Posts Tagged ‘Conservative Government’

Some good news from a man who’s written for this blog several times.

It wasn’t so very long ago that I found myself sitting outside of the federal institution that I had just spent some quality time in.

Sitting out there waiting for my ride to come and drive me to the halfway house I had some time to reflect on the journey that had brought me to the bench just outside the prison on a sunny Monday morning in June. The bench was reminiscent of a bus stop and I was sitting there waiting for a ride because I didn’t want an escort from my former keepers and instead asked a community volunteer to give me a ride.

The view from outside was actually kind of weird, probably due to the nine years that I had spent inside of various provincial and federal institutions as part of my journey to that bench. I had the vague sense of foreboding, like the rover truck would come speeding up and stormtroopers from inside would come streaming out of the gate saying that the parole board had made a mistake and that I would be returning to my cell.

Since I had received the decision on Thursday of the week before I still didn’t really believe that it was going to happen. Seriously, why would they let me walk out the door.

What got me to that place in the sun was a lot of hard work and a final willingness to accept that I needed to do something different. I had spent years railing against the system to no avail and, in the end, it was my reaching out to community volunteers and asking for help that paved the road to happy destiny for me.

For me it was interacting with many volunteers that made me feel like I could be part of the community and for that I will be eternally grateful. It was also the hard work of an IPO (institutional parole officer) that made it all possible for me to be liberated from the confines of my surroundings.

I’m not saying that the system is perfect, it most definitely is not (especially under the conservative government), but I now understand that rehabilitation is an individual thing and that prisoners need to take responsibility for their past and for their future.

It would, of course, be easier if there were opportunities for vocational programming and if the CSC(the prison administration) or community parole took some initiative and worked with employers in the community to find employment opportunities for those who were honestly doing the work to better themselves.

The CSC has become more punitive in nature in recent years and as a result there is more resentment building up inside the institutions. I’m not looking for some utopian vision of the prison system, just something that would be more progressive for those who are looking to make a change and, perhaps, don’t know where to start or who to turn to.

All I can say is that I finally figured it out and if I can figure it out and get parole with my record maybe there is hope for our flawed system after all.

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This week the local news media carried a story about me and my latest book.

Surrey writer locked out of prison

Author Ed Griffin has been told he can’t volunteer in B.C. penitentiaries

Surrey author and writing coach Ed Griffin has been locked out of jail.

  • Griffin, an author of several books, poetry, plays and short stories, has been teaching writing to inmates at prisons in the province for years.
  • Founder of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, Griffin is a local icon in the writing community.
  • As he has in the past, Griffin sent a manuscript – his latest book “Delaney’s Hope” – to an inmate for editing.
  • Officials with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) didn’t like the content. One chapter portrayed the rape of a young girl.
  • Griffin is quick to point out he dealt with the subject matter sensitively and didn’t glorify it.
  • CSC officials weren’t impressed.
  • On Aug. 19, Zender Katz, the assistant warden at Pacific Institution in Abbotsford, wrote Griffin saying his clearance to enter the prison as a volunteer was being revoked.
  • “You brought and distributed a manuscript which you were not authorized to bring into the institution; therefore, you were in breach of your volunteer role,” Katz wrote in an Aug. 19 letter to Griffin. “It was especially concerning that the manuscript you wrote, and provided, describes explicit adult sexual interaction with children and sexual abuse details.
  • “Given the nature of our business, regrettably, I must terminate your volunteer activities at this site and with the CSC.”
  • Griffin believes the problem has more to do with his blog, which is critical of the correctional service, than with his book.
  • He notes that at his appeal, officials noted he writes a blog called “Prison Uncensored,” where he is quite critical of the system.
  • “I sincerely believe that my severance was related to my blog,” Griffin said.
  • Reached by telephone Thursday, Katz said he had no comment, referring the call to the prison’s media relations department.
  • A representative from that department declined comment, citing the privacy act.

What should my response be? Does this relate to writing? Yes, in my opinion. A teacher has a right to move his student one step further, by asking him for comments on a draft novel. This was just between the student and myself. But, as they often do, the prison system made a far bigger issue of it. And I understand that when this issue became public, the prison system banned the guys from meeting on their own. Strange.

Your thoughts?

One of the saddest things I’ve done is go to the library, to the criminology section. Really, it’s as sad as seeing a group of guys locked up for years. The covers on criminology books are new, undamaged, unread. Politicians make decisions without visiting the library, the supposedly-educated media have never been there, and educators don’t know what restorative justice is. And in today’s world most of this information is available online.

Are the media responsible for negative images in the minds of the public?

Are wardens accountable for recidivism, for half the inmates returning to prison?

Why do ridiculous criminal justice laws pass the legislature? Is it that we citizens do not speak up? Here in Canada the Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, passed Bill C-10 with little opposition.

The slogan for the New Year might be: Take your politician to the library.

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.

I’d like to welcome our frequent commentator, a man in a Fraser Valley Prison:prison hands

As I watch the prison being built out in what used to be part of the yard draw close to its completion, I wonder to myself what kinds of opportunities are being squandered with the construction of this new warehouse parked outside the old warehouse.

The government takes the view that its about enhancing the capacity of prisons to deal with the influx of new inmates that are sure to come into the system as a result of their tough on crime legislation. Let’s overlook the fact that the projected numbers of new inmates are yet to be seen and that Mr. Toews himself has admitted that they are not seeing the numbers that they are planning for by constructing new prisons inside the old prisons.

Let’s just look at squandered opportunities and not at squandered taxpayer money.

So many things could be done with a new space and a new idea but instead the government is just building another cell block. What if it was built with some new ideas in mind, like rehabilitation and preparing inmates for their eventual reintegration. It could have been built with classrooms so that inmates could do evening programming and school but that would require some really forward thinking on the part of our justice minister and the government.

Think about a computer lab so that inmates could learn how to use a computer, a tool that has now become an almost essential part of life out in the community. Of course we have computers in the library like the one I am writing this piece with but there is no internet and the computers that we have access to are, in essence, typewriters do to the restrictions put in place. The prison administration says that internet access is a risk to security and therefore an inmate can’t have access to the internet, even restricted access for educational purposes. I know this, because I lost the argument with Ottawa for supervised restricted access to a university site while I was doing a university course that I had paid for. So much for helping someone do something to improve themselves that isn’t part of the prison system’s correctional planning. Apparently there is no one in the the administration that can figure out how to restrict access. Maybe they need to hire some smarter people.

Think about what kind of person you would want released from prison. Is it someone whom you believe has the skills and jailWriterthe preparation to meet the challenges of life outside of prison, or is it someone who has just whiled away his time sitting in his cell watching the latest batch of reality TV shows to come out this season?

Who is the Prison Industrial Complex?Prison Industrial Complex

They are people who make money through prison. We don’t think about them much. Who are they:

  • The companies who sell food to the prison – vegetables, meat, and staples.
  • Those who supply paper and office supplies
  • The garbage contractors
  • People who repair machines and computers in the prison
  • People who repair the plumping, electricity or structure of the buildings
  • The paid chaplains that provide chapel services and counseling
  • The school services, which in Canada go to the lowest bidder
  • The companies that inmates are allowed to order from
  • The company that services the candy and soda machines in the visiting room
  • The local and stare/provincial legislators in areas where prisons are. These people know that if they don’t support the prisons, they won’t be in office.money

We’re talking big money here in many cases. These are people who want to see more and bigger prisons. They don’t want to see prison reform and they have a lot of clout.

Did I miss anyone?

prisonsShould our prison system be about punishment about rehabilitation? Years ago when my wife and I thought of coming to Canada, we looked at the country, its people and its government as a shining light of humanitarian values. Canada cared about its people. Canada had a good safety net for its poor. In the world, the reputation of Canada was unequaled. Canada was for peace. Canada cared about the poor of the world.

I didn’t know much about the Canadian justice system then, but I assumed it would be like everything else Canadian – fair, helping people and above reproach.

These days I feel like the most foolish of men. I believed a lie. The only hope I have is in the Canadian people themselves. It wasn’t a majority that elected Mr. Harper and his conservatives, in fact it was just one-third of them. Harper punishing inmates instead of reforming them is not Canadian.

Perhaps this is a philosophical discussion, but I think it’s at the heart of the Conservative Government’s approach to prisons and criminal justice. Their idea is to punish people, not rehabilitate them. I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s comment:  “Distrust Nietszeeveryone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”

Should prisons be about punishment or about rehabilitation?

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