Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

 

volunteer

Call her Gertrude. She’s from a European country and even though she’s been in Canada for thirty years, she still has a slight accent. Gertrude is—make that – was – the perfect CSC volunteer. She treated the men and the staff with respect. Everyone who met her knew that she cared about them. Inmates knew that and staff knew that.

She was formally trained as a volunteer and gave up an evening to attend the necessary course. Her husband and high school children agreed with her effort to help prisoners. In the 2011 she paid about $3,000 of her own money to produce a book of the inmate’s writing

Volunteers are a big part of CSC’s mission, to connect the prisons with the community.Community

A year ago at this time, Gertrude attended one of my creative writing classes. She didn’t say much in class, but people could tell by her looks and her clapping that she appreciated what the men were reading.

When she got home after the class, she dropped a note to two of the men who read that day in class. It was part Christmas Card and part support letter.

In January she returned to the prison to attend another class. Her badge was taken away and she was ‘fired’ as a volunteer. The only explanation given was that she had broken a rule by writing to the two inmates.

I polled all our volunteers. No one had heard of such a rule. On reflection, one volunteer said she understood, nothing in/nothing out must mean letters, too.

Note that Gertrude was not warned, “Don’t do that again,” she was just fired.

I couldn’t believe it. She asked for a hearing and if I had been smart, I would have gone with her. She’s one of those gentle, kind people who agree with everything you say. She figures out what you want her to say and she says it.

“Did you know it was wrong to mail a letter to an inmate?” she was asked. She paused and looked at the person across the desk from her. “Oh yes, I knew it was wrong.”

Nonsense. Not one volunteer I talked to knew this. I know Gertrude and I’m sure she never gave it a thought that it was wrong to mail a supportive note/Christmas card to an inmate.

Of course, her statement confirmed her suspension. I suggested we appeal to the regional office and I said I would go with her. A date was set for us and then Gertrude backed out. She said, “I’m happy in my life. I have many interests and I don’t need this controversy. Just forget the hearing.”

Of course it’s occurred to me that this rule of NO mail to inmates isn’t a very good one. It contradicts the key tenets of CSC.

I grieve for Gertrude, and like so many things with CSC, you just have to swallow it. Inmates swallow a lot more than I do, if that’s any consolation to me.

Images courtesy of:

  • shileche.wordpress.com
  • vencolibrary.org

People look back on history and shake their heads in revulsion. How could one man, Hitler, have ordered the holocaustextermination of the Jewish people? Why did most of his country go along with such a madman? How did it happen that people captured human beings in Africa and sold them in North American marketplaces? How could they tear a mother from her children, a woman from her husband?

How could people do these things?

Yet the time will come when our descendants will abhor what we have done. “You did what with people who broke your laws?  You put them in cages and left them there for years?”

It is my belief that a Christian cannot support the idea of prison. It’s evil, it’s a sin. If one sits down and reads any chapter of the New Testament, then closes the book, that person cannot say that prisons are a good idea.

Muslims respect the dignity of people as does every religion I’ve ever heard about. First Nation’s people have given us restorative justicethe principles of restorative justice, which respect both victim and offender. Beyond the religious perspective, any true humanitarian must denounce the concept of imprisonment.

What can a person of conscience do about prison?

  • Get involved with your local prison or jail. It won’t be easy. The Correctional Service of Canada says on one hand that it wants volunteers, but on the other hand it makes it very hard to do so.
  • Insist that the proper Christian message reach prison. A lot of prison religion is namby-pamby, about acceptance of one’s circumstances, rather than liberation.
  • Help a person who’s just getting out of jail. The system spits a person out without providing the help they need. Cynics say the prison really wants the person back, because that means more jobs. Help him or her get a job and stay off drugs. Provide them with new friends, instead of the old crowd who will drag them back into crime.
  • Visit someone in prison. Send them a Christmas basket. You would be surprised how many men and women have no visitors, no one to care about them. (see Matthew 25:36)
  • A creative parish in New York State has opened its own halfway house, a model for any church.
  • Watch legislation. Write letters. Drug addiction is more a medical problem than it is a criminal problem. Don’t let the media circus legislate for our country.

Images courtesy of:

  • history1900s.about.com
  • krjustice.com