My first year of coordinating the M2/W2 (Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman) program at Matsqui Institution was in a volunteer capacity. It never occurred to me to think that not being paid for this work was unfair. Although I didn’t realize it then, this year was providing me with experience and skills I would require in various challenging circumstances throughout my life. Particularly important was a growing understanding that in any setting, especially a prison but also in my personal life, it was essential I develop credibility.
Credibility came in part out of many conversations with counsellors, living unit officers, psychologists and other staff. It came also from scrupulously observing the numerous prison rules and regulations, although at times I did give expression to my disagreement with a particular policy.
It was this credibility on my part, and on the part of our sponsors, that enabled us to have a Christmas party away from the institution that first year. Most of the inmates in our program were given a temporary absence pass for the evening. Individual temporary absences for outings with sponsors were also granted to some men who had not been trusted with a pass previously. The men were aware that if they went A.W.O.L. while on a pass with their sponsor, it would bring disrepute to the entire program and possibly prevent other inmates from going out with their sponsor.
As part of the orientation of sponsors at each institution, they were specifically advised to not carry out anything unless it had been cleared by the prison censor. Some years later I heard of a sponsor, a woman of excellent integrity at a female unit elsewhere, who agreed to let an inmate mail a letter while on a temporary absence. The prison authorities learned of this and called her in for a serious grilling. She was deeply embarrassed.
I felt the temporary absence program was an important tool for easing inmates back into the community and frequently made the case for an inmate to receive a TA. However, if the man was a serious escape risk, or if he had repeatedly demonstrated bad judgment within the institution, I would not lend such support.
Steve, a large burly man who had killed a prostitute on two separate occasions, was such a case. He seemingly could not control his emotions or make sound decisions when under the influence of alcohol. When he asked me for a letter of support for day parole, I declined. In the time I had known him, I had seen little indication of serious inner change or growth and I was concerned that another woman might lose her life. He had been granted a temporary absence recently and, contrary to the conditions of the TA, he had gone to a prostitute with a bottle of vodka.
I was certain the Parole Board would question my judgment if I supported Steve with a letter. Also, prison staff participated in parole hearings and I felt my credibility with them would be tainted if I advocated for an inmate with his record both inside and outside the prison. To be taken seriously when I supported an inmate’s application for a TA or for parole, my judgment should not be in question.
The Matsqui Institution experience taught me that whether I am dealing with prison officials, a parole officer, a news reporter, or my wife, children or grand children, my personal credibility must be intact.