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.

  1. iarxiv says:

    I always look out for your articles because they provide such an interesting and educational insight into prison life. Imprisonment and sentences are a controversial topic – thanks for sharing thoughts and getting the discussion going.

  2. Well said. We get to know inmates here in America by watching “Lockup” (including Lockup: Raw, Lockup: World Tour, Lockup: Extended Stay, etc) on MSNBC every Friday and Saturday nights. It is a damn shame.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Yes, right you are, but don’t blame yourself. American and Canadian prisons don’t want people poking around in a prison. And for sure they don’t want any recording devices, audio or video. It’s there little world and we who pay the bills have little to no say.

  3. Joanne says:

    Sadly, the guards and administrators rarely get to see this side of prisoners and when they do, they simply dismiss it as nothing more than manipulation.

    Even sadder, when prisoners keep hearing that they are so manipulative and dangerous, many begin to buy the hype. Once they see themsleves like this, they act more like that too.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you, Joanne. If you step back from the prison, you realize that this is the most manipulative organization on earth. They want you to change so much that they lock you up. Manipulation?? The people who do it big time accuse others of doing it.

  4. Since CSC does virtually nothing to encourage desistence, personal intervention may be the only thing that works. It’s not that the Act or the Commissioner’s Directives or the policy and procedures are deficient; in fact, they put reducing recidivism front and centre. Rather it’s that CSC does almost none of it and, what they do, they screw up because they can’t be bothered to do it effectively. On the other hand, lending a hand is, as this post notes, not easy. Partly that is CSC does what it can to get in the way, and partly because some prisoners are not ready to desist so that trying to be helpful has to begin with, somehow, figuring out who can be helped.

    • Joanne says:

      Hi Chris,
      I cannot agree more with your comment that personal intervention is the most effective way of promoting desistence. I also believe that committed prosocial families and friends are better than organizations in being successful at this, mainly because workers move around to other jobs, etc. and connot provide the consistent commitment that seems to be necessary.

      Finally, from my point of view, almost all can be helped but some will require a lot more committment and others are ready and cooperative.

      • Hi Joanne. Thanks for this. For the 16-26 crowd, no doubt there are many where simple, generous commitment is sufficient. So many of them desist all by themselves, but some of those did receive this, and a higher rate could be achieved with more. For persistents (12-50), a great deal is required. Stanton Samenow claims success with led small-group sessions, daily, for at least a year, which is surely enough to overcome anything at all. My own experience and study can only come up with the suggestion that committing crime (and what goes with it) is a kind of addiction, so maybe a 12-step program (for which there are none for this) might help.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      As usual, Chris, you are right on all counts. Thank you for your posts

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