#251 Making space for redemption

Canada’s Conservative government figures building more prisons and slapping more people into them will reduce the crime rate. Since crime is at its lowest in over thirty years, that’s a pretty peculiar priority.

On the other hand, Labrador’s Happy Valley-Goose Bay Correctional Centre has a more progressive idea. Inmates who have served two-thirds of their sentences can volunteer for community projects.

That has been particularly helpful for Rona Rea. She and her husband lost their younger daughter in a house fire in February 2010. Two years later, she has a new home, thanks to volunteers who raised funds, made donations, and spent countless hours building it for her.

Some of those volunteers were inmates. CBC interviewed Chris Nippard, who is a roofer by trade. He was doing strapping and installing insulation when Colleen Connors talked with him. “It feels awesome,” he said. “I’ve always been someone to lend a hand. I’ve never been afraid of a bit of work.”

For four or five hours a day, low-risk prisoners who spend time working on projects like the Rea house are just ordinary community volunteers, lending a hand to help someone in need. That allows prisoners the two things Kurt Gray says are essential if any of us are to do good in the world: self-fulfilling prophecies (in this case, expecting the inmates to work with skill and diligence) and embodiment (the physical effects of seeing themselves as competent, contributing human beings). [See #250: Kindness has benefits.]

Aging, overcrowded facilities, a rough atmosphere, and loss of freedom punish but do little to restore a sense of dignity or self-worth. Sending people back out into society more bruised and dangerous than they went in serves no one.

On the other hand, giving them a chance to help out just might offer them a vision of a better future. And the people they work with on the outside just might see them as people who are atoning for their mistakes instead of as irredeemable.

tools of the trade

Photo by cat1788, via Flickr Creative Commons

criminals.

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