BCFI volunteer, Michael Hurley, presented two poems, “Down Inside” and “22-Year-Old Feet”, for Robert Clark on Friday, May 10th. We thought we would share them with you here. Enjoy!
for Robert Clark, with respect, admiration and gratitude,
a poetic version of your story as recounted in your compelling memoir
“This story of the loss and regaining of identity is, I think, the framework of all literature.” –Northrop Frye
“People live inside of stories that structure their lives.” –James Joyce
the belly of the beast
down inside me
down inside the darkness within & without
down inside the hole
that swallows the light
that would let us see
what we don’t want to see,
hear what we don’t want to hear,
say what we don’t talk about.
Down inside the prisons
to our left or to our far right
& the ones behind the eyes
where Jekyll meets Hyde
& insists on hiding still.
Down the rabbit hole
to the other side
wandering for 30 years
in the fenced-in wilderness
threading the maze
the mayhem & the unexpected magic moments,
then surfacing at last
a little worse for wear
a little sadder but wiser
on society’s carefully guarded beach-head
surviving to tell the story
nobody seems eager to hear
nobody seems eager to reveal,
surviving to tell the warts-&-all tale
of something that doesn’t quite survive,
doesn’t quite trust
what you & I
turn a blind eye to,
doesn’t get too comfortable
with the polite domesticated silence
that suffocates the wee small voice
that needs to speak,
to testify, to hold court,
to write that message in a bottle
& set it free
not knowing whose shores
it’ll wash up onto next.
Something cast adrift, left behind
still languishing or taking root
in the shadows cast
by the beast
who bears our name,
tethered to the haunted house
(or perhaps punishment)
has pitched its ragged tent,
where the keys to all the locks
have been lost, or hidden,
perhaps only misplaced
perhaps not much longer
here down inside
each unknown known
squarely in our midst
we somehow manage to ignore
manage to wall out, lock up, block off,
manage to manage
though we’re all doing time,
though we’re all serving a life sentence,
though we’re all chained or linked together
in the same big, beautiful, crazy, scary boat.
Presented 10 May 2019
-for Robert Clark, pathfinder, map-maker, witness, with our thanks
“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering…” -“Anthem,” Leonard Cohen
You think you’ve come to Kingston
to train to be
a phys. ed. teacher
back home in T.O.
You think it’s a slam dunk.
You think this & you think that.
You don’t expect
your next 30 years
are curled up inside
the tiny bud
of a seemingly raNdOm notion
at a prison
of all things
smack dab in a small city
coalescing out of skeletons
marinating in ancient seas
with the unlikely unpromising unappealing moniker
“The Incarceration Capital of Canada.”
Welcome to K-Town, Robert Clark.
You won’t be the only one
over its limestone walls.
And guess who built those walls,
those proud public edifices,
those grim gothic prisons,
Those 22-year-old feet
didn’t figure on
a future that’s made up its mind
to set ‘em walking up & down inside
countless corridors & ranges
& leaping red-tape morasses
in 7 different federal prisons,
& wearing twice that number of hats,
& seeing it all from more angles
than a Cubist painting.
you don’t see yourself
in what could be a movie script
(with a Tragically Hip soundtrack)
dealing with daring escapes, lockdowns, murders,
suicides, riots, the “blue wall”
& things that go bump in the night
(& even the day)
courtesy of guys named Hobo, Hostage, Brutus, Bernardo, Snake, even Conn,
courtesy of guys with sort fuses,
or no fuses,
courtesy of guys in uniform
sometimes with similar wiring
or without faces somewhere in deepest darkest Ottawa
enjoying the unmitigated contempt
of “offenders” & staff alike.
Nobody – let alone yourself –
can yet imagine you
you arranging hockey games in max-security Millhaven
or you chilling in a darkened gym
with 300 inmates
watching Hang ‘Em High
courtesy of a bank robber projectionist
or working with victims of these men
themselves often victims of victims.
Still your 22-year-old feet
somehow find themselves
descending down inside
brailing their way
along this strange & daunting path
this sketchy road
of trials, temptations & transformations
no one else seems called
to move along
as if …as if your life somehow knows
where it’s going
even if you haven’t a clue.
It’s forgotten to tell you
as it forgot to tell Frodo or Neo,
Luke, Indy, Dorothy, Anne with an “E,” Hermione, Captains Kirk & Jack
and others summoned to unwelcome quests
listen – you’re in the right place
however forbidding or frightening or frustrating
right where you need to be
& are damn well needed to be,
right on time,
with – who knew? –
the Right Stuff.
Those 22-year-old feet
are about to leave the Shire
For three decades
they’re no longer in Kansas, Toto
as most know it).
And when they return
return to walk down main street
nothing will be the same,
nor will you.
Journeys through the cracks
in the system
are funny that way.
That’s how the light gets in.
Something inside us
knows the price of admission
& volunteers anyway,
ventures through the looking glass,
vaults across the Edge of The Wild,
lighting whatever candles are at hand
then comes back
back from Mordor, Millhaven or those lost places within
with a story
needing to get out,
a tale to tell,
a bell to ring
trusting there’ll be an ear to hear it,
another heart to share it
& someone else’s 22-year-old feet
unsteady, uncertain, untried
to carry it
by some…some insistent voice
who we truly are
is larger than who we think we are,
that we work on ourselves
to help others
& we help others
to work on ourselves.
Presented 10 May 2019
BCFI annual report 2017
2017 marks Book Clubs for Inmates’ tenth anniversary of transforming lives through the power of books.
BCFI Founder Carol Finlay Receives Meritorious Service Medal 06/07/18
The board of directors of Book Clubs for Inmates is delighted to announce that Founder, Carol Finlay, received a Meritorious Service Medal (blue medal in photograph) on Friday July 6, 2018.
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada presented the Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division) to Carol Finlay, O.Ont., M.S.M. at the ceremony at the Citadelle of Québec.
As Carol says, “ I accepted this award on behalf of all the wonderful volunteers and financial supporters of BCFI, without whom none of the work of BCFI would be possible."
BCFI joins National Associations Active in Criminal Justice (NAACJ)
We at BCFI are very pleased to announce that we have been recently become members of NAACJ (National Associations Active in Criminal Justice). The goal of NAACJ is to enhance the capacity of its member organizations to contribute to a just, fair, equitable and effective justice system.
BCFI joins 19 other member organizations who are national in scope and who represent a diversity of groups engaged in the field of criminal justice. This diversity covers a variety of areas, including non violent conflict resolution, transitional housing, law, research, advocacy, policy , training, literacy, counselling and restorative justice. Membership offers us the opportunity to engage with other community based justice related organizations, Correctional Service of Canada and Public Safety in a more co ordinated and effective manner.
For more information on NAACJ please go to their website at www.naacj.org
Colin campbell, author of Free Days with George,
and george visit bath book club
BOOK DRIVE FOR BEAVER CREEK
BCFI is thrilled to thank Thomas Heintzman OC, a retired litigation lawyer, who collected nearly 4,000 books from neighbours, colleagues, and friends during a month-long book drive for Beaver Creek Institution's library. Tom sent out over 200 emails asking for donations of the books requested by inmates, and also collected dictionaries, reference books, text books, cook books, and more. Today, Thomas loaded the books into a moving truck and drove them up to the library. Many thanks to everyone who donated books! Thank you, Tom!
Journal of Prisoners on Prisons
Dialogue on Canada's Federal Penitentiary System and the Need for Change
Northumberland resident Carol Finlay named to the Order of Ontario
The darkness inside Canada's prisons
CBC Sunday Edition
Carol wins CSC's highest volunteer honour
The Kingston Whig-Standard
For Indigenous women, prisons are the adult version of residential schools
The Globe and Mail
The Book Club at the Big House
Kate Taylor of The Globe and Mail
Books Behind Bars
The Kingston Whig-Standard