to live his life in a way that gives back to society a small amount of what he has taken

OR would you rather this man be held in prison for another 15 years to serve out his entire sentence after which he will

  • be thoroughly institutionalized
  • be approaching retirement age and have few employment prospects,
  • be left to fend for himself with possibly little remaining community support and few resources
  • likely have a great deal of resentment toward the system that kept him in all this time?

Talk about dilemmas!  Anyone wish to venture a response?

 

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men and womenI faced an interesting problem in writing my soon-to-be-released novel, Delaney’s Hope. Delaney hopes to set up a prison camp in Northern Wisconsin that would really change people. Should his prison be for men only, for women only or for both?

“Are you our of your mind?” one of my friends asked me when I suggested the ‘both’ answer. “If you’re talking about a male prison, those places are brutal, killing camps and women don’t belong there.”

My friend is right, if we’re talking about what a prison is today. But think about it, schools and universities are for men and women. Business is integrated as are construction jobs. The army has accepted women for many years now, and soon they will be eligible for dangerous front-line positions. Everything is integrated except prisons.

What if prisons were not the brutal places they are today? What if they were about rehabilitation, instead of punishment? And don’t women help civilize a place?

Of course there would be exceptions. Some men and some women would have to be incarcerated separately.

female guardThe prisons we have now are strange, sterile, unreal, Un-American and Un-Canadian. Most prisons have male and female staff, but the ideas, the ambiance, the programs and the approach to inmates are all male.

Some female guards try to be macho, they take on all the bad featuresmale prison guard of men and ignore the great talents that women have.

What is your opinion?  Should prisons be integrated or should they be separated by sex as they are now?

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Ten years ago Hal made a terrible mistake. Everybody at the party was drinking and drinking a lot. Hal kept up with the crowd and in fact, surpassed them. After the party he went to another party and ran into an old buddy, he’d gone to high school with. The buddy drank a little, but nothing like Hal. They decided to go for a late night walk, and Hal took his bottle along.

An hour later the buddy lay dead on a path around a lake. Hal received a life sentence.

You would think that the prison system would focus in on his drinking, but they didn’t. Aside from his drinking, Hal was an accomplished young man – graduated from high school and had finished two years of college, just as the buddy had. Now Hal faced life in prison, either a meaningless life of prison gangs and violence or a life of improving himself. He chose the latter. He felt that if he worked hard and did the best he could, Educationsomehow he would be honoring his dead buddy. It was not giving the man his life back, but it was the best he could do.

The prison didn’t help him. They don’t pay for any post high school classes for anybody, so Hal hunted for grants and bursaries. With the generous help of a relative and applying for bursaries and grants, he finished college and has now started his masters.

All on his own he goes to AA.

What is wrong with our prison system? Education is the proven way out of crime. It’s much cheaper to pay for a college education than it is to pay the $100 a day it costs to Education for the futurekeep a man in prison.

What the prison won’t do, I’m trying to do in a small way. I’ve set up a bursary to help incarcerated men and women with post grad education. The money goes, not to the person, but to the college or university. And a non-profit society manages the fund, the John Howard Society (http://www.johnhoward.ca/) so contributions are tax deductible. Recently $500 went to Hal’s university to help with his masters’ degree.

Hal is trying to make up for his crime. Help him, please, and others like him. Make a tax-deductible contribution (http://edgriffin.net/bursary.html )

Every week or so I go out to a federal prison to teach creative writing.  The best way to describe my teaching style is to relate an incident. One day a plumber was working on the pipes in the ceiling of the school. He made such a racket, no one could hear anything. I went out to the hall and asked him if he could work on something else until my class was over. He watched me return to my seat and a few minutes later, the noise stopped. I found out later that the plumber had gone to the director of education and said, “One of the inmates asked me to stop making so much noise.”

I suppose that could have been a comment on my jeans and sport shirt instead of business dress, but I’m sure he thought I was one of the inmates.

In the classroom, I sit with everyone else in a circle. I’m not the teacher so much as I am the resource person. I like this way of teaching. I get to know the guys better this way. And then an amazing thing happens.

Forget all the theory, all the criminology ideas, all the left wing statements that inmates are human beings. No. I’m sit next to Jack and across from Dexter. Jack is smart, two years of college. Dexter’s first drug supplier was his mother. He quit school in the sixth grade. What I’m trying to say is that I get to know these guys as people. Yes, they’ve done harmful things, but now they’re trying to change. What if we all had the opportunity to meet inmates?  Our attitudes would change.

In other countries prisons welcome the community into the prison. They encourage it. Sadly, the only welcoming Canadian prisons do is in their public relations statements.

There are ways you can get to know inmates, male and female, but in Canada it’s hard to do.