Corrections Services of Canada has a policy saying visitors can only be on one inmate’s list:19. Visiting applications will be reviewed to determine if a visitor is also visiting other inmates at the same and/or different institutions. If a visitor is unable to provide adequate justification for visiting another inmate, authorization for visits will not be granted. The information will be shared with the institutional and community Security Intelligence Officer, who will assess potential risk.My family having been on inmate KM’s list for years, I recently applied to be on the list of NV, another inmate in a different institution–both institutions, I might add, involving extremely long commutes from Vancouver to the Fraser Valley (Mission and Agassiz respectively) and back.Why did I apply? It came to my attention that the eyes of VN’s elderly mother were failing such that she was no longer able to make the long-haul drive to and from Agassiz. I drove her once, then twice. After which we discussed the possibility of me–instead of killing time for two hours aimlessly driving around–joining them in their visits. NV enthusiastically agreed. I submitted my application–noting KM’s name of course–and I was approved.I visited NV once (with his mother, of course) without incident. During the commute, I listened to her stories and concerns. She, in turn, knit me some lovely scarves and tea cozies.A week or so ago, I received a peremptory letter saying that my name had been struck from his visitors’ list. If I wished to do so, I could raise the matter with the Visitors Review Board.This is an excerpt from the letter I wrote back, cc to Don Head, Commissioner of Corrections in Ottawa:
Frankly, as a lawyer, labour arbitrator and private citizen, I find your letter to me of today’s date suspending my visiting privileges deeply disturbing….
For years now, my efforts to assist in the reintegration of inmates into the community have been stymied by Corrections. Having taught (of course, on a volunteer basis) Creative Writing at Matsqui for eight months (under the auspices of volunteer Ed Griffin), one morning I was marched out of the class by two guards. Why? Because I hadn’t taken the mandatory 4-hour “volunteer training” course, of which I had no knowledge. Needless to say, the experience concerned me greatly. Though I completed the course, I never returned to volunteering.
I have been turned away without warning when I came to attend Restorative Justice sessions, been almost turned away due to an inaccurate ion screening test; and it was once suggested to me that it would be better if I didn’t write to inmates. I have completed more security clearance forms that one can imagine, had more photos taken, and have had my motives questioned numerous times.
Through the years (going on six now), I have held back my concerns. Instead, I have endlessly driven the long slog from Vancouver to Pacific Regional office, Matsqui, Mission, Kent, Mountain and Ferndale. My husband, Irwin Nathanson, and I have attended parole hearings as support people; as well as countless meetings in the community aimed at assisting the reintegration of long-term inmates in the community. We have welcomed parolees, inmates, parole officers, and escorts into our home.
We have been unfailingly respectful to Corrections staff, and unstinting in our support.
Indeed, just last week, we were complimented by the warden of Ferndale for the work we do in supporting inmates and keeping our communities safe.
Never once have I taken my concerns public. However, your letter might well be the proverbial straw.…
I am at a loss to understand a policy that limits a visitor to one inmate only—why people like us can’t visit as many as we like. If you disagree, please put your reasons in writing. I look forward to reading them.
It disturbs me greatly to receive a letter such as yours. Roughly 6,000 federal inmates are released annually. God help them, and society, if they’ve been deprived of the support of “pro-social” people such as us while serving their sentence.
My understanding is that Corrections’ mandate is two-pronged: public safety AND rehabilitation. Kindly tell me what it is that I am doing that runs counter to either of those goals.