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Tom is back!

Tom is back, and is doing well.

He came to see me last Friday and has been ‘in and out’ of the office all week.  He has hit the ground running and has made some great steps since getting out of jail: he has located a nice apartment in a good area, currently furnishing it, bus pass, happy to be alive and, since Tuesday, free from parole, the system and his past mistakes.

He is thinking about going back to school.  He is considering what kind of job he might get – although he is quick to tell us that he will be back volunteering with us next week.

At the drop in yesterday, Erin (our work skills coordinator) invited him to come to the office when he had a chance to talk.  Well, at 8:03 this morning, he was here.  He sat in the chair and said something like, “I know there’s a lot of work to do here. I’ll come by next week and straighten out all the mess of shelves that happened since I left and I’ll clean it all up.  Don’t worry about it.”

Erin quickly told him that wasn’t the reason for her request.

“Oh?  What?”

“Well, I want to be sure that you come by here next Tuesday, because that’s your birthday.  We are going to get a cake to celebrate with you, but we want to make sure that you are here.  That’s what I wanted to talk about.”

There were moments of silence as Tom stared from under a furled brow as he thought about this.  “Thank you,” he said.

“We’re so happy you are out of jail, and connected with us again.  We love you, and want the best for you.  Plus, we don’t want to eat your cake without you,” Erin replied softly.

So, there you go.   Oh,  just one more thing.  When Tom first came back, and talked with me in my office, he said something that stuck with me.

We talked about how it sucked to be in jail for no good reason, guilty until proven innocent (or rather released because they simply could not detain him any longer), and he said: “Well you know, maybe the Lord had me in jail to keep me from getting into trouble somehow on the streets.  You never know….”

That’s pretty good.

Wish I had thought of that.

Tom Called

Tom Called (see previous blogs re. Injustice)

While I was away in Vancouver I received the following email from our front line receptionist at OIM:

Tom called! 

He is at Fenbrook Institution in Gravenhurst. 

We were only able to talk a brief time as he was in a room with his prison assigned PO (that’s what he called her) and was on an office phone. 

 He said that he had been trying to reach you for awhile but that for some reason was unable to call through.  He had requested that your name/number go on his call out list but it never seemed to work for him.  I’m not really clear as to why and it was difficult to get a lot of information as someone was listening at his end so I did not want to press for info. 

Bottom line, he sounds really good!  He says he’s due to be released in two weeks and will make his way back to Ottawa asap.

I’d say that’s good news. 

Interesting isn’t it that ‘it never seemed to work for him’ to get my (OIM’s) number on his call list (!).

Last week his total world belongings were picked up by our staff and we were able to find a place to store them.  His place of residence was kind enough to allow us to hold them for him, although they could not hold his room.  Fortunately he doesn’t have to ‘start all over’ when he comes back.

I’ll keep you posted.

His parole is finished next week, so we’ll be sure to keep you updated, as he will be a free man after all this time (and able to talk freely, and come to the ‘forbidden’ OIM office).

Thanks for all your thoughts, prayers and kind words!  It’s good to know you are not alone.

Injustice IV – Stonewalled

A heavy heart is mine as I write what will probably be the last blog about Tom until he is released.  There are several reasons for this, some (but not all) of which I will detail.

I had an appointment to meet with Tom on Monday, April 12 at 9:30 am.  On the Thursday or Friday before, he was transferred to the penitentiary in Kingston.  It would take me 4 – 6 weeks to be cleared for a ‘professional visit’ at that institution, or 1 – 1 ½ weeks to have ‘visitor’ status. I started the process immediately.  That was Monday.

On Tuesday, I was informed (through my own sources, not CSC) that he was moved to ‘another location’ (unknown).  On Wednesday I got a lead on another jail where he might be.  I am waiting for a contact there to confirm this.

The Parole Office will not meet with me, although I requested this several times.  I asked to meet with her and her Director, but was denied.  They have discovered that I have been blogging about this and are ‘consulting legal’ to see what implications there are for our meeting.  Stonewalled.   I have written permission from Tom, signed by him in jail before he was taken to Kingston, to release the information of his file to me.  It was witnessed by a prison chaplain at the jail who watched Tom sign (without duress or cohersion).   They are investigating whether it is enough for them.  So far, and into the foreseeable future, the answer seems to be a resounding no.

They suggested I speak to their Media Response person, and I did so finally after several days and voice messages.  We spoke and I was informed of the process, the rules and regulations involved in a very general sense.  When I mentioned that Tom’s conditional parole was completed on May 4th, there was some surprise and a quick investigation into his case.  Affirmed.  Oh, in that case, he will walk on May 4th.

I am not a quitter, and if this is an example of injustice and wrongful accusation/detaining, then it should not be.  I have been advised by a lawyer (who is my friend) and an official from Corrections Services Canada that it might not be a good idea to continue to pursue this matter.

I asked my lawyer friend about possible ramifications if I continued to blog about Tom’s cause.  He replied that nothing would happen as I am only presenting Tom’s side of the story (with Tom’s permission).  He did mention however, that if I pursue it, it might be difficult for Tom.

The CSC official told me that it often does not go well with the individual involved (Tom in this case) after they have their story made available to the general public (!), and that I might consider ceasing to blog about this.

For Tom’s sake, I am stopping- but only because of my lawyer friend’s advice.  I will bring you an update when he is released May 4th – sooner if something significant occurs.

A final note to you at Corrections Services Canada whom I understand are following this blog:  I understand protocol, process and procedure, but please remember that you are dealing with a real person, with real feelings, who yesterday (April 14th) celebrated SEVEN (7) years of total sobriety.  Here at the OIM office, we were planning a big party to celebrate – cake and all – but Tom was alone in his cell.  Couldn’t even reach him by phone.  Don’t even know where he is right now.

But one day when he is released, we will celebrate together.  I would like to invite you to the party!

Injustice upon injustice III

I  am sorry to report that Tom is still in detention – the ‘proper’ name for jail, although there is nothing ‘proper’ about it at all.  The first night he was arrested on March 12, he slept on the shower floor.  Then, by association with a cell mate who was caught smoking weed, he did solitary for the next five days.

 The story continues.  For  the ’bottom line’ people, you should know there’s no happy ending here.  I have not been able to communicate with either the decision makers, or the information holders to obtain the whole story, so I have only one side of the story still – Tom’s.  Tom has given me permission to share this with you.

He has not been served papers or given information about his accusers.  It started out as panhandling, which was not a condition of his parole, but other reports have been set forth:  I present them to you as Tom told me in prison.

 One of the conditions of his parole is that he should not have association with people with criminal records.  Tom  was ‘seen talking to people’ – no names given, no place or date, no reference or identification  of his accuser.  He was ‘seen coming out of an alley (Bank and Cooper) with ’some people’. No accuser named, no identification of people he was supposedly with.

                He talks to people on the street all the time. You can’t not do that if you live downtown: it’s a “Hey, how’s it goin’?” kind of thing.  There is no alley at Bank and Cooper – we had our office there for ten years.

  1. He was accused of not following his correctional plan because he had not obtained employment.

For the past eight months he has been coming to the OIM office as a part of our work skills program.  He walks to the office and on the way says, “Hey, how’s it goin’?” to people he knows on the way.  He is punctual, a hard worker and willing to do whatever needs to be done.  He is reliable, efficient, a model worker and just pleasant to have around.  One of his workers has advised him that he should not consider taking employment until he is ready.  He was counseled to continue with the work skills program  with OIM, because it was a very positive influence in his life, and if he had to leave for some reason, it would not have the same ramifications as leaving a place of employment.

  1. Tom was incarcerated for reasons of “for public safety”.

No  substantiation, no identified accusers and no recorded or known  ‘incident’ that might suggest wrongful activity.  Another of Tom’s workers has gone on record and noted the positive progress Tom has made.  He has been  working with him on a life plan following parole time.

  1. Tom was supposed to have had ‘association with known drug dealers’.

He was ready and waiting for drug testing when he was arrested, but it never happened.  He has not been drinking  alcohol and never has had any issues with drugs. No drug charges on his record at all, ever. None.

 Tom tells me that he has been offered release if he agrees to three conditions:

  1. Cease to be a part of the work skills program at OIM
  2. Wear a collar that will give constant identification of his whereabouts at all times
  3. Respect a curfew

 He has refused to comply with these.  He mentioned the first condition as the deal breaker.  In his association with us at OIM,  he has found meaningful work volunteering (and then in work skills), moral support and a degree of friendship that has gone beyond acquaintance.  He says it feels more like family. 

Easter is just over and we’ve looked at the story of the passion of the Christ, his pain and suffering and then his resurrection and victory.  For my friend behind bars, it’s Good Friday all the time, with no glimmer of Sunday morning.   Not now at least.

Injustice upon injustice II

A miserable week – especially if you are incarcerated.  Here’s an update about my buddy ‘Tom’. ‘Tom’ is not his real name, but there may come a point in this story that we reveal his name.  He has given me permission to share his story with you.

Tom is a recovering alcoholic.  He admits he cannot handle the effects of alcohol.  He becomes violent.  This has been manifested from time to time in his life, and has spent just over six years doing federal time to pay for his mistakes.  He dosen’t drink.  Won’t drink in fact, because he knows how dangerous it would be for him to do so.  In two weeks he will have seven years of sobriety under his belt.  Good one buddy!

His parole is completed on May 4, 2010 and he will be a free man: no conditions, no parole office, no restrictions – he has been looking forward to his freedom for a while now.  But right now, now now, he is in 23 hour lockdown in jail with no rights and no freedom.  I went to visit him. He has not been sleeping or eating well.  He is depressed and discouraged.  He hasn’t been taking the meds offered to him because he is afraid.  Unshaven and unkempt, his orange overalls provide a constant reminder that he is a ‘prisoner’, an ‘offender’, a ‘public threat.’  It’s a stigma that hangs on, not just because of where he is or what he’s wearing, but what he is being told.  The constand reinforcing of the negative things, the failures and mistakes in his life are an albatros around his neck.

I contacted Corrections Services Canada: I waited seven business days for Tom’s parole officer to return the several  messages left both on her cell phone and her work number.  It was only after I contaced the Director of CSC that the P.O. called me – and I waited five business days for the Director’s return call.  I’m not the best at returning calls sometimes, but well, I don’t know, I would say that someone rotting in jail is a priority.

I have written and witnessed permission from Tom for disclosure of his file.  To date, the CSC is ‘not sure’ they will be able to release this to me.  We’ll see about that.  I have asked for an appointment to discuss Tom’s case, when I return to the office on the 12th.  I have requested an appointment for that morning.

For now Tom is ‘inside’.  There is undoubtedly more to the story, there always is.  My lawyer and the investigator agent who was kind enough to look into this case, have both told me how the process works: the P.O. has 30 days in which to investigate the accusations against Tom and deliver a review; then the Parole Board has an additional 90 days to investigate and arrive at a decision.  One hundred and twenty days.  Four months.  All the while my friend is in 23 hour lock down.  By the time the decision is delivered, his parole will be finished and on May 4, he walks. 

Then I find out that people who can make a decision, do an investigation, bring some kind of resolution are ‘on holidays’ (that’s what I heard first from CSC) and ‘on course’ (second ‘reason’ given – it is year end and budget money – well use it or lose it ??) – all the while Tom is wondering what’s going on.

Welcome to the ‘system’.

Injustice upon injustice – it’s called Life on the Streets

Some things set me right over the edge, mostly it’s a different story with a similar theme: injustice (see Justice III, Feb 26/10).  Here is yet another:

Tom is a recovering alcoholic that will be celebrating seven years of sobriety in two weeks.  He works his 12 step program and is determined to stay clean.  He came to visit us, then volunteered, and then entered our work skills program.  He comes to the office four days a week to help: no job too big, no job too small, he does them all – with a cheerful heart.  He has a record but his probation ends in two short months – and he works hard at keeping clean.  He won’t even cross the street  without a walk signal.

Clean. Squeaky clean.  Pleasant, kind, hard-working, and a delight to be around. We have high hopes for Tom.

So one day, he doesn’t show up. A day, then two and more and then a week and we wonder where he is.  No way to contact him.  Finally we find him – in jail. 

He is in jail right now, been there just over two weeks for “parole violation”.   For “panhandling”.  Reported to his Parole Officer (P.O.) by an “anonymous” person who called it in.  Over fourteen days in jail (and counting) with no help.  No lawyer.  No hearing.  No explanation.  Just “there”.

I called the P.O. and left message after message with no response.

Tuesday of this week the P.O. goes to see Tom in jail to tell him he can’t get out until next Thursday.  Sorry, no.

How can this be?  What about his rights?  Good question.  Looks like Tom doesn’t have any.  An ‘anonymous’ call is enough to land him in jail.

Right now, I don’t have the complete story. But I know enough to know there’s something wrong here – very wrong.

So, today I called my lawyer.  Let’s look into this.  Lawyer will call the P.O. and make an inquiry.  Let’s find out what’s happening here.  Let’s get to the bottom of this.  I have an appointment tomorrow at the jail.  Somebody has to do something about this.

This is a sad story.  Sadder that it happens all the time.  Sadder still that most of my street friends’ rights violations (this appears to be one of them) go unnoticed, undetected and unresolved – particularly so because they don’t have anyone who will help.  They get lost in the “justice system” – or the justice is lost in the “system”.  Maybe it’s just “the system”.

ANYBODY INTERESTED IN DOING SOME ADVOCACY??  Get ready for rejection, apathy, unanswered messages, high levels of frustration getting around red tape, and white hot rage when you see injustice heaped upon injustice heaped upon injustice – oppressing people who are already broken and helpless.

Naw… it’s hoping for too much that somebody somewhere might respond to this plea for help and say, “Hey, I can do something.  Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

(Let me get back to you on this next week.  Friday morning, 1:01 am)