The Well – Fall 2011


This issue of The Well focuses on balance and how difficult it is to achieve balance in the worlds of corrections and healing.

As we move into the impacts and likely aftermath of the passing of the new “tough on crime” Omnibus bill, we are faced as an organization with the task of finding balance between what we say and what we may feel. As an organization committed to speaking truth to government, we must ensure we all have a place around the circle.

We honour the voices of victims and offenders alike, while making our voice as accessible to as many people as possible. This way they will also find their voices and speak out against the injustices that the omnibus bill will bring about for many poor, aboriginal, female, abuse survivors and those challenged by mental illness and addictions.

  In this issue:


  Making the Connections

  Expanding our Hearts,
   Opening Doors

  Book Review:
   Through the Glass

  Book Review:
   Glimpses of Grace

There are a number if contributions in The Well which reflect this same ongoing struggle to find balance. An article by Jan Handy, our Executive Director looks at the balance between victims and offenders whose needs are not mutually exclusive but bound up one with the other. The need for balanced dialogue and the importance of the three point balance between offender, victim and society when seeking justice through holistic healing opportunities.

Nancy Steeves, a CCJC Board Director, offers us a reflection on the balance that must be lived when we work or live behind prison walls. She asks the question “What is it to live in this world with an open heart policy? What is it to live in this time of name calling and fear mongering with an open heart policy? What is it to live in a world that is quick to see the monster and slow to see the Christ?”

Anita Grace our Researcher/Educator has reviewed the book Through the Glass. This is the story of Shannon Moroney who, one month into her marriage, was faced with her husband committing horrific crimes. Throughout the book the reader struggles with Shannon as she copes with balancing the shock between the person she knew as her husband, and the person who committed these crimes.

CCJC Board of Directors vice-president John deVries also shares his reflections on Glimpses of Grace, a book on pastoral ministry which is filled with real life stories woven into the reflections of a skilled chaplain.

We hope you enjoy this issue of our e-newsletter and we look forward to your comments.

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Making the Connections

by Janet Handy

They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.
Jeremiah 6:14

In the wake of violence, both victims and offenders have a long journey toward healing and wholeness. Yet all too often they find themselves isolated, judged and silenced.

As a professional who has worked in the field of violence prevention and victim supports for years, I firmly believe in the need to explore the roots of violence and focus our efforts and attention on these harmful roots in order to heal ourselves and our communities. I repeatedly see in adult survivors of child abuse that this experience of abuse is at the core of numerous criminal and addictive behaviours.

The harmful impacts of abuse are compounded by denial and rejection. Victims may be made to feel guilty for their abuse; they may be shamed into silence or called liars and slanderers. Even if their assault is taken to the courts, they are likely to be excluded from the criminal justice process and further traumatized by their experience.

The prophet Jeremiah cried out saying “they heal the wounds of the people lightly”. ‘Healing wounds lightly’ means bandaging the surface but ignoring the deeper suffering. What happens when the wounds of childhood trauma continue to fester until they burst out in violence? Most likely, the victim-turned-offender is isolated, judged and silenced – this time behind bars.

A study which examines various economic and social supports for those affected by child abuse, notes that the cost for responding to the impacts and legacy of child abuse in Canada is close to 16 billion dollars per year. The judicial portion of this totals $616,685,247 for policing, court trials, Legal Aid, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and penal costs including incarceration, parole and statutory release. But beyond the significant economic costs, what are the long term effects of abuse?

Why do we wait to incarcerate the poor and sexually abused adult survivors for their crimes instead of applying our resources to early intervention?

In my time as a student chaplain at Guelph reformatory, it quickly became clear that a large majority of the men I spoke with had come through the foster care and group home systems and had been in trouble at a young age. Theirs were not stories of intentional criminality in childhood, but rather of predictable reactions to untreated trauma and a profound, chronic legacy of missed opportunities for community support.

Abused children must struggle to overcome destructive, confused and injured social attachments. Some will continue to struggle and mimic these destructive patterns throughout their lives, perhaps even hurting others in the ways that they were hurt. Does this excuse violent behaviour? Not at all. But what it should do is point to the urgent need to assist all victims of violence, and especially children, in healing and in creating positive social connections.

My concern also extends to the spiritual costs our community bears in blindly supporting a vengeful spirit of incarceration as the means to correct behaviour or end violence. In contrast, restorative justice favours a compassionate approach to interrupting the cycles of violence plaguing our society and building pathways to healing for victims and offenders. Resilience is at the core of the spiritual ability not only to survive, but if nurtured as a tool of healing, can also be the catalyst for the redemption of society itself.

And what about victims? I believe the hardest moment in the recovery journey for a victim is to choose not to be a victim. Indeed victimization can become a powerful way of life; more powerful than wholeness. Consequently, recovery requires a strong social commitment from a community that reaches out to encourage spiritual, mental, emotional and physical reconnection to life after the psychological death that violence brings.

We can change the outcomes of early abuse on offenders, victims and community by making a fiscal and ethical commitment to include compassionate social reconnection as a consistent aspect of treatment and recovery. This can assisted by restorative justice practices supported within communities. Certainly it is not always clear how to bridge the gap between the past abuses and current criminal behaviour. However we can start with the abiding principles of compassion and see the whole person – the boy in the man and the girl in the woman. We can acknowledge original stories of traumas left untended. We can break the silence and help victims, offenders and society make the connections.

Christ invited us to bring life where there has been death, bring hope where there has been despair. By breaking the barriers of isolation and judgement, we can welcome offenders and victims back into community and assist them on their pathway to healing and wholeness. Let us not treat the needs of victims and offenders so lightly as to leave their wounds unhealed and society unable to embrace its potential for restoration.

Janet Handy is the Executive Director at CCJC. She is a graduate of Trinity College and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). She has spent the better part of thirty years, as a priest and in secular roles, working with both victims and colleagues on the issues of child physical and sexual assault.

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Expanding Our Hearts, Opening Doors

by Nancy Steeves

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
John 20:19-21

“I am challenged by doors … first of all, I usually have too much stuff in my hands. By trying to take everything in one load, I get to a door and have no way to open it without dropping something. If I need to use a key, I seldom turn it in the right direction the first time. Even if a door tells me whether to “push” or “pull” my contrary nature seldom follows those simple directions and inevitably I have to test the veracity of that instruction pasted on the door. And then there are those revolving doors I sprint through for fear I may spend the rest of my life like a hamster trapped on a wheel.” From Open the Door by Joyce Rupp

In September I had an experience of doors that brought back memories for me. Together with other members of the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, I walked through those doors that you cannot open yourself … doors you can meet only with empty hands … doors that can only be opened for you after you satisfy security checks and meet security regulations … doors of iron bars that scrap across the threshold, always to slam loudly locking right behind you.

Prison doors are doors you have to prepare for even as a visitor. On September 20, we left everything behind we could leave behind. We washed our hands carefully in case we had handled a $20 bill recently that had traces of cocaine on it (as most $20 bills in circulation apparently do). We locked wallets, purses and pills in our cars taking only our drivers licenses to prove our identity. To walk through these doors is to know that you can take nothing in with you and bring nothing out with you. For in Paula D’Arcy’s words “when you walk through those doors, you bring only yourself.” (Paula D’Arcy in Sacred Thresholds)

It brought back memories for me of my second year of theological studies, when I spent most Tuesday afternoons at the LA County Jail for women. I was there to visit with inmates as part of a program called “Friends Outside.” I had an amazing and experienced mentor who helped me get over my fears and my sense of inadequacy and believe that if I could just sit on my side of the glass, hold the receiver in my hand and be myself, that would be enough.

It took me back to early mornings when I was practicing law and I was duty counsel for the Legal Aid Society of Alberta. This meant arriving at the Edmonton Remand Centre at 7AM to meet quickly with the long list of inmates from whom I need to get a very short version of their story to help them make their first court appearance a few hours later.

And it took me back to evenings when I would make my way to “The Max” (the Edmonton Institution) to meet with clients facing extradition or parole board hearings. In the quiet of the night, the sound of those metal doors buzzing me in and slamming shut seemed even louder than they did in the light of day.

It took me back to an evening when programs were finished and the count was done and I arrived at the Edmonton Institution for Women at the invitation of its warden to quietly celebrate the marriage of two inmates without attracting the attention of the press to the first same gender marriage held within a Canadian federal prison. I kept wondering what it would mean to offer your vow to your beloved witnessed by those who would lock each of you into your separate cell that night and the next and the next for many nights to come.

Each time I have walked through prison doors, I have known how precious and fragile the gift of freedom really is. I have known that liberty is more than a 3-syllable word. And every time I have been behind those locked doors I have learned again that none of us is just the worst thing we have ever done. Inmate after inmate has taught me that the door of the heart always opens outward.

I think that was the lesson the friends of Jesus were learning behind those closed doors in John’s gospel … doors that were not only closed by confusion but locked by fear. For a long time, I have had an aversion to these kinds of resurrection stories. They have always seemed like ghost stories, hallucinations or wishful thinking to me … until, of course, I meet these stories in my own life and know them to be parables … like I did this week.

Sitting in the chapel of the Joyceville Federal Institution … sitting in a circle with 8 inmates, the chaplain and my colleagues on the board of the CCJC, I found myself seeing the wounded hands and the pierced side of the Christ. I found myself knowing that every door could be closed and locked and still the Christ would be present. Every window could be barred and every fence could be armed and still the Christ was there in our midst, in our wounds, in our fears, in our captivity, in our brokenness and wholeness. I was reminded that every door could be shut and locked by tough and tougher on crime legislation being introduced that very day in the House of Commons but it was not enough to lock the door of our hearts to the many Christs in our midst.

What is it to live in this world with an open heart policy? What is it to live in this time of name calling and fear mongering with an open heart policy? What is it to live in a world that is quick to see the monster and slow to see the Christ?? It is to live the radical alternative we have seen in the great wisdom teachers of all time. It is to slide the deadbolt fear has mounted on our door. It is to reach for the latch, swing the door outward and walk through our heart’s open door into the open heart of another.

And in that sacred threshold between open doors, we may find that justice is known in right relationship rather than in right punishment. We may discover that justice longs for restoration more than retribution. We may remember Gandhi’s wisdom: An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. But there is no telling what can happen when one heart opens to another … we may be as Christ to the Christ in our midst.

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Book Review: Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney

(Doubleday Canada: Toronto, 2011).
by Anita Grace

Shannon Moroney’s book, Through the Glass, is a raw, very personal story of violence, betrayal, and the hope for real justice. It is written by a woman whose life was turned upside-down by crime and violence and who found herself stretched to the limits of compassion, love and forgiveness.

Moroney had been married for just one month when a police officer knocked on her door to tell her that her husband, Jason Staples, had been arrested for violent sexual assaults and kidnapping. In that moment, her world came crashing down around her – and this book is the story of her pained, determined journey to hope, healing and recovery.

Moroney never denies or minimizes the violence, harm and betrayal of her husband’s actions. Yet amazingly she continued to stand by and support him. The book recounts her struggle to come to terms with what he did and with what could have brought him to commit such brutal attacks. But more than this, it is about her own struggle to heal.

One of the major hurdles which Moroney faced was that she did not have a clearly defined role in the criminal justice system. As the wife of an offender, she was not seen as a victim (even though she had been a victim of voyeurism discovered after the arrest) and so could not access help through victims’ services. Instead she faced the stigma of guilt-by-association – from her community, her employers and even close friends.

As Moroney points out, there are thousands of offenders in Canadian jails – for each of these offenders there are not only victims, but in most cases there are also families – spouses, parents, siblings and children. These people are profoundly impacted by an offender’s actions and the punishment received – and yet their voices and perspectives are almost never heard, especially in the traditional court of law.

She draws attention to the irony that after a crime, the offender is isolated and removed while the families and victims are forced to deal with the fallout. As Moroney struggles to cope with the debt, the legal struggles, the community’s response and other impacts of her husband’s actions, she questions a system which removes the offender from having to face these responsibilities. For these reasons, I believe Moroney’s book could be very valuable to families of offenders and to those who find themselves overwhelmed by the criminal justice system and the impacts of crime.

This book also introduces principles and theories of restorative justice, offering insight into possibilities which exist beyond the traditional criminal justice system. While I hoped that more discussion would have given to how restorative justice could have been applied to Jason’s crimes, I appreciate that such application may not have been possible or appropriate in this circumstance.

In summary, to read Through the Glass is to walk with Moroney in the aftermath of her husband’s crime and to see her struggle with anger and grief. It is to witness a crime and its aftermath from a perspective too often forgotten. For those on a similar journey Moroney’s experience can be both helpful and insightful.

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Book Review: Glimpses of Grace

Reflections of a Prison Chaplain by Donald Stoesz
(Friesen Press, 2010)
by Rev. John de Vries Jr

Glimpses of Grace is a 160-page treasury of vignettes and stories about prison life and chaplaincy. Chaplain Donald Stoesz’s training at McGill gave him courage to write this book. His years of chaplaincy in Quebec and Manitoba (Bowden Institution) provided a desire to help newer chaplains ‘gain appreciation for the wider-ranging nature of prison ministry’. The eleven chapters of this well-crafted book include, in seven to twenty-one stories per chapter, chaplaincy ministry highlights ‘from opportunities for pastoral care, to issues of pastoral care, authority, and restorative justice’.

This small book is filled with real life stories woven into the pastoral reflections of a skilled chaplain with a pastor’s heart. The stories are experienced by the reader and the prison volunteer in the context of the realities of prison. The ministry that led to ‘glimpses of grace’ was informed by clinical knowledge, empowered by theological sensitivities, nurtured by collaboration with prison staff and volunteers, and enlarged by appreciation for ecumenism and interfaith dialogue. The chaplaincy is an extension of the church’s ministry to persons in prison. The author is appreciative of the resources of other faiths and benefits of interfaith dialogue. Nevertheless, the author’s ministry is rooted in his Christian beliefs and practices that foster respect and hope for all.

Of the many prison ministry books on the market today, this book will serve new chaplains the best. Furthermore this substance filled, 160 one-page life-expanding daily devotionals promises to enrich the life and spiritual formation of interested persons who are not chaplains.

The holistic approach to prison ministry calls for well-trained chaplains. As an extension of the church and body of Christ, the chaplain works with prison staff and volunteers in the context of today‘s correctional realities. In prison, where there is much brokenness, there is also joy and new life -glimpses of grace. To new chaplains, or for anyone who works in prison, visits prisoners, writes letters to prisoners, or is considering Christ’s call to reach out to the prisoner, this book is a must read.

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