There is a serious disconnect between our general perception of incarceration and how it actually plays out. There's this two-dimensional understanding of what a prison sentence is, how it progresses, what it consists of, and the people involved and impacted. Even more so, there's a disconnect betweeen our common understanding of Chaplaincy, what it is and what use it is in the restoration and reintegration of the people incarcerated in our prisons. In hopes of encouraging a clearer picture, we're offering time and space for people impacted by incarceration to tell us how their road back to society has been influenced, even if simply by having access to the Chapel, Chaplaincy, and Chaplains.
The common understanding for most of us is that Chapel, and all it's influence, are mainly an added thing... it's a place for religion and preaching, and has no real bearing on anything deeper or more helpful than that.
In practice though, the Chapel, as any other outlet of spirituality, impacts on many other areas of a person's life and in the case of Prison, it can and often does influence well-being on many different levels.
So if we'd like to see a reasonably accurate picture of the dynamics of incarceration and prison, we should really see the broader scope of Chaplaincy beyond the Chapel.
Twenty eight years ago my life was thrown a curve ball, convicted for a crime I didn't commit. Searching for a way of expressing my faith, and understanding faith, was futile. I was angry. And I came across a friend that introduced me to the faith that I follow now, and it's made a huge difference in my life. But having my spiritual guidance and teacher being taken away is damaging... where do I want to go with that? Having that in my life has kept me sane.
Some are more externally obvious than internally with their pain, but either side scale, we are away from our loved ones, our homes, our identiites.
Chaplaincy, or chaplain; is not just a title, it is more than a representation of a specific religion. It is an unillustrated symbol that gives men and women of institutions a sense of belonging. A touch to the spirit that helps it almost consider itself as "found".
My name in my faith is 'Rose'. I was arrested in the year 2012. I was sentenced in 2014 for Manslaughter. During those two years I was heavily medicated and became numb to the horrific guilt and pain I experienced the first six months. My trial brought everything to the surface and I felt no love towards the person I saw in the mirror.
I'm not saying chaplaincy cures the woes of prison or the internal battles we hold in our hearts, but it certainly helps. We are all at different stages of our healing and we all have different paths laid out before us.
We can't all walk the exact same path, people will bump into each other, trample over some, and others will simply fall over the edges, and it's a big mess.
But we can have the same guidance, we can go in the same direction, and we can be united with encouragement.
After my trial, I came to the federal institution and I was taken off all my meds. I felt raw emotions for the first time in over thirteen years. I was up, down, and sideways.
Because I am a quarter Aboriginal, I attempted to get in touch with my culture, but I felt after a while that I "had" to, "because" I was Aboriginal.
What about the other three quarters of me? So I went to church, and tried not to fall asleep.
I do not mean disrespect but it was hard to find some spirituality that spoke to me. But why did I want a path to follow?
Because we become united. sometimes the faith isn't for you but even if your just there to fill a seat, you see the volunteer or chaplain interact with the other residents, you see the smiles and its almost as if our surroundings are forgotten and a release is given.
I wanted that, but faking into a faith I wasn't into, felt hypocrytical. My culture was appealing because of the spiritual connection with everything, but it felt like a desperate force put upon me. I was encouraged then discouraged in the same week.
At the end of my second year in federal, I found that there are more than just the Elder and the pastor. That's when I met the wiccan priestess. I was still edgy at first and still in a stubborn mind of healing, since I lost motivation for spirituality. But a friend brought me. It was a spirituality very much like my culture, only it went deeper into historic mythology and opened my eyes to an understanding of myself. I am very greatful to have found my belonging. And now I am still in the beginning stages of practice and there are so many branches to this tree of knowledge.
There is such an expanse that I am also able to look at things more mindfully.
This may not work all the time or for everyone. But for those serious ones and those who are getting there - slowly - a spiritual path can help anyone suffering from a lack of self confidence, self discipline, motivation, and determination.
Not to say it's 100% certain, but with out any options available, there's not even a number of certainty to measure.
I lost my parole, even after all the internal and external tasks I accomplished that felt impossible. My ego and self esteem took a major hit and I went to segregation for thoughts of suicide. But after some sleep and rational thought I came to believe in the unseen. That everything happens for a reason. Without my faith I would have given up completely.
The chaplains that come in, whether it be for one person or many, are vital to them or that single person.
Just because one person is of that faith does not mean that the faith with many is more important. Why should that one person be cut from their faith? Did a policy not just get passed of spiritual freedom and compensation?
Is this not Canada? Is this not 2017? since when did we follow the rules of 1938?I ask these questions because, Unfortunately, this is the dilema that I face today. Hopefully it is rectified. Chaplains guide us through the teachings, ceremonies, prayers, celebrations, rules or guidelines of our faiths. There is a structure, we are not born experts, and these people that take time out of their day to guide us, give us purpose and a sense of self-fulfillment. I know it has for me. And to this day it still does.
I have my ups and downs but without a chaplain for my faith its a little harder for me to balance or remember to balance myself. Unlike others, I am fortunate enough to have the priviledge of calling my chaplain on the phone. But for others, not so much. I've seen some substitute and go to the regular mass ON Sundays. There is nothing wrong, but for some its just not the same. Its just not the right fit.
Like an unfinished painting, you have lots of paint, but the colours you chose are all gone and mixing just doesn't get it close enough.
My sprirituality keeps me in rational thought. And as much as I want to complain, and for the most part I do, I'm well aware that sometimes things need time. I'm granted patience at times most needed, and what I've learned through my faith are moments of profound clarity I haven't had before.
Mostly I am unfazed when negativity from others comes close and I've finally gotten the hang of actually letting go and really feeling happy and excited after I do.
I have another couple of years here, and time is all I need. I've accomplished what the institution wants accomplished, and now, I can get to know me, but I can't do this alone. I'm still a beginner. Blessed be.
My warrant expires in 2 months. I'll be a fully free man again. You helped me inside for the last 4 years of a 13 year sentence and stayed conected to guide me for these last 2 years coming out on parole. I love you. You played a major part in my life by being from inside with me. Thank you.
Q - What does chaplaincy mean to me?
A - Hope.
My name is Doug Strain and I am serving a sentence of 15 years to life for second degree murder.
This sentence started in 1981, which shows I am in my 36th year.
when I first started this prison sentence I was a very angry and hateful person. Prison made me hard and cold as well.
I do not wish to make it sound like I'm blaming others for my problems. I am just trying to draw a picture of what I was like.
At first I went to the Sunday morning chapel services. I went to these because the volunteers that did come in were always cheeerful, happy, and had smiles on their faces.
They always accepted us, knowing full well we were killers, robbers, thieves and much more, but they accepted us anyway. Ths gave us all HOPE. Hope that when we get out there is a life after prison. I remember coming back to my cold, lonely cell after one of those services and I suddenly felt the cold and loneliness. I was at a loss: I didn't know what to do... that was the first time I cried in prison.
I remember asking: "What have they got I don't?"
I searched for the answer to that question for several years.
I went to several different services - both Protestant and Catholic - and I always felt a "warmth" at these services
I always found that the Protestant ministers and Catholic priests were actually teaching us something of importance. Many of these lessons I still follow today.
Then in the mid 1980's, I started studying WICCA. I started studying it and following it.
In ALL of these religious paths, I had learned many important life lessons.
I have a very bad temper and it gets me into trouble many times.
However, I have several religious books - both Wiccan and non-wiccan - and they help me to find the inner peace I've needed for so very long.
I have also met with [the Wiccan Chaplain] on a personal, one-on-one meeting several times and she has also helped me find the inner peace I've been looking for.
I could go on, and on, and on, but I believe this short "picture" of myself will show how important it is to have religious teachers such as [the Wiccan priestess] come in and help us find what we truly need: hope and inner peace.
We inmates "hurt" because we don't have these two things and they are so very important.
Thank you and Blessed Be
I owe so much to the compelling work of the chaplains in both the Provincial and Federal Prisons. Incarcerated 11 years to date, I established immediate frienship with the Chaplains at N.F.P.T [North Fraser Pre-Trial]. They received me with kindness, disregarding my high profile criminal history. Furthermore, although Orthodox, I was accepted by both the former Roman Catholic volunteers and Protestant ministry. That sincere act of faith allowed me to congregate with fellow Christians and persue my path of Faith consistent with the Orthodox Faith. The Chaplains offered support to one and all. Frequent visits were made by them to units with the objective of assisting. Quite clearly, their work load was immense and involved, an obvious surrender of self-interests and a dedication to service rendered. It should be noted that, though restricted in oportunity, volunteers committed weekend Bible studies and support for the 7 years that I experienced at N.F.T.P Were it not for the love expressed by the Chaplains and, in particular, Roman Catholic volunteers, I doubt I would be at peace with God at present and growing ever more close to him daily. The resourcefulness and assistance echoed while I lived at Kent for 4 years and most recently here at Matsqui. The Chaplains devotion set the example for Christians like me. I Thank Them one and all. God bless Prison Chaplains.
To Whom it may concern
My name is Keith Alcock. I am currently serving a 8 year prison sentence in Kent Institution. I am writing this letter today to inform you of the positive impact religious faith (Wiccan) has made in my life since my incarceration. Before coming to prison I was very lost in my ways. I had a very bad heroin addiction, was very angry, hated the world, didn't care who got hurt in my path of destruction least of all myself. Not even my 8 year prison sentence could make me change my way of thinking. The CSC programming did nothing. I just didn't care.
Then one day a friend got me to attend a Wiccan meeting by telling me I could get a lighter and incense. After the group meeting was over it was no longer about getting a lighter and incense. My way of thinking had started to change. That was two years ago and I have attended every meeting I could since the first. In that time I have learned many things. To many to list so I'll keep it to the most important. I've learned that if I don't like what is going on around me and want to change it, I must first change myself. Once I've done that my surroundings will change with time.
With that knowledge I have made huge changes for the better. Now instead of using violence to solve problems or drugs to escape them, I use meditation to ground myself and come up with a proactive solution. So when I hear that funding is being pulled from chapel services I ask you to ask yourself if you can in good consience take away a service that changed the life of at least one lost soul and prevent any other people who have lost their way in life from receiving this life changing service.
Sincerely, Keith Alcock
Jail is a dark place, full of negative energy, and the worship of one's higher power: Goddess &/or God, as the individual sees them, offers a light, a Grace in the form of positive respite from the darkness that pervades all institutions used for the incarceration of people. Those of us who had no direction, sense of value or self-worth, find them in ceremony and worship.
My name is Robert (Bob) John Charles Ross, I am 18 years into this sentence of; Life, with no parole eligibility for 17 years. I am now all most 58 years old and my parole date has passed because of how I acted and what I believed when I began this sentence. I always understood and recognized the gravity of my offence, the senseless destruction of all of the families involved, including the one I used to call my own. With time, I decided that I would continually try to improve myself, with the hope that I will one day be a complete person again.
When I started my sentence in 1999, I was married, we had two offspring. I haven't had contact with any of them since 2004. My mother was still alive and well, as was my oldest sister and best friend (Dolly). Mom and Dolly were my strength and only support as time progressed. I never really fit-in or gained the acceptance of my immediate family. My alienation increased proportionately with my offence; as a result I haven't had contact with any of the 5 remaining siblings or their extended familes.
I've always been insecure and have been diagnosed with having Alexithymia and separation anxiety; making the idea of any relationship daunting. Being incarcerated made me feel desperate, uncomfortable and distressed. My ex-wife did what she could to comfort and reassure me during our relationship, then subsequent marriage. She completed me, filled the void and created a sense of security I could believe in. She decided to stand by me, even after I devastated our lives. I worked as hard as I could to maintain what was left of our marriage and relationship, for us. The first 6 ½ years of my sentence I worked hard to maintain my correctional plan. I participated in and completed all programs that were offered with the intention of cascading down in security.
Our Relationship problems became apparent to me in 2004; the marriage was continuing only through the grace of my ex-wife. Near the end of 2004 when she finally reached the limit of her mercy and decided that she no longer had the ability to support our relationship and marriage; I was devastated. I understood why, but that didn't help, I slipped into self-destructive and aggressive behaviour. With respect to the others in my environment, I was confrontational and abusive. My drug use began again in earnest, reinforcing my self-loathing and alienation. It didn't take long before I attempted suicide. I spent the next year between 3 different institutions lost inside myself. Having been raised a "Christian", I felt that I had been abandoned by my faith and its establishment.
In 2005, a true friend realized my situation and encouraged me to attend a Wiccan circle. I could see how the experience of the group was benefitting him. He was calm and more focussed than I remembered, so I agreed. My first encounter with the Wiccan faith changed all of my assumptions and proved that it was everything but the hodgepodge, hocus-pocus it had been purported to be. The Priestess was named "Merlin". That made me smile, she and the circle were welcoming and friendly and I felt none of the judgement that normally occurs when a person joins an existing group. That was relaxing and gave me a sense of inclusion.
I hadn't been looking for anything spiritual, but I feel like I had found something significant and fulfilling that day. That day was in early 2006, and ever since that day I have attended every Wiccan circle and Wiccan celebration I've been able to attend. I became a registered member of "The Lilith Temple Society" in October of 2007.
With the guidance and the principals of thee Lilith Temple, I've developed a great appreciation for the life energy in all living things. I regained my self-worth, attained the value of belonging to a faith that believes and exemplifies the greater good. In 2006 [the Wiccan priestess], and the Lilith Temple, helped me through trying time that was my divorce. Kate representing the Lilith Temple gave me a sense of purpose and helped me cope when my oldest sister died on Nov. 25 2008 and again 3 months later, when my mother died on feb. 3 2009. this is obviously a trying time for me as it would be for anyone who lost loved ones in such a short period of time. It was the Lilith Temple and the faith I received that helped me accept the tragedy of my life, and how to understand my role in this universe; how that positive energy can and does affect everything.
I believe that after a life of making bad decisions I found a belief system that not only am I a part of everything, I can also make a beneficial contribution with positive behaviors and energies.
I do know that the Wiccan faith is the path that I will follow the rest of my days here and beyond to the Summer Land.