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.

What We're Reading: The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith

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What Our Book Club Members Are Saying:

When asked, “how do you find meaning in your life?”

The first member to share his response reflected on his father, who worked a low-paying job, and did so with a positive attitude and tirelessly.  He never understood what motivated his father, and why he didn’t strive for a better job, more money.  He came to realize that he found meaning in providing for his family, and this member mentioned that he wonders if he will have a family someday that will give him meaning as well.

This same inmate also took the opportunity to share with us that he felt the book club provides meaning to each of them; it makes them feel human and worthwhile that people “from the outside” care enough to spend time with them, and show up each month.  Other members agreed with him and thanked the volunteers for being there.

A member who was very enthusiastic about this book, and offered much input, said he appreciated it because he is aiming to become a counsellor to help other people, as his life has been graced by someone who helped him.  This book gave him several insights and inspiration in that regard.  He also reflected that his past has defined who he is, and the purpose he feels driven towards (helping others) is due to the sum of his experiences, including his time in prison.

A long-time member was succinct yet profound in his reaction to the book and how he found meaning.  He stated that for most of his life he didn’t feel like he had a life, but he has come to realize that he can do the things he wants to do.  He is always helpful to our group, and is well-known for his support and generosity to others as well.

One of the more reserved members who rarely offers input shared a very touching reflection, saying that he’s found meaning by realizing what is important to him since he has been incarcerated.  Mainly his family, and friends.  He felt he took these things for granted when they were available to him, but once he was not able to maintain these relationships, it became apparent just how important they were.  He said something as simple as working on the car in the garage with his neighbour was a thing that he never really thought about until he was in prison, and could no longer have that experience.  Interestingly, his reflections came from a place of acceptance and regret rather than feeling angry like his situation was unfair.

There were other general insights to the book and what it evoked, mainly the notion that we are each in control of our own attitudes and actions, and how we interact with and treat others is of utmost importance.