….WHERE TO GO? WHAT TO DO?
A few years ago, when inmates could still make three-way calls through one of their approved outside contacts, two young men in Kingston Penitentiary were talking about the girls in their lives. One was anxious to meet somebody new while the other was willing to pass on the number of a woman friend. With that in hand, a call was made, and a bright cheerful voice answered. This inmate didn’t begin by introducing himself; rather, he jumped into friendly banter and the curious voice on the other end of the line played along, seeming to enjoy the conversation. After a few minutes, she asked how he came to have her number. When he named his source, there was a pause. “Are you calling from inside a prison?” “Yes.” The line went dead.
Good move. Prison romances are tough.
Inner suburban rows of townhouses are a familiar sight in every city. Often, in one of those townhouses on one of those streets in every urban centre is a family, a woman, her husband and their two kids. Her best friend lives next door, a woman raising two kids alone. Her husband is in prison. There is a dramatic difference in the lifestyles of these two families.
Prison families live in hope. There is little else.
A group of women sitting in a prison visitor waiting area chat as they are processed into the room where they’ll spend a couple of hours with their inmate spouses/boyfriends/brothers. There may sometimes be a middle-aged couple coming to see a son, but rarely are men visiting on their own. Conversation will flow easily on mundane everyday nothings until the prisoners arrive.
But, when women who are familiar with each other have a one-on-one conversation, talk will turn to the challenges of living with a partner or spouse in prison. Frustration and anger and despondency will be forefront. Overheard from one such conversation: “He has been very good to me, and I try to support him, but if he is not finished with prison this time, I don’t know that I can stick with him.” A common thread is that men, women, and children who are an inmate’s community support are stressed, first from managing their own lives in the community, and then coping with the tensions of prison life.
All is not as it should be.
Correctional Service of Canada readily agrees connections to the community are an important component of a rehabilitation process. Visiting programs have options for short face-to-face visits to all-day special event gatherings to three-day “private family visits.” An applicant with an established history with an inmate is pre-cleared for visits and is of course subject to security protocols when entering an institution.
All the same, Canada’s prison industry allows two conflicts at least with its public position on the importance of community relations. For one, visitors don’t always feel welcome. Depending on the day or the institution or the staffing assignments, visitor experiences can be awkward. Men and women in CSC uniforms have a low opinion of their charges and will often paint the people closest to inmates with the same brush. Friction can lead to grievances and even legal actions (search Paul Saliba on this site for “Correctional Officer Darin Gough” from December 20 of 2020). CSC policy and CSC practice is not always in concert.
Visitors going into institutions is one thing. Prisoners returning to the community is something else, and it’s here where CSC trips in “assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens.” If, as some estimate, up to 80% of the men and women in our prisons can be turned around, they need more support than a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend can deliver. What’s missing are assigned CSC staffers whose role is to work with willing inmates and the people behind them to identify challenges resulting from institutionalization and establish connections to government financed and sponsored resources that maximize prospects for success. (Resources that presently do not exist.) As it is, ex-offenders are left to rely on essential and dedicated volunteer organizations for support, groups which are in truth filling the void for services our governments neglect.
Community support is only one piece to reducing recidivism. More on that later
A bottom line here says CSC lacks the commitment to make a difference when a prisoner leaves the walls and bars behind.