This article was written in part by inmates at William Head Institution.
Craftsmen at William Head Institution in British Columbia are hard at work. Residents at the minimum-security facility focus intently on their creations.
With tools in hand, some fine tune small details on toy cars while others work on larger furniture.
The workshop at William Head Institution is busy with residents working with their hands. Those who are developing their skills in the shop have the creative freedom to build whatever they can assemble. Many choose to build something for others and give from the heart.
Many of the woodworkers make toys like wooden cars and trucks for children. Many will be sent to children around the world with the help of the charity, Samaritans Purse. The charity collects small boxes packed with toys and other necessities to gift to children in need every winter.
Last year, craftsmen at the institution made toys and other gifts to be included in the gift boxes. A group of residents created a hand-drawn A-Z colouring book. The uncoloured drawings were photocopied and fashioned into booklets. They paired the colouring books with fresh crayons to be sent to young artists.
“I can make a difference out in the world,” said Jonathan, a resident at William Head Institution. He enjoys the creativity the giving programs allow while making gifts with purpose.
He has seen the workshop produce practical items like boxes to imaginative toys like race cars and dinosaur piggy banks. “We are able to challenge our minds, and it gives me a sense of community and accomplishment,” Jonathan said.
The giving programs bring the institution’s residence a sense of value and humanity according to Philip, a resident who works as the social programs clerk. The identity of inmate or incarcerated can feel negative but having an identity as a mechanic or an artisan brings self-worth.
“You’re creating something useful for someone and through that, you’re creating that in yourself,” Philip said. “You have a purpose.”
Last year, some inmates watched with concern as Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Many felt moved to find ways to help Ukrainians displaced to British Columbia.
The men in the William Head woodshop built four picnic tables for a nearby facility housing many Ukrainians on arrival. They used donated lumber donated to create the tables which were placed outside the accommodations. The tables were painted blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag, to show support.
Other hobbyists outside of the woodshop also wanted to take part. Men with an interest in knitting and sewing used their skills to handcraft dolls and sock monkeys. These were sent along with the tables for the children arriving in BC.
Men across the institution find ways to contribute to their community year-round.
“William Head on Stage” produces shows that share meaningful messages through live theatre and multimedia presentations for local community audiences. The group contributed last year’s box office earnings to local organizations in response to community concerns regarding food security.
“Listening to the news about the ever-increasing food prices, I felt compelled to put forward the idea of the food bank drive to our social program officer,” said Steve, who inspired the initiative.
The social program team and upper management praised the idea and immediately began working to put it into action.
The inmates and various groups like the performers and wellness committees picked two food banks and local Indigenous families in need to support.
Some inmates also made personal financial contributions. “My hope, said Steve,” is that our efforts made life easier for those in the community.”
Inmates donated over $4000 to the Legion, a transitional house, two local food banks, a children’s charity, and local Indigenous families in need.
Inmates at William Head Institution are focussed on making a change in the world.