What do Perry and John have in common? They are both serving time for second-degree murder and they are both starting their lives over thanks to their experience working in the CORCAN shop at Mission Institution in British Columbia.
“Working with CORCAN has turned me into a mature man,” says Perry. “It’s the best experience I’ve had in my thirty-five years in the system.”
“I’ve truly enjoyed working here,” says John. “I’ve learned new skills that are transferable to the community and I’ve gained self-confidence, which is something I didn’t have before.”
CORCAN is a rehabilitation program for offenders incarcerated at the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). It provides offenders with employment and employability skills training while incarcerated in federal penitentiaries, and after they are released into the community. This is done through on-the-job and third-party certified vocational training that focuses on four business lines: Manufacturing, Textiles, Construction, and Services.
Perry and John work in textiles, making a variety of products including towels, pouches for the RCMP and CSC, drapery for the Department of National Defence, bags for a rescue company in Vancouver, duvet covers, duty belts and jackets for correctional officers, and rescue harnesses for dogs who are involved in helicopter rescues. Perry has been working there for ten years, and John for two. During that time, they say, not only have they learned new skills and gained positive work experience, but they have become a part of a family that is made up of staff and inmates, all working together in a healthy and productive environment.
“I look forward to going to work every morning,” says Perry. “We are not treated like inmates, we are treated like employees who are respected and appreciated.”
“It feels secure to me,” says John.”We are a family. In the shop we are all on the same side of the fence, and we have the utmost respect for one another.”
Both men credit their instructors, including Sam (Sandra) Stone for making their time with CORCAN as good as it has been. Sam is a strong and bright force in the shop, supporting the inmates, encouraging them, guiding them, and celebrating them. She can lay down the gauntlet (with a sense of humour, of course), but she’s also been known to call out an offender for a job well done. This is a common occurrence in many workplaces across the country, but for Perry and John it’s a new experience.
“The whole point of this is to teach the guys how to work in a regular workplace, like most people do,” explains Sam. “Our job is to prepare them to return to the community one day, and doing so in a positive way is exactly what we are trying to do here.”
It seems to be working. John’s sewing skills are top notch, says Sam, and Perry can plan, measure, cut, and produce a product with the tiniest fraction of measurements to perfection. They are always on time, they are always smiling, and they are always ready to take on the next big project. This is thanks to the instruction provided to them, say Perry and John, and the treatment they receive on site.
“Like any employee, you want to feel appreciated and welcomed,” says Perry. “That’s exactly how we feel here. We feel valued and on top of that, we are given the best teaching and lessons from our supervisors.”
“We are treated like responsible human beings here,” says John. “It makes us feel good and successful.”
Both Perry and John are getting ready to be released on parole shortly. John has plans to volunteer at his church, a strong and steady support system for him, and Perry will be working at a local charity, sorting the products that are donated by the public and getting them ready to be given to those in need. Both of them have mixed feelings about leaving the prison, but they are ready.
“I’m going to miss this place and my friends here in the shop, but it will be my time to go,” says Perry. “It’s time to move forward and start again.”
“I had a support system in here and I’ll be released to my support system out there,” says John. “I’ll always be grateful for the time I spent with these people here.”
Let’s Talk would like to thank Perry, John and Sam for sharing their stories with us. We wish them all the best as they move into their fresh starts.