Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

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.

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This week the local news media carried a story about me and my latest book.

Surrey writer locked out of prison

Author Ed Griffin has been told he can’t volunteer in B.C. penitentiaries

Surrey author and writing coach Ed Griffin has been locked out of jail.

  • Griffin, an author of several books, poetry, plays and short stories, has been teaching writing to inmates at prisons in the province for years.
  • Founder of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, Griffin is a local icon in the writing community.
  • As he has in the past, Griffin sent a manuscript – his latest book “Delaney’s Hope” – to an inmate for editing.
  • Officials with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) didn’t like the content. One chapter portrayed the rape of a young girl.
  • Griffin is quick to point out he dealt with the subject matter sensitively and didn’t glorify it.
  • CSC officials weren’t impressed.
  • On Aug. 19, Zender Katz, the assistant warden at Pacific Institution in Abbotsford, wrote Griffin saying his clearance to enter the prison as a volunteer was being revoked.
  • “You brought and distributed a manuscript which you were not authorized to bring into the institution; therefore, you were in breach of your volunteer role,” Katz wrote in an Aug. 19 letter to Griffin. “It was especially concerning that the manuscript you wrote, and provided, describes explicit adult sexual interaction with children and sexual abuse details.
  • “Given the nature of our business, regrettably, I must terminate your volunteer activities at this site and with the CSC.”
  • Griffin believes the problem has more to do with his blog, which is critical of the correctional service, than with his book.
  • He notes that at his appeal, officials noted he writes a blog called “Prison Uncensored,” where he is quite critical of the system.
  • “I sincerely believe that my severance was related to my blog,” Griffin said.
  • Reached by telephone Thursday, Katz said he had no comment, referring the call to the prison’s media relations department.
  • A representative from that department declined comment, citing the privacy act.

What should my response be? Does this relate to writing? Yes, in my opinion. A teacher has a right to move his student one step further, by asking him for comments on a draft novel. This was just between the student and myself. But, as they often do, the prison system made a far bigger issue of it. And I understand that when this issue became public, the prison system banned the guys from meeting on their own. Strange.

Your thoughts?

Every week or so I go out to a federal prison to teach creative writing.  The best way to describe my teaching style is to relate an incident. One day a plumber was working on the pipes in the ceiling of the school. He made such a racket, no one could hear anything. I went out to the hall and asked him if he could work on something else until my class was over. He watched me return to my seat and a few minutes later, the noise stopped. I found out later that the plumber had gone to the director of education and said, “One of the inmates asked me to stop making so much noise.”

I suppose that could have been a comment on my jeans and sport shirt instead of business dress, but I’m sure he thought I was one of the inmates.

In the classroom, I sit with everyone else in a circle. I’m not the teacher so much as I am the resource person. I like this way of teaching. I get to know the guys better this way. And then an amazing thing happens.

Forget all the theory, all the criminology ideas, all the left wing statements that inmates are human beings. No. I’m sit next to Jack and across from Dexter. Jack is smart, two years of college. Dexter’s first drug supplier was his mother. He quit school in the sixth grade. What I’m trying to say is that I get to know these guys as people. Yes, they’ve done harmful things, but now they’re trying to change. What if we all had the opportunity to meet inmates?  Our attitudes would change.

In other countries prisons welcome the community into the prison. They encourage it. Sadly, the only welcoming Canadian prisons do is in their public relations statements.

There are ways you can get to know inmates, male and female, but in Canada it’s hard to do.

What goes on inside prison? We know what goes on inside a hospital. The public can visit their friends and family easily. hospital visitThey don’t have to fill out papers ahead of time, they don’t need clearance by the police. The authorities place hospitals near where people live and they make the visiting hours convenient.

Not so with prisons. Despite what their official statements say, prisons don’t want the public nosing around. When you visit an inmate in prison, you are often greeted by an attitude – “If you’re here to visit a scumbag prisoner, you must be a scumbag yourself.”

Cameras observe you in the visiting room. The chairs are attached to the tables so you can’t move them around and sit where you want. Each table has a microphone in it, so everything you say is recorded.

Compare this to a Mexican prison. My friend, Mike Oulton, spent two years in such a prison. He tells how families used to come into the prison, wives and children, and they brought meals with them. Since Mike had no family in Mexico, they often invited him to join in family celebrations.

Despite what they say, prison officials don’t want the public in their prisons. The way they have it now is good – Keep outonly the convicts see what they do and who listens to convicts? Even though the public is paying for the prisons, they can’t get in to see them. Officials feel that as long as no one escapes, then there’s nothing to worry about. Never mind that millions of dollars are spent for rehabilitation, which never happens.

We’re paying for an inefficient bureaucracy to care for the men and women in prison. What can we do to change things?

Images courtesy of:

  • open salon.com
  • lourdes.com

 

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

By: A Guest Blogger, a thoughtful inmate in a Fraser Valley institution.

CommunityCrime is a community problem that requires solutions that involve the community. As it stands right now, the community has very little involvement in the rehabilitation of offenders but instead entrusts this duty to the Correctional Service of Canada and blindly hopes they are doing the job of rehabilitating offenders and preparing them for re-entry into society.

The problem with corrections is that the Correctional Service of Canada is expected to rehabilitate people in the absence of meaningful community involvement. In our institutions, inmates are locked away and offered programming that is only marginally effective in the hope that when they are released to the community,

Village

It takes a Village

they will be better citizens.

Many inmates do not feel themselves connected to the community, at least to the regular community at large, and it is this disconnection that makes it easier to commit crime. In fact many inmates, and criminals in general, feel themselves part of a different community, a criminal community or a jail community.

There is some community contact in prisons but not nearly enough. There are volunteers that come in for various activities and programs within the institution but for the most part inmates are locked away with only other inmates for company.

I like to think that if communities were more involved in the rehabilitation of offenders rather than leaving the entire job to the Correctional Service, there might be more successes. Eventually most offenders are released from prison and they are going to communities. Those communities should want to be involved in the rehabilitation of offenders for their own peace of mind.

Prisons could use restorative justice programs that connect offenders with victims or with representatives from the community so that there may be a dialogue that could lead to a sense of connection. Building a connection to the community, in this writer’s opinion, might be one of the most important steps in the rehabilitation of criminals.Community

Images courtesy of:

  • raisingthevillage.blogspot.com
  • madisonfloridavoice.net
  • mksdachurch.net