Last summer, the Ethno-Cultural Brotherhood Association at Dorchester Penitentiary established a community partnership with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Amherst, Nova Scotia. The goal of the partnership was to help restore the church manse (Minister’s residence), with the guidance and supervision of several community volunteers who are experts in construction.
Five members of the Ethno-Cultural Brotherhood Association, known for their excellent work and ethics, were selected to participate and volunteer their time each Sunday.
In protective gear and equipped with pry bar tools, their first task was to tear down the entire ceiling in the basement, disinfect the brick walls of its mildew, and dispose of the large industrial garbage bins.
Theresa Halfkenny, a member of the Regional Ethno-cultural Advisory Committee of CSC explained, “the last couple of winters there was some water damage inside the manse, the basement and walls were really bad.”
For the remaining weekends, they worked on dry-walling, scraping, plastering, and painting. They also caulked windows, fixed door jams, and installed a new ceiling in the washroom. Finally, they painted the entire outdoor wooden siding and completed half the roofing.
Ally Masoud, vice-representative of the Ethno-Cultural Brotherhood Association and an active volunteer on the project, expressed, “this particular venture opened doors for future engagement with the community and their special activities. I felt very welcomed and accepted by everyone who stopped by to compliment us on a job well done. ”
Halfkenny experienced the same openness, “the congregation accepted [the offenders]. It was so nice to see them engaged in conversation as they would with anyone else.”
Some of the church members went so far as to prepare meals for the offender volunteers, showing that there are people in our communities that are accepting and will give them a chance.
The main idea of the Ethno-Cultural Brotherhood Association has evolved to improve self-leadership skills, take accountability of organizing its activities from beginning to end, and to be all-inclusive in the recruitment of new members.
“I just feel that they are human beings firstly, and I sometimes think that we are all just a step away from maybe being where they are. But underneath, there are some really caring people,” said Halfkenny.
Mr. Masoud was quick to point out that, “All of this was made possible because of the kind support by Theresa Halfkenny, REAC Member, Elizabeth Cooke-Sumbu, Director of CANSA (Cumberland African Nova Scotian Association, Amherst, NS), and Frank Landry, Social Programs Officer.”
In the end, the inmate association benefits a lot from participating in diverse community service outings, which can help guide individual members to function as productive citizens in society, to develop healthy community relations, and to increase awareness of the resources available to them.
Myles Smith, Chairman of the Ethno-Cultural Brotherhood Association states, “the community support brings hope for the inmates who wish to focus on their correctional plan.”
Former warden of Dorchester Penitentiary Jennifer Fillmore, couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, “Dorchester Penitentiary continues to foster partnerships with multiple community organizations that provide opportunities and support for ethno-cultural offenders. Through our Community Service Escorted Temporary Absence program, projects such as the restoration of the church Minister’s residence have offered ethno-cultural offenders with an opportunity not only to give back to the community, but to make real connections with individuals in local communities that share similar cultural backgrounds. This has fostered a sense of belonging for these offenders and provided them with a network of support in the community in preparation for release. We are very fortunate to have community partners with a genuine interest in working with our offenders and these benefits are crucial to their successful reintegration.”