Born and raised in Kingston, Ontario (known as the prison capital of Canada), I had no desire to go into the several federal prisons located in and around my hometown.
My knowledge of life behind the walls was formed by the murders and riots reported on in our local paper. It was basically by fluke that I started going inside.
After graduating from high school, I began attending Queen’s University. While at at the university, a chaplain at Millhaven asked if we would like to volunteer every two weeks with the maximum security institution’s B.I.F.A. (Black Inmates and Friends Association) group.
It was there that I met the man who eventually became my husband. A lifer, Glen was the only white member of the B.I. F. A. executive and best friend of the chair. When he transferred out to a prison in British Columbia, I kept in contact with him sporadically for our mutual friend. Prisoners in those days were not allowed to write each other directly, so I had to act as an intermediary. In 1983, Glen told me in a letter that he had become a Christian and had recently been baptized.
Our correspondence picked up to where it was crossing the country a couple of times a week. By the time he transferred to William Head two years later, I had moved to Victoria with fourteen boxes of books, my pots and clothes. I was visiting Glen regularly two or three times a week while completing my master’s thesis.
I can still remember the day Glen had asked me to marry him. I hadn’t been into visit for seven days as he had been thrown into segregation after contraband had been found in his cell. While in the “hole” Glen had a vision that he should ask me to marry him.
A community assessment was completed as they needed to make sure that I knew that Glen was in prison serving life sentence for committing a murder during the course of a Brink’s robbery. During the interview, I recalled what I knew of his offense.
About four weeks later, a pink activity slip arrived in the inmate mail. Upon it was written, “the Attorney General of British Columbia has given you permission to get married.”
Glen and I took marriage counseling with the chaplain. A surprise bachelor party was held for Glen in the prison gym. My bridal shower occurred a few days later. Glen and I made up a list of people who needed to be approved to be able to come to our wedding. My father had just had a heart attack, so no one from my immediate family in Ontario were able to come. On the list of over 100 people there was a reformed Montreal bank robber who was giving me away, Glen’s family, volunteers from the community, correctional staff, prisoners and visitors. The list also included items that would be brought into the prison such as: the top of my parents’ wedding cake from thirty one years prior, engraved wedding invitations, my wedding bouquet, Glen’s boutonnière and navy blue pinstripe suit—the one he had also been convicted in. We were given a special 72 hour private family visit.
The sun was shining on the day we were married: June 21st, 1987. I had picked that date as it was both Father’s Day and the summer solstice. After waking up, I phoned home to my parents on the family farm. I took a bath and got dressed in the royal blue cocktail dress that my roommate’s mom had made for me. Arriving at the prison, I was driven from the front gate down to the red brick chapel where we were married in a beautiful ceremony by the man who baptized Glen four years prior in Kent. Then we had a non alcoholic reception that the inmate committee put on for us in the visiting area complete with a three tier wedding cake made in the prison kitchen.
Afterwards, Glen and I were driven to the private family house on the southwest corner of the prison property. After eight years, Glen and I were alone together for the first time in our lives. I suddenly felt shy and decided to put away all the groceries in the kitchen and my clothes in the bedroom. Glen called me to come to the living room and sit down on the sofa. He put on Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits on the tape deck. Dr. Feelgood came on and Glen started singing along with Aretha. I cracked up and started to laugh. Suddenly all the tension in the room started to dissipate. I discovered shortly thereafter that Glen had tattoos which I never knew existed. It would be over five years before Glen got out of prison on parole and came home. By that time, he had transferred to a minimum security prison on the Lower Mainland.
Our experiences inside prison formed the basis of an organization we founded in 1992, called L.I.N.C. (Long-term Inmates Now in the Community). The L.I.N.C. Society works with all people impacted by the criminal justice system. L.I.N.C. believes in and is committed to the following principles:
1.That every person within society has a fundamental right to be safe and secure.
2.That everyone is part of the reintegration process where all people have an inherent value and dignity.
3.That the positive contribution of every person can have a meaningful impact on the spirit of justice and on the sense of well-being within the community.
4.That hope for the future lies in the potential of every individual to change, and in the willingness of others to support and encourage that change.
Supporting victims of crime has become an integral part of the work that L.I.N.C. does. This has evolved over the years to where we now provide direct service to victims through our outreach for survivors of serious crime, funding and organizing victim centered community events, victim peer support groups, assisting victims to attend conferences and workshops and through funding provided by our agricultural social enterprise Emma’s Acres.
Glen and I have been able to do some amazing things.
Who would have known that by getting married in prison 28 years ago, our partnership would help us effect positive change in our little corner of the world.
Author: Sherry Edmunds-Flett
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Courtesy of Author