Posts Tagged ‘Rehabilitation’

Once in a while, a man in prison excels at writing. Such a man was Mike. I gave him a few principles of writing and off he went. Soon his talent was as good as mine – no, he was better than me.

Mike and I decided to write a book together. We would call it Inside/Out. He, the insider, would say that prison did do some good for guys, even though there were problems. He would not write boring treatises, rather he would tell the stories of individuals. As for me, the outsider, I would stand against the whole prison system and tell stories of how it had ruined the lives of several people.

I wrote my part of the book and Mike wrote his. We were both finished and ready to put together a book. But something happened. Mike came up for parole, but he was rejected because his roommate had a cellphone. That sounds crazy and impossible, but that’s exactly what happened. The cellphone was on Mike’s side of his two man cell, but everyone knew that it belonged not to Mike, but to the roommate.

Mike got a year and a half more in prison. More programs to take even though he’d already taken them. We taxpayers spent $50,000 keeping him there. He was the poster-person for the fact that prison exists mostly for the sake of the staff and the guards.

Mike decided that he no longer liked what he had written for our book. In effect, he said I was right, that prison helped no one. He scrapped his section and started over and, in my opinion, he did a much better job this time.

As with any book that’s written by more than one person, there’s usually conflict. And so it was with Mike and I. Mike felt bad that his section was longer than mine, much longer. But I argued that I was comfortable with my section. I told my story with as many words as I wanted. If I were to make my section longer, it would clearly go against the rule to ‘cut the fat.’

So we published Dystopia and it’s done well on the market. It’s my story of going to prison and it’s Mike’s. He was arrested in Mexico for smuggling drugs and served two years in a Mexican prison and then eight years in a Canadian prison. Mike’s out now and has been for four years. He’s got a little entertainment business and works as an MC on occasion.

Even the word Dystopia I learned from an inmate, a man who called himself the only Jewish inmate in the whole prison.

Dystopia is a society of human misery, squalor, disease, terror and overcrowding. It is the opposite of Utopia.

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

A few years ago, when I taught in prison, I came home one time and wrote down my feelings. I’m not sure my ideas of how to deal with crows are correct. What do you think?

Crows

by Ed Griffin

800 words

I teach a course in creative writing at Matsqui prison. Week after week I drive forty-five minutes into the country to the prison. As I walk to the gate, I notice several crows flying back and forth across the two, razor-wired fences. The crows screech at me as they perch on the fences. What are they trying to tell me? Then suddenly they fly deeper into the prison grounds.

I go into the guard house and chat with the guards. Most of them are good human beings and we talk about the weather or we laugh at my cheap briefcase which I have to pound so it will open for inspection. Occasionally I meet someone with an attitude, but mostly they’re just ordinary people. They’re not eagles or hummingbirds or blue-jays. They’re just crows, like the rest of us, ordinary birds trying to live.

I can’t understand why the men in prison hate them so.

As I wait for the big gates to slide open, the crows fly over my head and scream at me again. I think how strange it is that we call a pack of crows a murder of crows. Why are they flying back and forth? Maybe there’s a murder of crows living in the prison and one outside and they’re just changing shifts.

I go into my class. Jack and Brian and Dennis and….. Not their real names, but just ordinary guys. Guys trying to write. Trying to figure out their lives with pen and paper and keyboard. Jack was beat up regularly by his father, so he figured violence was the way you dealt with society. Now he’s writing about his early years — and his father. Brian, 32, the article writer, sees a lot wrong with the world and especially a lot wrong with his world. He’s trying to write down his anger instead of acting it out. And Dennis, 41, is finding an outlet for his creative energy in fiction rather than in a line of cocaine.

They’re not representative of society as a whole. With few exceptions, they’re poor people. People without resources. A disproportionate number of minorities and natives. They, too, remind me of crows, not eagles or hummingbirds or blue-jays. Crows.

I teach my class. We have a lot of laughs. Occasionally I meet a con with an attitude, but mostly they’re just writers. I can’t understand why the guards hate them so.

Maybe writers are different from the general prison population. But I care about these guys. I read in the paper every day how we should lock these guys up and throw the key away or we should just hang them all. No, not Jack and Brian and Dennis. Don’t.

I finish my class and I walk to the gate to leave. What have I accomplished? A Band-Aid. I haven’t solved the problem of crime. I haven’t faced the agony of a woman who’s lost her daughter to rape and murder. I haven’t broken the cycle of abuse to kids who later turn to abuse. I’ve gone to prison and passed out Band-Aids. It’s very frustrating.

When I go home, my friends will ask me about prison. “It’s a big warehouse,” I’ll say. “What kind of society puts a human being in a cage?” Then my friends will demand my alternatives. I won’t be able to say anything.

The crows laugh at me as the gate slides open. They’re so loud and obnoxious. Caw. Caw. He doesn’t have any answers.

I get back in my car and drive to the city. Questions peck at me. Why do we try to solve crime out in the country, instead of where it happened? Why is Canada locking up more and more people, yet crime seems worse? Why did the government cut funds to educate prisoners? Why are all the criminology books in the library clean and unread, while the public rants on? Why does society give these guys three squares a day and not demand they change their souls?

I’m going mad with questions. I jam a tape in the player, something soothing. Simon and Garfunkle. On the side of the freeway a murder of crows works a farmer’s field for some left-over corn.

I go home and check my bird book on crows. Very intelligent, gregarious. Crows gather together to mob owls and other predators, but may, in turn, be mobbed by other birds. In agricultural areas, crows are considered great pests.

The crows fly back and forth over the prison walls If the crows inside the fences are just like the crows outside the fences, what is to be done with those inside? Put them all in cages? Kill them? No. What do you do about crows? You study them, you learn how to help them, and you put up scarecrows where you have to.

 

Be sure to visit Writers Write Daily on WordPress for a 99 cents deal on my new books, Life Takes a Turn and Delaney’s Hope

Check out an interesting graphic, the Criminal States of America

http://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/states/

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 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.

The current state of the prison system is dismal at best. There are currently more than 2.3 million individuals incarcerated in the United States, and of these, nearly 85% either have a drug problem serious enough to meet the DSM-IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction, or are a part of the penal system as a result of a drug-related offense.

Obviously, this is a problem that desperately needs to be addressed. Whatever correlation you wish to draw from the data, there is obviously a connection between chemical abuse and being in prison. For this reason, it is important to consider how instituting strong drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs are essential to prison reform.

These numbers need to come down.

Obviously, the overall number of prisoners in this country needs to be reduced, but the statistics above need to faced. We are not currently running a crime-prevention system, we are running a holding and breeding house for the country’s worst drug addicts. Nothing good can come from that.

The need to get high is a good reason to commit crime.

That should, of course, be taken in context. Many of the people in prison are there because of drug-related crimes, or because they needed money to get high. If you aren’t dealing with the drug addiction, you’re not dealing with the heart of the problem.

For many people, prison isn’t a great deterrent to what they are doing, because all they are thinking about is the next opportunity to use. Deal with that problem; let less junkies back out on the street, and watch your recidivism rate drop.

You have a captive audience.

For better or worse, these people are prisoners and wards of the state. Though you obviously can’t force them to change their behaviors, you have already embarked on a commitment to help them change their lives. Why not make a practical use of that time; requiring these inmates to face the issues of their addictions?

While already within the confines of our prison system, it only makes sense to show prisoners better options for conducting their lives. That means extending rehabilitative services on all fronts, rather than just dealing with the daily doldrums of being locked up, and the ongoing tension of prison life.

The system is there to rehabilitate these captive members of our community, and that means not only giving them time to think about the crimes they’ve committed, but mechanisms to understand the reasons they committed them, as well.  Helping prisoners understand what led them down the wrong path is the first step toward avoiding it in the future.

Many inmates are ready for a change.

On the other hand, for many addicts, landing in prison is their taste of hitting the bottom – hard. They are well aware they have problems, and desperately would like to get out of the rut that put them in prison – if only they were given a serious opportunity for a second chance.

It’s a better option.

Ultimately, whether you want to believe it or not, being behind bars doesn’t mean you can’t get high. Certainly, there’s more trouble and risk involved, but if you’ve reached this level, it’s hardly a concern. Depending on whom you are and who you know, many of the obstacles of using drugs when you’re behind bars can fall away. And regardless of your access inside, there is plenty of availability once you are out on the streets.

Rehabilitation efforts change prisoners’ perspectives, furnishing hope for better lives outside incarceration. Filling inmates’ time with positive intervention opens their eyes to the greater possibilities both on the inside and outside. Rehabilitation reminds inmates there is a path to salvation, enabling them to break free from their own limiting addictions.

Daphne Holmes is a writer from ArrestRecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.

What is your opinion? Which came first, the prison or the addict?