Posts Tagged ‘helping inmates’

Call him Irving, an amazing inmate and an amazing person. I first met him in my creative writing class. He was one of those rare students that I could give a few writing principles to and he would run with them. Soon he was turning in amazing stories, one about a man from a Louisiana bayou, environment and correct Cajun accent as well.

He loved his First Nations’ heritage and wrote a story which brought his tribe to life for me.

He and I talked about the prison’s lack of release planning, and he began to develop some ideas.

Soon he was moved to the Okanagan area where his original offense had occurred. While he was there, he developed a full release planning program and talked the admin into letting him run it. Guys about to be released signed up for his program and he put them thru it. Who will pick you up from Pretrial? Where will you go on your first day out? And so forth.

His prison record was perfect and I was surprised he was still in prison himself. Finally, he came in front of a judge, who took a look at his prison record and his letters of support (one of them was mine). The judge did not add any time, he just told him to finish his current sentence.

An amazing thing happened next. A police car picked him up, and he thought he was on his way back to prison, but instead the police took him to a half-way house in the Okanagan area. He was filled with joy and excitement – he could visit with his mother and his sister. Within a week he had two jobs and was following the rules of the half-way house to the letter.

A month went by. The warden of a large prison noticed the fact that this model prisoner was in a halfway house instead of a federal prison. Without delay he sent a squad car to the Okanagan to pick him up. Never mind that the warden already had 300 prisoners who needed lots of help they weren’t getting. Never mind that his record at the halfway house was perfect. Back to prison.

I met him the next morning. He was sad that he had to give up his two jobs, sad that he couldn’t see his sister or mother, and sad that he had to endure more prison. I told him to contact a new woman on the prison staff. I went to her myself and asked her to help Irving. She said she would. (but she didn’t)

He came back to my writing class. “You know, Ed, what we need is for the staff to see what happens in this class. We should invite them to come.”

“It’s okay by me, but you’ll never get them to come.”

I was wrong. He did get them to come.

A year later he was paroled. Here was a man who long ago got the message that crime didn’t pay. The prison system brought him back when he was doing fine and then dragged their heels to release him. Again, prison jobs were more important to staff than helping inmates.

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?

Two important notes for today

  1. Inmate Mike Oulton and I wrote a book about prison, called Dystopia. This coming week it will be priced at 99 cents from July 21 to July 25.

The dictionary says that ‘dystopia’is a society of human misery, squalor, disease, terror and overcrowding. It is the opposite of Utopia.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Dystopia-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B005LE97E0/

 

The book trailer is here: http://youtu.be/crDx4v7jJEU

 

2 Arrest records and Mary Bentley have brought us this information: http://blog.arrestrecords.com/15-surprising-ex-convicts-who-made-it-big/.

15 Surprising Ex-Convicts (Who Made it Big)

This list of former convicts proves that no matter the circumstances, anyone can overcome hurdles to change their lives around and become a success and an influence.

1. Daniel Manville

http://www.legalnews.com/detroit/1283324

Daniel Manville served three years and four months in jail for manslaughter. While he was in jail he studied the legal profession, earning two college degrees. After he got out he went to law school. He passed the bar, representing both prison guards and inmates in civil court cases. He currently teaches law at Michigan State University.

2. Uchendi Nwani

http://www.scoop.it/t/itsyourbiz/p/4007976123/2013/09/20/the-millionaire-ex-convict-uchendi-nwani-on-sunday-show Uchendi Nwani served six and a half months of labor at a federal boot camp for drug dealing, interrupting his college studies. After his stint, he lived in a halfway house and cut hair at the university salon where he resumed studies. He opened his own barber shop and later school after graduation. He shares his success by traveling nationwide, motivating others to follow their dreams even in the midst of adversity.

3. Eugene Brown

http://educationtownhall.org/2014/01/13/chess-and-life/

Eugene Brown served time in a New Jersey prison after a robbery attempt. During his prison stay he met his future mentor, a man named Massey, who taught him how to play chess. Brown realized that chess was a metaphor for life, and later established a chess club that also taught life lessons. Brown became a successful businessman, and in 2014 Cuba Gooding, Jr. will play the starring role in a movie based on his life.

4. Jeff Henderson

http://www.foodnetwork.com/chefs/jeff-henderson.html

Jeff Henderson served ten years for dealing and manufacturing cocaine as a youth. During his time in prison he discovered he liked to cook and spent his days honing this talent. Released for good behavior, he worked as a chef in LA before moving to Las Vegas. He is currently working at Caesar’s Palace, earning top recognition and rewards.

5. Mark “Chopper” Read

http://www.news.com.au/national/what-happened-during-mark-8216chopper8217-read8217s-early-years/story-fncynjr2-1226736503189

Australian Mark Read robbed drug dealers during his earlier years, and was recognizable by his many tattoos and cut-off ears. He served multiple stints in jail for crimes such as attempted abduction of a judge and armed robbery. During his time behind bars he wrote several best-selling crime novels. Eric Bana starred in a movie about his life in 2000.

6. Robert Downey, Jr

http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Robert_Downey_Jr.

Robert Downey, Jr has served jail time for multiple drug-related charges (involving heroin, marijuana and cocaine). He also attempted multiple rehabilitation and drug treatment programs. Although he has been candid about his battle with addiction, he has since enjoyed a comeback and starred in several blockbuster films.

7. Tim Allen

http://hollywood.improv.com/event.cfm?id=303620

Before Tim Allen became a famous celebrity, he served two years and four months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota for cocaine possession and drug trafficking. After his stint in prison he turned his life around and became a famous Hollywood actor.

8. Christian Slater

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000225/

Actor Christian Slater suffered some setbacks when he served 59 days in jail after assault on his girlfriend and a police officer. He had been arrested prior to that for drunk driving, boarding a plane with a gun and another episode of assault. After jail and rehab, he was able to successfully turn his career around and enjoy a comeback.

9. 50 Cent

http://thatsenuff.com/index.php/2014/03/50-cent-deads-all-rumors-of-a-realtionship-with-vixen-sally-ferreria-calling-her-a-thirsty-video-b-details/

Before he became a famous rapper, Curtis Jackson III (aka 50 Cent) served a six-month boot camp sentence (instead of his original three-to-nine years) for drug-related charges. While in prison, he earned his GED and was determined to make it as a rapper. His first album was a hit, and he continues to make music along with other business aspirations.

10. Danny Trejo

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001803/

Danny Trejo was in and out of prisons for charges relating to both robbery and drugs. He finally turned his life around and broke free of his addictions. He now plays the tough guy onscreen in many television shows and action films.

11. Frank William Abagnale

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Abagnale

When Frank William Abagnale was only 16 years old he began his career as a conman (pretending to be a doctor, college professor, lawyer and airline pilot), eventually writing $2.5 million in fradulent checks. He went to prison for five years. Since his release, he has cooperated with the government and runs a consulting firm that helps agencies debunk fraud. A movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks was made based on his life story.

12. Junior Johnson

http://espn.go.com/racing/blog/_/name/hinton_ed/id/4913741/daytona-500-grand-marshal-junior-johnson-discovered-draft-accident

Junior Johnson served jail time for smuggling illegal alcohol in North Carolina, back before he became a NASCAR driver. He credits his early transports as training for his later career, where he has won 50 races. A highway in his hometown bears his name.

13. Malcolm X

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X

And remember: Dystopia is on sale for 99 cents July 21 until July 25

http://www.amazon.com/Dystopia-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B005LE97E0/

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.

I set up a bursary to help inmates with further education. I understood that education was the proven way out of crime. But some men and women had already obtained a high school diploma, so the prison system would do nothing for them. And there were others who just wanted to take a college course in a subject they were interested in, high school diploma or not.

I moved carefully at the beginning. It would be better if the donations were handled by a trusted group that could issue a tax receipt to people. I talked to the John Howard Society and they agreed to sponsor this effort. http://www.edgriffin.net/bursary.html/

Now comes the failure. I’m not out in the streets promoting this bursary. Yes, I mention it now and then in this blog, but I don’t contact other businesses, or certain charities or rich individuals. Why not?

Maybe I’m afraid of people yapping about “Those dirty convicts, I wouldn’t give them a dime.” I pay attention to stories in the news about criminals and I must say the media is far from objective. I know that with some people, I would have to remind them that these are human beings we’re talking about, human beings who are going to get out of prison someday.

Maybe it’s just my nature NOT to raise money. When I was a Catholic priest, I absolutely hated to raise money. Several times a year the bishop would send a letter that we had to read at every mass, raising money for this or that Catholic charity. I said to myself that I didn’t get ordained to raise money. Either I skipped it entirely or I skimmed over it.

That sounds like an excuse to me. What’s the matter with me?

 

I’m honored to have one of my books banned, Delaney’s Hope. I join a prestigious group of people who have had their books banned. The Grapes of Wrath, Green Eggs and Ham, Brave New World, Lolita, etc. See the whole list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments

Two days after I taught a class in prison, I received a call from the prison authorities. “You’re out. Turn in your badge,” the deputy warden said in her harshest of tones. “Your book tells of the rape and murder of a young woman.”

Yes, it does, but nowhere does it approve of such an action. I pointed that out to the friendly deputy warden, but she wasn’t impressed. So I said, “I appeal this decision.”

At the appeal hearing, the acting warden quickly moved away from the initial complaint and said that I brought in things without clearing them with the administration. Yes, I did that, as any good teacher would, bring in materials that would help students understand. In this case I only gave it to one man to teach him how to edit someone else’s work.

The hearing continued and then the acting warden said, “Now about this blog you write every week, Prison Uncensored. You are often critical of the prison.”

“Warden,” I said, “I can’t believe this is part of our discussion today.”

“We expect our employees and volunteers to say positive things about the prison and the administration. You’re banned from entering any federal prison from now on. You can appeal this decision to Ottawa if you want.”

Despite my twenty years of volunteering to teach writing in prison, I was out. I knew Ottawa would back up their local man. My daughter said, “They don’t pay you, they don’t honor you, so just get out.”

A further comment is that Delaney’s Hope is  a warden who set up a prison that really worked i.e. it changed people.  I don’t editorialize in the book, but an existing warden might not like what he or she read.

So, I’m out, but my blog continues. Prison Uncensored Blog https://prisonuncensored.wordpress.com/. The back of Delaney’s Hope says the book was banned in prison.

While the Canadian and American prison systems say the community is an important part of corrections, they have pulled the welcome mat in.

A friend of mine wrote his experiences in prison. He spent two years in a Mexican prison and eight years in a Canadian prison. Which did he like better?

In Mexico:

  • The guys did not hate the guards. The attitude was that the guards had a job to do.
  • When families came to visit, the whole family came. They brought big meals and went right up to the cell, where they spread out a feast for the inmate and his cellmates. Children from different families played together in the hall.
  • Local sports teams came into the prison to play football (soccer). My friend boxed his way to a regional title in that area of Mexico.
  • Yes, my friend admitted that Mexican prisons were poor, but they were humane. Canadian prisons had better facilities, but a poor attitude.

A community writer in my creative writing class attended a class in prison right before Christmas. The year before, this volunteer had financed a collection of the inmates’ writing and had it printed at a cost of $3200. When she got home from this Christmas class, she wrote a card to two of the guys. She liked their work and encouraged them to continue. A week later she was dismissed as a volunteer, no warning, no discussion. She was told that she shouldn’t have written to these two guys.

I suggested she appeal, but she was a shy, gentle person who did not like conflict.

A year and a half later I added my name to the list of kicked-out volunteers, as I have written about.

This is not the way to treat volunteers.

Study European prisons – they know that inmates are eventually headed back to the community, so they invite the community in. Inmates need to see that there are other kinds of life, other kinds of people, than those they have met in the crime world.

visit1What can you do? First establish a correspondence with an inmate. Then apply to visit the person. First the inmate has to say that he or she wants to have you as a visitor. Next the prison system approves you as a visitor (in most cases), after they have informed you of all the rules, It’s difficult to do, but it can mean the world to an inmate.