One of the most anticipated highlights of our year happened last week. In case you happened to miss it (?!) – although, I’m not sure how you could – Howard Sapers was in town. Yes, THE Howard Sapers. Federal Correctional Investigator for Canada and ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders.
We partnered with Kitchener Public Library as part of their new 85 Queen Speaker Series to host this event and filled the auditorium with 230 people from our community. The action packed evening included a screening of the film “State of Incarceration”, a keynote address by Howard Sapers and a panel discussion with community members, including a formerly incarcerated woman from Grand Valley Institution for Women.
We have a video coming soon of Mr. Sapers’ keynote talk, but in the meantime, you can read his presentation here to catch all the incredible stats and stories he shared that night. He really does effectively paint a vivid picture about the state of Canadian prisons in 2015.
While you wait impatiently for the video, I”ll leave you with these two reflections from two currently incarcerated women from Grand Valley Institution for Women who attend the event. You’ll understand why it was such a big night.
“I attended the forum for Friends of Crime Prevention, on September 10, 2015. I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is that discussions such as this are taking place. I was both shocked and pleasantly surprised at the amount of progressive people who attended the forum. There are faces and lives associated with the disturbing statistics Mr. Saper spoke of – mine is one of them. I was one of two currently incarcerated women at the event, with the Walls to Bridges Collective. Too often incarcerated people are treated as the rejects of society, disposable even, and let’s face it – advocating for us is not at the top of almost all priority lists. I firmly believe that many incarcerated people would not be in the criminal justice system to begin with, if they had been afforded access to and utilized stronger and earlier preventative measures through social intervention and more accessible social and health services; myself included. Sadly, I did not consider the flaws in our systems until I was directly affected. Now that I am, however, I cannot turn a blind eye to them anymore, not just for myself, but for the staggering amount of other people making up those statistics, and for those yet to come. I am relieved to know I am not alone in this quest. All human life has value – thank you for making “out of sight” not be “out of mind” anymore. The forum helped to humanize us and highlight some of the injustices of our daily reality. I left with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. I am thankful that this forum created a safe place for people to come together, ask questions, and push boundaries. To evoke much needed change will require more bridges to be built than walls. We have a long way to go, but I am hopeful that just as a storm starts with a single raindrop, so too does change start with forums such as this one.”
Just as the world will always remember September 11, 2001, in a negative light, Thursday, September 10, 2015 will be etched in my mind for as long as I exist as an achievement to social awareness. You see, since my incarceration it was the only day in which I came in contact with people besides volunteers and members of the Walls to Bridges group and voice my dilemma while feeling safe to bare my soul. Mr. Howard Sapers provided statistics that were both daunting and hopeful. Information on how tax dollars are truly spent to build and house a growing prison population at a time where the crime rate for the past decade plus has been on the decline. I am part of those statistics and Canada is following the footsteps of the failed American system that ex President Bill Clinton and present sitting President Barak Obama stated ‘is not working’. The large majority of incarcerated people will be released and upon their discharge, are expected to function and contribute to the same society that deemed them as criminals. If education is at least a gateway to success, incarcerated people need more training to learn and utilize skills and tools required to help them successfully add to the fabric of society’s fast paced, ever changing existence. Prevention, Prisons & Popcorn at Kitchen Public Library was a forum that brought together a community of progressive thinking people aware of the challenges society will surely be faced with once the voiceless, faceless people are unconstrained. An awareness of prisons and the need for community inclusion upon the release of prisoners are part of an encompassing subject tax payers don’t realize every member of a community may be accountable for. After someone goes from inmate to civilian because they have paid their dues to a faulty justice system and they no longer live in the past where they made poor choices, when do they get a fair shot at being seen in a new light? There needs to be more discussions such as the one Prevention, Prisons & Popcorn opened up where communities are aware of their interconnectedness to their surroundings, even their walled surroundings.
Yep, it was that kind of night.