Before she died of cancer in January, Pam Harrison, a longtime member of Broadview’s board of directors, made an unusual request. She told her family that, in lieu of flowers, she wanted her obituary to ask friends to perform a random act of kindness. Harrison was a tireless supporter of this publication, and her passing was felt by all of us. As I pondered her final request, I thought about her life of service. Among her many commitments, Harrison volunteered at the Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia — and that gave me an idea. For Broadview’s random act of kindness, we would donate several subscriptions to four Maritime prisons.
My idea wasn’t original. Last fall, Marilee Iverson, a subscriber from Meota, Sask., purchased five Broadview subscriptions for the Saskatchewan Penitentiary. These subscriptions were previously paid for by the local United Church Presbytery, but when the church restructured, the funding stopped. So Iverson stepped up. She doesn’t have any particular connection to the prison; she just wants inmates to read “good stuff.”
I too want prisoners to read good stuff. Reading builds knowledge, empathy and self-awareness. Studies have shown that prisoners who gain literacy and numeracy skills while incarcerated have lower recidivism rates upon release and are better able to reintegrate into society.
More on Broadview:
- During COVID-19, former prisoners are re-entering a world with fewer supports
- Harry Nigh started groundbreaking sex-offender support group
- B.C. prison theatre is an emotional, creative outlet for inmates
When I was in university, I volunteered with Frontier College, a national literacy organization. Each week, I met with an inmate, a former mechanic whose dream was to be a truck driver in Australia. He didn’t have a driver’s licence and was reading at a beginner level. But together, we plowed through the Ontario truck driver’s handbook. I’ll never know if he made it to Australia, but I hope our time together helped him envision a better life for himself.
Prisons figure prominently in this month’s issue. Our Snapshot section showcases statistics on Canada’s aging inmate population. In Perspective, Christopher White raises the alarm about Uyghurs, a persecuted and imprisoned Muslim minority in China. And in Features, James Loney pens a letter to a fellow Canadian who is incarcerated in Florida. Loney was himself held captive in Iraq 15 years ago as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. These stories offer a unique view into life without freedom.
For the incarcerated men and women who are now receiving Broadview, I hope that our small gift brings some uplift. We’d like to reach even more inmates and have begun connecting with prison chaplains across Canada. (If you’d like to join us by sponsoring a subscription, contact Sharon Doran at email@example.com.) Pam Harrison knew what she was doing when she called for random acts of kindness. Even the smallest gesture has a big impact — on the recipient and the giver.
Jocelyn Bell is the editor/publisher of Broadview.
This editorial first appeared in the June 2021 issue of Broadview with the title “Prison reading.”
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