A Glance at Bowden Institution

An inmate at Bowden Institution was kind enough to share this report of their February meeting with us:

The Bowden Institution Book Club for Inmates met 21 February 2019. The Club consists of three volunteer visitors from the community, a CSC staff person (the librarian), and 15 inmates; we read and discussed In Pharaoh’s Army by Tobias Wolff.

The institution itself is a community, currently home to over 600 inmates. We see each other regularly be it enjoying the amenities such as the gym, yard, chapel, dining hall, or the library to name a few; the latter, is my personal favourite. During the month between our previous gathering, members cross each other’s path going to eat, attending program and work assignments, enjoying the amenities, or just roaming around aimlessly.

Leading up to the February meeting, I spoke to our librarian, who is a member, and several inmates with respects to their feelings toward In Pharaoh’s Army. It appeared that the general vibe was a neutral one; nobody had anything negative to say yet nobody appeared to be very excited about the read. In my opinion, that certainly changed during and after our gathering.

In my experience, speaking about war, geo-politics, and ideology; all themes in the book, with a group of diverse inmate can be challenging and sometimes hostile and belligerent. This was not the case during our meet. Everyone was respectful towards one another and agreed to disagree when values and attitudes clashed. Having paid attention to everyone, I am happy to report that the meeting was a constructive and meaningful one. Only two inmates abstained from speaking; one was admittedly shy and he told me that he learned a lot listening to everyone and it made him want to read the book again. The other group member was extremely excited and grateful to have been part of the group and was looking forward to the next date. I am happy for this member of the group and proud of our group dynamic as he has a severe anxiety disorder and PTSD. I know him well and call him a friend of five years; in the time I have known him, I have never seen him that happy and energetic as he was after our meeting.

When discussing the book, be it the dysfunctional relationships, the author’s father being an ex-con, or the themes I previously mentioned, we all had our opinions, and we were all impacted differently when discussing quotes and events in the book. When reading In Pharaoh’s Army, reflect upon the challenges of the mud and rain in Vietnam, and contrast those thoughts with challenges faced by officers of Pharaoh and their experiences faced in several Biblical narratives. One of the volunteers used that analogy for which I was grateful when some of us inquired about the title.

On behalf of the inmates, thank you to the librarian for coordinating the group meetings; the visitors for coming inside the institution and dedicating their time, energy, efforts, knowledge, wisdom, kindness, and most importantly, sharing their spirit with us; and also those who fund the initiative, thus contributing to enhancing public safety. The communication skills we learn and hone will inevitably make us better people when we eventually return to the community.

P.S A correctional officer was conducting a routine cell search on my living unit recently. He left my cell, walked up towards me and said ‘I took a post-it note.’ He then showed it to me and it said In Pharaoh’s Army — Tobias Wolff. He went on to state that he was going to get the book for himself. I have over 30 books in my cell and he chose that title - interesting.

Remembering Margaret Reimer

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of one of our volunteers, Margaret Reimer. Margaret was a BCFI volunteer for 10 years and started the book club at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener. We would like to share some words written by her friend Kathy, another BCFI volunteer:

“For almost a decade, I had the privilege of co-leading our monthly Book Club for Inmates with Marg. During this shared time together in prison, and preparing for it, all of us- volunteers and inmates alike--came to appreciate Marg as an advocate for women and family relationships. For Marg, it was never just about literature, but how our shared exploration of books made us human. Her counsel into our book selections was thoughtful, flexible and sensitive. As recently as 10 days ago, when on a Saturday morning we visited over tea in her home, she offered ideas as to what she thought would and would not work for the 2019/20 season, and expressed concern that we not overwhelm the members with difficult topics. I will dearly miss her clear points of view, her modest eloquence and her persistent, articulate arguments promoting literature that was both of high quality and accessible to all. But finally, after all, mostly, I will miss her as a friend.”

We are so grateful to Margaret Reimer for her dedication to our programs. She will be dearly missed.

Author Visit: Steven Heighton at Collins Bay Maximum

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The Collins Bay Maximum Book Club recently hosted author Steve Heighton to discuss his fourth novel, The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep.  

Steven was fantastic at responding to inmates’ questions, including how he came to write the book, how he developed its plot, how his characters developed, and what his life is like as a full time writer. The men clearly loved the book and couldn’t wait to put their questions to him.  At the end of the meeting, one of our volunteers asked him to read a poem he had written recently called “Fake News” that was published in WALRUS magazine.  He set it up perfectly and then recited it for memory.

The men applauded when he had finished.

As the volunteers left, Steven said he has done many, many book clubs and this one was the best he’d ever experienced!  

In the words of one of our volunteers, this meeting was “one of the most satisfying book club experiences I’ve had inside, and I know for the men, it was a very special experience as well.”

Elizabeth Fry's Canadian National Media: Fact Check

This week, we would like to share a press release posted by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Canadian National Media: Fact Check

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies would like to address several misconceptions currently circulating in the Canadian National media about the conditions of women’s imprisonment.

Fact Check:

• The Okimaw Ochi Healing lodge (OOHL) is not a prison. FALSE

OOHL is a CSC prison for medium and minimum security women.

As a CSC prison, public safety is the paramount consideration.

The same punitive and harmful security measures, such as invasive strip searching and segregation, are heavily relied upon at OOHL.

OOHL is isolated: the nearest urban centre is located 150 km away from OOHL.

While there is a mother-child program, there are currently no children at OOHL.

• Non-status Indigenous women do not deserve access to culturally relevant programming. FALSE

The requirement to prove Indigenous heritage is a remnant of a colonial 
system that continues to determine our government’s policies and practices.

It is not in the interest of public safety to restrict a woman’s access to culturally relevant programming needed to support community integration.

• There are max security prisons for women in Canada. FALSE

The 5 federal prisons for women in Canada are multi-level prisons, and have maximum, medium, and minimum security sections.

In 2007, CSC’s own researcher, Dr. Moira Law, recommended that all women be classified as minimum security because overall women do not pose a risk to public safety.

Most, if not all, women prisoners will inevitably be released to community. Punitive or harsh security measures, including higher levels of security, do nothing to prepare them for their release or to contribute to community safety.

CAEFS is an association of self-governing, community-based Elizabeth Fry Societies that work with and for women and girls in the justice system, particularly those who are, or may be, criminalized. The association exists to ensure substantive equality in the delivery and development of services and programs through public education, research, legislative and administrative reform, regionally, nationally and internationally.

For further information, please contact:

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Association Canadienne des sociétés Elizabeth Fry

T: 613-238-2422

C: 514-567-1225

@: kchurcher@caefs.ca

Volunteer Blog Post: Book Club Journal

Each of our book clubs are volunteer-led, and each institution has a slightly different way of running their book club. At Warkworth Institution, the volunteers keep a Book Club Journal. Volunteer Erin was kind enough to share this experience with us:

The Book Club Journal became part of our BCFI program during our first year; we are currently in our fifth year in Warkworth. The purpose is two fold....it allows  an opportunity for members to reflect in a different way whilst working on written communication skills, and it also provides a record for us of the books read and the general feeling about different preferences for various genres. 

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Occasionally the participants take the opportunity to reflect on other aspects of the book club such as thoughts on a guest speaker , musings on the communication within the group or recommendations for other literature.  The tone is always positive, and participation is voluntary.  The journal and a pen are circulated during the meeting so that the members write during our discussion, nothing is interrupted.  From time to time, the facilitators will view the entries to see what, if anything, needs adjusting or revisiting. As facilitators we have found it a useful tool and would be glad to speak to any other clubs/volunteers that may have specific questions.