When asked to describe his life prior to going to jail, Sheldon uses just one word: chaotic. He had dropped out of school in grade nine, was cleaning airplanes for a provincial airline in Newfoundland, drinking, partying, and supporting his drug addiction by robbing others of their valuables. He was a young man out of control with no direction, no goals, and no future. But when he ended up at Springhill Institution after being found guilty of armed robbery, assault, and break and enter, he decided to make a change.
"I looked at the guys in there, some of them older and there for most of their lives, and I knew I didn’t want to be like that,” he says. “I wanted more for myself than that.”
Sheldon, who just recently turned 24 years old, was incarcerated with two men who he calls his “uncles.” Though not actual family members, they took Sheldon under their wing so that he could focus on one thing: doing his programming and getting out. While these men had been incarcerated for years, says Sheldon, they weren’t about to watch him do the same.
“They looked out for me. They made sure I was separated from any jail politics so that I could focus on my programs. It’s all thanks to them that I was able to go into my own world and get better.”
For Sheldon, getting better meant completing the Moderate Intensity Multi-Target Program as part of the Correctional Service of Canada’s Integrated Correctional Program Model. This program targets men who have been assessed as having a moderate risk to reoffend. Typically, the program consists of 50 group and individual sessions, each one 2 to 2.5 hours long.
The program is designed to teach offenders skills that help reduce their risky and harmful behaviours. It helps them change their attitudes and beliefs, learn to set goals, and solve problems. It also teaches them how to manage themselves, and develop interpersonal, communication and coping skills.
The impact of this program on Sheldon was significant, he says, giving him the basis from which he was able to start rebuilding his life.
“Honestly that program was huge for me,” he explains. “I don’t know where I would be without it. It taught me how to live my life.”
Sheldon was paroled and released from Springhill Institution nine months after arriving there. That’s when his parole officer and CORCAN Employment Coordinator got him involved with Choices for Youth, an organization in St. John’s Newfoundland that empowers local at-risk youth by providing them with housing, employment, and education supports as they transition into adulthood. As part of their programming, they run Impact Construction, a social enterprise construction company that provides on-the-job safety and construction training for youth ready to secure long-term, sustainable employment or pursue skilled trades training. Sheldon got a job with them and quickly became one of their stand-out employees.
Working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day during the week, he’s dug ditches, built houses, learned how to safely remove asbestos, and many other valuable construction skills. As well, Impact Construction is supporting Sheldon as he studies for his GED (secondary school equivalent) during work hours so that he can move on to college in the future. This, says Sheldon, is something he is very grateful for.
“They’ve done wonders for me,” he says. “They’ve not only trained me in so many skills and areas, but they’re also supporting me one hundred per cent as I earn my GED. My experience with Choices for Youth and Impact Construction has been excellent.”
So what’s next for Sheldon? Earning his GED is at the top of his list of course, but after that he has big plans. He wants to go to college to pursue a career in either the plumbing or electrical trade, and maybe one day join the Canadian military and serve his country around the world. But whatever he chooses to do, Sheldon knows one thing – going to jail was the best thing that happened to him.
“I don’t regret going to jail because it straightened my life out,” he says. “I know where I’d be today if I hadn’t gone, and it’s not good. Jail saved my life.”
Let’s Talk would like to thank Sheldon for sharing his personal story with us. We wish him all the very best as he embarks on his future!