imagesSome 12 years ago I saw a little ad in the Abbotsford News asking for volunteers to get involved with the new Federal women’s prison, on King Road.

For some reason that ad held my attention and I ripped it out of the paper.  Weeks later I found it again and pondered on it for a bit more before calling the number.  I am so glad I did.

I’m writing about this now because I want to encourage everyone to consider taking their unique personalities, their interests and talents, and most of all their love for their fellow men, and woman, to reach out a helping hand, offer a listening ear and maybe take prisoners out to help reintegrate them into society.

I rarely felt like I was with prisoners.  Mostly, those women seemed just like any of the people I hang out with, and some were a whole lot nicer.

At first when Fraser Valley Institution opened I enjoyed helping them put in a large garden, but a new building has gobbled up that land since then.

After awhile they asked if I would do citizen escort which was a lovely time just to converse as we travelled to a great variety of destinations.  I had to follow the rules of keeping within sight and sound of each other, but made every effort to be unobtrusive about it.  We had so much fun sometimes that one day the women with me in the van all agreed that they’d forgotten they were prisoners for that one night.

For a full year I took a woman to a job every Saturday.  I loved her and rejoiced the day they released her.  Every Saturday she came toiling out with a huge load of food she had prepared FOR ME.  Coffee, juice, sandwiches, cookies, fruit.  I could not bear to disappoint her, so I ate the whole hoard, and had to walk round and round the farm to work off all that food.

One day we were driving back and it was stormy weather and slippery roads.  My friend started to sing Christian choruses so I joined in and we sang praises to God all the way back.  I thought how glorious it was that we were in a prison van, heading back to the prison bars, and we were completely full of joy, and free,…….both of us.

Twice I took women to the University of the Fraser Valley for semesters of education to help them get prepared for jobs upon their release.

I’ve taken women to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Co-dependency groups, Christian groups, and Friendship groups.  We also went off to visit with their families. Priding myself on NOT being a feminist, I had to struggle to agree when the Social Programs  people asked me to take a woman to several days of A FEMINIST CONFERENCE.  Ugh,…..I thought.  I do not like feminists!  Well I could not have been more wrong.  We heard some absolutely astounding women speakers there.  It was an huge eye-opener for me and a highlight to remind me not to assume I have correctly pegged individuals or groups.

But the best years of all have been the last few, where I went each Saturday morning to teach guitar.  Music has enormous power to set people free in their hearts and minds.  Though I am a simple and in fact quite lazy guitarist, I know how to open the door, – to show people how easy and versatile and just wonderful an instrument the guitar is.

We had wonderful, raucous jams together.  (Oh and there another of the women stuffed me with full-meal deals).  They had a terrific sense of humour,…….Their favourite song was, ‘In The Gravel Yard, With A Number For My Name.’

Some of those women were superior musicians to me in no time.  It was hard not to burst with pride when they would perform as a band in the appreciation days put on for us volunteers.

Always I have been keenly aware that “There, but for the grace of God go I.”

I have resigned, as of today.  Let me encourage you to enrich your life……….Go to jail for awhile.