Archive for September, 2014

In my area this week, a man who killed a young girl, was arrested. Newspapers reported that he’d just gotten out of prison after serving his full sentence of 22 years. His preliminary offense was one of sexual offense.

The media made much of the fact that the man had appeared many times before the parole board and had not reformed himself. It seemed that the man was a hopeless criminal.

Yes, maybe he is. However, I began to wonder what the man did in prison for 22 years. Did the staff not have meetings about this man? Were experts consulted? Were new methods tried? I know that some men are indeed unredeemable, but I’ve also seen how little effort prison staff put into helping men get over their crimes. They figure their job is to keep them locked up, not to help them.

Prison time should mean removal from society for a period of time, during which prison staff work to help the man change. Yes, the prison staff needs more training in the human sciences. Yes, tests should be given to applicants for prison jobs to discover their motivation. What motivates them — punishment or helping?

The theory is that prison will teach a man (or woman) how to live in society. It doesn’t work. It’s the farthest thing from what actually happens.

The man gets up at a certain time, marches to the mess hall, and sits with the same three fellows he’s sat with for years. Never does a staff member ask if he could join them. This is an Us and Them world.

The day goes on, the man can only move from one place to another at specified times. He used to have freedom of movement during a good portion of the day, but no more. The staff discovered that it’s easier on them if they put in a military type regime.

This is training to live on the outside?

Then there are programs to take, Cog Skills, Anger Management etc. It doesn’t matter so much whether a man needs a program, the important thing is to keep the classes full. The man has no say in what programs he would like to take. This, of course, guarantees that poor teachers can retain their jobs.

Programs are made conditions of parole. I had a learning experience in this area. I had worked with an inmate for seven years. I knew him thoroughly – he was ready for freedom or at least for a halfway house. I was asked to be interviewed about this man and I agreed. The interviewer was a private individual who prepared reports on inmates. He and I had good conversations, but as we talked, I began to realize that no matter what I said this man was going to report that the inmate wasn’t ready yet. I further suspected that this is what the man always said – this is why the prison system kept him around – he kept filling the prisons, guaranteeing further work for the staff.

“There should be no jails. They do not accomplish what they pretend to accomplish. If you would wipe them out and there would be no more criminals than now. They are a blot upon any civilization.”

Clarence Darrow, 1857-1938

A Walking Chunk of Mean-Mad

Posted: September 14, 2014 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized
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There is a scene in the movie version of Grapes of Wrath where Ma Joad worries that prison has changed her son, Tommy (Henry Fonda). She says:

But I gotta fin’ out somepin’ else first, Tommy.

Did they hurt you, son? Did they

hurt you an’ make you mean-mad?



Mad, Ma?


Sometimes they do.



No, Ma I was at first–but not no more


(not yet convinced)

Sometimes they do somethin’ to you,

Tommy. They hurt you–and you get

mad–and then you get mean–and they

hurt you again–and you get meaner,

and meaner–till you ain’t no boy or

no man any more, but just a walkin’

chunk a mean-mad. Did they hurt you

like that, Tommy?



No, Ma. You don’t have to worry about that.


Thank God. I–I don’t want no mean son

(She loves him with  her eyes)

That’s what everyone wants, that nobody leave prison as “a walkin’

chunk a mean-mad.”

I wonder how Ma Joad would feel about prisons today.

Books in Prison

Posted: September 8, 2014 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized

This week we’re featuring some information Joan McEwen sent. Joan wrote a book about Ivan Henry who was wrongly accused of sex offenses and spent 27 years in prison. Check the book out on Amazon:

 Library time and book access limited for federal prisoners, advocates say

Funding cuts lead to less access to reading material



Library time and book access limited for federal prisoners, advocates say

Funding cuts lead to less access to reading material

By Laura Payton, CBC News Posted: Sep 04, 2014 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Sep 05, 2014 5:16 PM ET

Advocates say Canadian inmates are losing some of their access to prison libraries.
In this  January 2010 photo, American prisoner Michael Bennett reacts after reading a portion of a book that was shown to him by a classmate at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in Connecticut.

Advocates say Canadian inmates are losing some of their access to prison libraries. In this January 2010 photo, American prisoner Michael Bennett reacts after reading a portion of a book that was shown to him by a classmate at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in Connecticut. (Thomas Cain/Associated Press)


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A number of advocates say they fear federal inmates are losing access to books and libraries, making it harder to improve their literacy skills and prepare them for reintegration into Canadian society after they’re released.

Those advocates say a number of federal prisons are cutting library hours and library staff, limiting access to books.

“Access to books is really important, and what we’re seeing is an erosion in access to books,” Correctional Investigator Howard​ Sapers told CBC News.

Prisons across Canada are cutting back access due to budget cuts.

Last year, the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, Sask., didn’t extend a contract with the region’s library service, shutting down access for inmates. The library was open five days per week in the afternoons and evenings and inmates would borrow, on average, about 50 items per day. The program cost about $70,000 a year.

Several other institutions in Ontario and Quebec have seen library access restricted or cut entirely.

Advocates say reading material is vital for people living behind prison walls. There’s little to do to pass the time.

Plus, many inmates need to improve their literacy skills for when they’re released. Libraries are one of the only ways to get books because inmates can’t keep much in their cells, and there are security risks with accepting books donated by family members.

Already low literacy skills

Reading is “a huge part of our development as human beings,” said Joan McEwen, a lawyer who has taught a creative writing class at the Matsqui Institution near Vancouver.

“It’s a big part of how we become civilized and cultured, and what better thing to do in prison in your… downtime than read? It’s stimulating and you can have conversations with people, you learn about the world, you become more pro-social.”

Kingston Penitentiary library

A view of a library for inmates at Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario last October. The penitentiary closed last year. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Pro-social is a term used often by those working with inmates. It refers to positive behaviours, and it’s something the Correctional Service of Canada aims to cultivate in inmates before they’re released.

Sapers said reading helps prisoners in their rehabilitation.

“The average level of educational attainment is Grade 8 or lower, but you need Grade 8 or higher literacy skills to successfully participate in most correctional programs,” he said.

Carol Finlay, a former English teacher and an Anglican minister, started her first book club in the Collins Bay Institution in 2009. By the end of this month, she’ll have 17 book clubs operating at 14 prisons across Canada.

“When we go into the prisons, we see fellows who are starved for stimulation because you can’t take university [courses] unless you’ve got family to support you. Community college courses are very limited,” Finlay said in an interview with CBC News.

“After you finish Grade 12, and if you’re in there for a long term, there’s nothing really to do except read a whole lot of really bad murder mysteries…. [A book club gives] something for these fellows to think and talk about besides crime. That’s basically what they’ll talk about, or TV. It’s an extremely boring environment.”

Applied social skills

Finlay said the book club also brings together inmates who might otherwise be associated with rival gangs and not get to know each other without some kind of social activity to bring them together and talk. She said she wants to give the inmates an opportunity to talk about “the big issues of life” and apply the social skills they’re learning through the courses mandated by CSC.

Grand Valley Institution for Women 20130117

The Grand Valley Institution for Women near Kitchener, Ont., is one of the prisons where Carol Finlay runs a book club. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

“They really, really love that. They love that and they learn to do it in a respectful way. They listen and they speak to one another in a respectful way. We teach them how how to do that, how to have a civil conversation,” Finlay said.

A spokeswoman for the Correctional Service of Canada said library services are still available in all federal institutions.

Asked specifically whether inmate trips are limited, hours and librarian staff jobs cut back or inmate library positions cut back, she responded that “the management and availability of library services are determined at an institutional level based on the security of the institution and operational requirements.”

“The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) recognizes the benefits of education and literacy which provides offenders with greater opportunities to participate in other programs offered by CSC and to become law-abiding citizens,” CSC spokeswoman Sara Parkes wrote in an email.

“The mandate of CSC is to contribute to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. CSC assists offenders in managing all aspects of daily life including activities that promote pro-social values and behaviour as part of the rehabilitation process.” 

While inmates are provided an hour of exercise every day, Parkes said there is no stated minimum for hours of access to libraries.

‘My roommate is going to read to me’ 

But the need is there, according to a woman who has volunteered in federal and provincial institutions.

Kirsten Wurmann has been making sure people behind bars get books since 2007, first at a federal institution in Edmonton with the Greater Edmonton Library Prison Library and Reintegration committee, and then in Winnipeg at its provincial remand centre, through the Manitoba Library Association Prison Libraries committee.

Wurmann said the inmates appreciate having access to books and recalled one man who took his time carefully examining every book she’d brought in.

“I was asking, ‘Do you need some help finding something? Is there a particular author you might be interested in?’ and he said, ‘Oh, I don’t read, but my roommate is going to read to me,’ ” Wurmann said.