Posts Tagged ‘inmate’

In the early fall, I will be marrying the man I love.  He is a long-timer incarcerated in an Alberta prison.

Let’s play a couple of rounds of Would You Rather, shall we?  The first dilemma is one I am constantly faced with.  The second is one that I pose to all of you.

  1. 1.      Would you rather stay in a relationship founded on love with a man
  • who worships you
  • treats you like gold, and
  • encourages your most important endeavours, but
  • cannot live with you for up to 15 more years, because that is how long he has to go on a sentence he has already served 20 years on

OR would you rather walk away from this relationship and

  • focus on doing all the things in life that you want to do
  • be accepted by the mainstream
  • forget about having to hide a part of your life from people you fear may not understand, but

know all the while that he

  • is in there alone,
  • feeling increasingly hopeless, and
  • unable to do the things you are doing?


  1. 2.      Would you rather have the correctional service gradually reintegrate a middle aged man back into the community
  • who has served 20 years of his sentence,
  • has not been involved in any criminal behaviour for 10 years,
  • has gained a tremendous amount of insight into his past behaviour,
  • has developed a solid plan to avoid falling into the same patterns that led to his violent behaviour in the past,
  • has a significant number of supports in the community who are willing to help emotionally, financially, and practically, and
  • is motivated to live his life in a way that gives back to society a small amount of what he has taken

OR would you rather this man be held in prison for another 15 years to serve out his entire sentence after which he will

  • be thoroughly institutionalized
  • be approaching retirement age and have few employment prospects,
  • be left to fend for himself with possibly little remaining community support and few resources
  • likely have a great deal of resentment toward the system that kept him in all this time?

Talk about dilemmas!  Anyone wish to venture a response?



Posted: May 1, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
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sunI will never forget a student I had named Victor. He was a large black man, an intimidating presence, but the gentlest of men. He used to sit in the back of my class and look at me with those intelligent eyes and that slightly cynical expression. I used to praise the work that guys did, sometimes even if it was rough. In my mind, a man putting his ideas on paper was often a great step forward. But when somebody did something of real value, I tried to tell him it was of exceptional value, far above the usual.

The previous week Victor had given me the opening chapter to his life’s story. It was terrific. I’d made some notes on it and handed it back to him at the beginning of class. A few minutes after class started, he stood up and waved his story in the air and then he said a line I will never forget, “Griffin, are you trying to blow sunshine up my ass?”

After I stopped laughing, I said, “No, I really think that was a good story. I meant my compliments.”

The line became famous among my non-inmate friends and students in the community. One year, on my birthday, my friends presented me with a cake, some flowers and a special decoration called “The Sunshine Award.” Attached to it, was a card relaying what Victor had told me.

Every year thereafter they gave the Sunshine Award to someone who always had positive things to say about other people’s work.

Do you know someone who deserves the Sunshine Award?

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Identity #2

Posted: January 22, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison
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Continuing our look at identity – prison rips the identity out of people.

fingerprintWhenever I go into prison to teach my class, I hear the public address system call for Inmate Smith to go to the infirmary, or Inmate Smith to report to the social worker.  In what other institution are people referred to like that? Do we say Student Smith or Patient Smith?

In a maximum-security facility, I wanted to return my ten students to their unit. I called control. “I have ten men to return to Unit D,” I said.

Silence. “You mean ten inmates?”

“No. Ten men.” This was a pre-trial facility, so everyone there was supposed to be presumed innocent.

Silence. “Ten inmates.” The tone was angry.

Two of the guys had to go to the bathroom and there was no washroom where we held class.

Finally I said, “Ten… to return to Unit D.”

There was a long silence and then the door clicked open.

Constantly being called an Inmate gets to a person.

Reports on a person do as much damage. The man reads the report the caseworker does on him.  He doesn’t even recognize the person on the paper. He’s some evil dude. He’s not himself.  But the report stays there and the same old tired things keep being said, as if there were no hope for change. A very creative, interesting man gave me his whole file to read. I couldn’t believe it – not one positive word about him.

An inmate studies the walls around him.  He puts his hand on them.  What do they tell him about who he is? He’s an prison cellanimal that must be caged.

No doubt he will be raped.  Many inmates are. He will lose this last bit of control over his body.

Study an inmate’s function in society.  He exists so I will feel better about me.  Let’s say I have a real nothing of a job. My boss yells at me, my wife and my kids don’t respect me, but one thing I can say – I’m better than those bums in prison.

And he is entertainment. We get to hear the racy details of his crime every night on TV, and then we see him pleading with the judge, and then – what a show – he is dragged off to prison.  We feel safe knowing that he’s locked up. Alleluia. Evil is in jail.

Television programs like Oz contribute to the negative image of prisoners. Inmates are portrayed as animals who have no morals. These programs like to say ‘they tell it like it is.’ But that’s exactly what they don’t do. They show only the evil side of people and seldom the good.

Prison, which is supposed to make a man into a new and better person, has destroyed him. Perhaps Oscar Wilde says it best:

The vilest deeds like poison weeds

Bloom well in prison air:

It is only what is good in man

That wastes and withers there

Do you think our prisons should build a new positive identity or tear down what’s there?

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