By Kim Ezzard, Social Programs Officer, Stony Mountain Institution, and Corinne Lindley
On Thursday, January 18, 2018, Stony Mountain Institution (SMI) was honoured to host former NHL player Theoren (Theo) Fleury, who attended the institution to share his story of trauma and healing with offenders and staff.
Upon arrival, Theo was taken for a tour of the minimum security grounds and, of course, the outdoor hockey rink. His face instantly lit up as he walked onto the ice! Theo was particularly impressed with the old pull Zamboni and wool blanket used to flood the rink. In the Sport Shack and dressing rooms, Theo checked out the skate sharpener and sponge hockey shoes, and reminisced about playing sponge hockey as a youth growing up in Manitoba.
Before continuing on his tour, Theo left his mark by signing the dressing room with the inspirational quote: “Don’t quit before the miracle, enjoy Life! Theo Fleury Stanley Cup Champion 1989 and 2002 Olympic Gold Salt Lake City.”
Theo then attended the Aboriginal Grounds for a short tour and briefly spoke with an Elder before heading to the gymnasium for his presentation.
Before he began to speak, the Minimum Unit Drum Group played a welcoming song, and Theo asked if he could join them. There was a resounding yes and many nods from the group. Theo pulled up a chair drummed along with the offenders.
As soon as he started to speak, it became very clear that Theo was there to help. He connected with the audience on a personal level, moving about the room and interacting with staff and offenders. Theo shared what happened to him as a youth, how these experiences could have destroyed his life, and most importantly, how they didn’t. His message was simple: “If I can do this, you guys, I know you can too. We can heal from this and go on.” Not a sound could be heard other than his voice.
In the afternoon, Theo spent some time in the maximum security unit. Upon arrival, Theo was greeted by a correctional manager. Theo was provided a brief overview of the unit, before proceeding to the Program Room to give a short presentation for eight offenders and four staff members. Once again, he shared his story of trauma, substance abuse, and his journey of healing. He spoke of forgiveness, asking for help, and developing coping skills and strategies. Theo shared some of his darkest moments with the group. Being able to relate to the offenders, through sharing his personal stories, was powerful. One offender in particular opened up to the group about his own past trauma. Theo listened intently, affirmed what the offender was experiencing and encouraged him to continue on his journey of healing.
From there, Theo attended the medium security gymnasium, where he presented to approximately 200 staff and offenders. Once again, he shared his journey of anger, resentment and addictions, which he attributed to his inability to cope with emotional pain. He shared that his maladaptive coping mechanisms included: drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling.
He explained that he just wanted the pain to go away. Theo spoke of triggers and identified that he did not have the tools to deal with his emotions in an appropriate manner, thus leading him down a path of self-destruction.
He encouraged all staff and offenders to work on relationship building and finding connections. He motivated offenders to be mindful of self-care, develop compassion, and avoid comparing situations and experience in their life to others. This presentation encouraged a great deal of self-reflection.
Theo spoke of the need to change and be a better person, and for the offenders to recognize that however they chose to cope in the past, it was not effective. He spoke of his experiences with mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. He encouraged the offenders to be honest, vulnerable and open, because that is the key to healing. He also discussed rehabilitation as being a goal for the offenders and using their term of incarceration as an opportunity to move forward, rather that living in the past.
Theo’s story is one of courage and hope, he demonstrated a kind, compassionate, and genuine approach in his presentations. Before leaving SMI, Theo indicated what an honour and privilege it had been to attend SMI and have the opportunity to meet with staff and offenders in all three security levels. The staff and offenders of SMI, however, all agree that the honour was definitely ours!