Posts Tagged ‘Education’

I started teaching in a Canadian prison in the early nineties. I met a few inmates who had been in the prison’s college program in the eighties. All of them were changed people, men and women. Maybe there were some failures, but I never met any. These people had studied literature and science and math, all the usual programs of a university degree. The instructors came from a near-by university, Simon Fraser University. I never saw the program in action, but I learned about it from the students and from comments made by administration.

  •             Sarah seemed to know who she was after taking the program. She was no longer a failure, a drug addict, but she was a proud woman who was ready to write and to teach at a high school level. While she was in college, she stayed in the prison’s infirmary in this all-male prison.
  •             Tom learned about the environment and after his release, he became an environmental employee for the government.
  •             I don’t know where Luke ended up, but I could tell by talking to him that he was finished with the life of crime.

Why did the administration kill the program? I got a lot of different answers from people:

  • Because the average family had to pay for university education for their children and these evil convicts were getting it for nothing.
  • Because a degree was too much for the average convict. Never mind literature or science, these guys needed a good welding program.
  • Because graduates of the program began to question everything in the prison and in fact the whole institution.

Parents know that a high school diploma is not enough in today’s world. Their children need a college education, even a master’s degree, to succeed. Yet the prison system stops at grade twelve. If a student wants more, he has to pay for it himself or herself.

This is why I started a bursary with the John Howard Society. This group helps inmates in prison and out of prison. They give a tax-receipt for donations. Inmates apply for the grant and if they succeed, the John Howard Society sends money not to the individual but to the institution. This year three inmates split twelve hundred dollars, rather their universities did.

The only fund-raiser for this project is me. I’m not very good at that, but I want it to succeed. I really do believe that education is the way out of crime. I’m going to change the way I sell my 7 books – 25% of the sales will go to this bursary. That’s a little more advertising and a little more money.

I’d appreciate any suggestions about how to advertise this bursary.

P.S.  “Harsh Justice: Comparing Prisons Around the World” would be a great fit for your blog. Here’s the link: http://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/worldprisons/.

P.S. #2 “How Big Is the Drug Trade?”, that I think falls right in line with theme of your blog. Here’s the link: http://www.top-criminal-justice-schools.net/drug-trade

They called him Doctor, not because he was a medical man, not because he had a Ph.D, but because he was so smart and such a great orator. We’ll simply call him Doctor X.

If the prison system needed an inmate to stand up and speak for all inmates, they called on Doctor X. He knew how to walk the middle, keeping the guys happy and the system happy. In my writing class, he stood out, producing poems and essays that won him awards.

While he was in my class, he got a new trial, calling up the many details that had led to his previous conviction.

I followed the case closely. He and another man met each other in Seattle, and they decided to visit some women in Vancouver. They hired a taxi in downtown Vancouver which took them to the girl’s address. Outside the apartment, the police later discovered the taxi driver murdered, shot in the head.

The justice system wanted the other man to come to Canada for the retrial. He refused. As the trial went on, it became clear to me that it was the other man who had killed the taxi-driver. He was a much bigger man than Doctor X, and had all the characteristics of those who commit murder. While Doctor X had gone on with his studies and his efforts to help his fellow inmates, the other man ran into constant trouble with the law. His very refusal to come to the retrial indicated to me his guilt. This was the old story of not telling on another man, even if it meant your own imprisonment.

No matter who did it, the taxi drivers in our city wanted a conviction, so once again, Doctor X was found guilty.

After his release, he married a local woman, and they had three wonderful children. They worked hard to raise them as good citizens. When Doctor X finished his sentence and parole, he was shipped back to the United States. Without telling his employer of his past, he got an excellent job back East, which he held for almost ten years. He proved his ability in a very responsible job but then, as always seems to happen, somebody found out about his past and told his superiors. They fired him immediately. Many of his friends objected to this, but I knew it was inevitable. It’s a real problem for an ex-con: tell the truth and not get a good job, or don’t tell the truth and get caught years later.

I haven’t heard yet how Doctor X is supporting his family now.

An inmate should not protect another person, even if he fears for his life from that person. Being accused unjustly of murder seems to me to be a living death.

Another point is to tell the truth when you get a job. There are people who will hire you, if you show that you are stronger than what’s been said about you. Yes, many people will automatically refuse you, but it’s much worse to devote ten years of your life to a company and then be fired in one day.

How do we help ex-cons get a job? Many of them want to prove themselves. They want out of the life of crime. I’ve often thought of a company called EX-CONS, a bonded company, construction, cleaning, what have you. Any ideas?

During the time I taught in prison, about ten men asked me to be their citizen representative at their parole hearing. I did it because nobody else would, but I wasn’t the right person. I didn’t have access to the files that the parole board had. I didn’t see the letters for and against an inmate.

What surprised me was how negative these hearings were. I never – repeat never – heard one positive thing about a man. And everyone I represented had tremendous talent. The parole hearing was not an adversarial discussion, like a trial. No one spoke for the inmate, except an uninformed citizen –me. The parole board members got a handsome per diem, the prison staff made a good salary. I didn’t make anything. If a man’s mother was in the audience, they might acknowledge her, but not give her a chance to speak.

One hearing stands out. My friend, call him Mike, asked me to speak for him. I’d worked a lot with Mike and I knew him well. I mentioned how he helped other inmates, he even stopped an attack on a neighbor. I told about his writing ability, about his plans for his release. He had everything going for him, family, friends, and the chaplain.

His social worker spoke up. “I do not recommend this man. The guards found a cell phone in his unit and I know he’s back in the drug trade.”

Mike spoke up. “The guards searched my unit in the prison and they found a cell phone in a sock. I just want to point out it wasn’t even my sock.”

Mike, of course, couldn’t say that the cell phone belonged to his roommate, but everyone in the hearing knew that. The roommate was the kind of man who didn’t own up to his own actions.

Another social worker came into the hearing. “I know this is unusual, but I must speak up about Mike. He is not in the drug trade. Yes, he did use the cell phone once to see how his buddy was doing in the hospital. But that’s it. He’s been clean and deserves parole.”

I admired her courage and her willingness to speak out, but Mike lost. The real owner of the cell phone got out a month later and Mike spent a year and a half more in prison, with a cost to the taxpayer of around $50,000.

No one, except the second social worker, spoke out for Mike. Of course, I did, too, but I was easy for the parole board to ignore. The parole hearing was a negative fest, everything that was bad about Mike was said and nothing of the good.

I wondered if his prison records were anything like this – all negative. When Mike was getting out of prison, he gave me his thick file to look at. It was amazing. Negative from day one. It seemed that comments repeated themselves. If someone made a comment when Mike was 15, it came up again when he was 19. And there was no mention of his personality, of his willingness to help other guys, of his sense of humor and so on.

Prison specializes in negativity. It’s time for reform.

Good news. The John Howard Society has granted three inmates portions of the Ed Griffin bursary. The money goes to educational institutions, not to the individuals.

  •  One man is working toward a college degree. He has a long sentence for a serious crime, but prison officials, teachers and the chaplain all agree that he’s a changed man.
  •  Education is a big part of his plan for reform, but the prison system doesn’t pay for any classes beyond grade twelve.
  •  The second man wants to take his first university course. He’s almost finished getting his Dogwood diploma (Highest high school diploma)
  •  The third man is working toward a PhD in education. He’s on parole now with another year to go before he’s finished his sentence. Working toward a doctorate in any subject is a challenge in a prison setting or in a parole setting.

I’m very happy that something I did has helped these three men. Where I have failed is in raising money. I sort of know what has to be done, but I haven’t done it. My job is to explain all this to the general public. To explain that education is the proven way out of crime. That the prison system only provides education up to and including grade twelve.

More than that, I have to put this in front of the public. We hear about heart problems, cancer, etc. etc. We’re asked to help children in the third world. But how can I help people see that education is the way out of crime? I have to try harder, to be bolder than I am now.

P.S. For an interesting view of private prisons in the States, http://blog.arrestrecords.com/infographic-privatization-of-the-us-prison-system/.

He sat on a low bench and waited for me every Friday morning. A big man, the strong and silent type, he was doing a four year bit. The other inmates were inside the room, laughing and having a good time. But Jon sat quietly. Outside the room was outside the building, and it was often cold. But Jon sat there, smoking and thinking. I often asked him what he was thinking about, but he never answered me.

My school principal was putting together a book called Prison Voices. He interviewed men and women from across Canada, but he wanted some strong selections from his own area, Vancouver. He pleaded with me to get some creative writing from my class.

“Hey, Jon, how about giving me some stuff for the book?”

“Not me, Ed, I ain’t no writer.”

“I think you’re playing with me, Jon. I know you can do it.”

“No, not me.”

“How about just a little something next week?”

“Okay, Ed. Just a little something.”

This is what he turned in the next week. It’s one of the strongest things I have ever read. It caused some consternation among the funding sources for the book, but the principal fought to keep it in the book. This is exactly the way he wrote it.

 

grape jelly

 

i’m through trying to emulate words

that have been coddled and sheltered from the world

by authors with silver egos and slicker tongues.

 

i want to swallow my pens and

vomit images upon the page;

to spank words

and send them red-bottomed from the room;

 

to forget the dry syntax,

the politically correct anal froth

that sounds more nazi than reform.

 

i want to abuse the english language

like finnigan’s wake did the irish;

like gutter quebecois did the french

 

i want words that smell sweet

as a half-naked thirty-something

in the back seat of a buick regal;

 

words that are wet with fear

smuggled in sweat soaked blue-jeans

torn at the knees after a hard nights thieving

 

words that suffocate in their cellophane wrappers

given away free in the candy stores of amerika,

breeding rebellion and inspiring the masses

of illiterate beggars who march through city streets

looking for scraps of food under padlocked dumpsters;

 

i want seventy-five dollar pens that write seventeen cent poems,

to be thrown away when the ink has bled dry.

 

i want words that offend;

words that rape priests

and send cheers through crowds of frightened children.

 

i want words that question;

words that linger in the backs of throats

like half-dissolved aspirin.

 

words that will duel anything ever written

at any time,

by anyone

and won’t even break a sweat.

 

i want words that run salivating tongues along warm panty lines

in the bedrooms of lovers entangled in wet sheets

strangled in skin and salty sweat;

 

that embrace lovers with indecision and guilt

as they make that horrifically long walk to the altar

or that longer stretch back home

to their waiting spouse’s tapping foot

and wounded-dog cries

 

words that sound like cherry bombs

exploding in a pranksters hand;

like gas shells over hamilton,

i want to be the fallout in my own city,

my country and preferably washington, dc.

 

i want words that betray liars

while i lie paralysed on the beaches of france

or the deserts of morocco

crippled by scotch and heroin

cursing the sand

plagued by the piercing pitches of demons i’ve loosed

upon the eardrums of the world

 

i want to be the laugh in the poetics of robbins,

the innocence of lerner’s switchblade;

bathe the black indifference of vonnegut jr

with a voice and insolence all my own…

 

i want my words to bleed grape jelly.

i want real emotion.

 

What do you think of this poem?

P.S. Watch for my most popular book, Once a Priest to be 99 cents next Sunday

I’m not a very good poet. It is only when I feel very strong about something that I try to write a few lines of free verse. It’s easy, however, to quote from a famous poet. They say things so well with an economy of words. What do you think of these few lines from Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother’s life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.

This too I know—and wise it were
If each could know the same—
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.

With bars they blur the gracious moon,
And blind the goodly sun:
And they do well to hide their Hell,
For in it things are done
That Son of God nor son of Man
Ever should look upon!
The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison-air:
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair
For they starve the little frightened child
Till it weeps both night and day:
And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
And gibe the old and grey,
And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
And none a word may say.

Take any verse and think of today. Could this poem have been written about today’s prisons?

see note about writing classes under WritersWriteDaily

I’m not very good at raising money. It’s kind of embarrassing from me to ask for money for any cause. But on the other hand, people ask me what they can do to help people in prison. It isn’t practical for them to become official volunteers in prison, but they’d still like to do something.

An educational bursary is a perfect idea.

The Ed Griffin Educational Bursary

A man in a Fraser Valley prison struggles to complete his degree. It’s part of his correctional plan that he finish, but there’s no money in the system to pay for courses. A female inmate wants to become a drug and alcohol counselor to help others avoid the pitfalls that led her to jail. She just needs a few college courses, but the little money she earns in prison ($6.90 a day) goes for phone calls to stay close to her family. She can’t afford tuition.

Through the John Howard Society, a humanitarian organization (http://www.johnhowardbc.ca/), Ed Griffin has set up a bursary to help BC inmates with the expenses of higher education. Those who seek education are trying to better themselves. They know that education is the proven way out of crime. You will receive a tax receipt from the John Howard Society, who will in turn present money to the educational institution that the winning inmate has chosen. To donate, simply follow the directions below.

To donate by cheque: 
Mail to:
John Howard Society of BC,
Attention the Ed Griffin Bursary Committee
763 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
V5V 3C2

To donate by credit card or interac:
Go to http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=s5877
On the second page, Donation Details, be sure to mention “For the Ed Griffin bursary account.”

The John Howard Society of BC is a registered Canadian non-profit charity created to work within the criminal justice system promoting safe and peaceful communities.

The John Howard Society of BC and the Ed Griffin Family have established a program to promote, encourage and sponsor the continuing education of individuals who have been incarcerated in the Canadian Correctional System.  To be eligible, the applicant must have participated in educational programs within the Correctional Service of Canada or the British Columbia Provincial Correctional System.  The applicant must be enrolled in a registered educational institution.  Studies may be part- time or full-time. Studies should be directed toward the specific goals of enhancing the individual’s literacy and employment skills, and to assist the individual with reintegrating into society as a contributing citizen.

Applicants to the Ed Griffin Bursary must:

  • Be a Canadian Citizen or Landed Immigrant
  • Be enrolled as a full-time or part-time student in the next academic school year, at a recognized university, community college, technical institute or other post-secondary institution for advanced learning
  • Must have participated in educational programs within the Correctional Service of Canada or British Columbia Provincial Correctional System
  • Write a letter as your application and you may submit an essay specifying the reasons why they should be considered for the bursary. This bursary has a special, but not exclusive, interest in creative writing.