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Volunteers from Jewish community say prisons need funding for rehabilitation, skills training

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Volunteers speak at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture on Feb. 19.
Volunteers speak at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture on Feb. 19.

Federal inmates need stronger community connections to help them transition away from prison life and avoid re-incarceration after being released, said chaplaincy volunteer Esther Caldes.

Caldes and Walter Grumpich were on hand Feb. 19 at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture to share their experiences as prison volunteers for the Jewish community.

Lack of support leads to life of crime

One of the biggest problems Caldes has seen in her visitation and advocacy work is that inmates often have no support network and nowhere to turn for help.

Feeling as though the outside world has forgotten them, many inmates have difficulty adjusting to life outside of prison, she said.

“You might as well put a revolving door on the front door, because he’s going to be in and out, in and out, in and out,” Caldes said.  “It’s an ugly reality, but’s a reality with a handful of these kids.”

Prisoners need a means to change

Caldes said Corrections Services of Canada (CSC) needs to spend more money on skills training and rehab programs that empower inmates to kick bad habits. Grumpich, who has spent many years bouncing in and out of prison, emphatically agreed.

Grumpich said his firsthand knowledge of the system and its misuse of taxpayer money is part of what has driven him to volunteer.

Caldes said she felt the need to give back to the Jewish community after she retired. “If this is what the community needs, I’m all for [it],” she said. “I’ve got time. Let’s do it.”

For nearly three years, Caldes has worked with the Jewish chaplaincy service under CSC to bring support and compassion to federal inmates in B.C.

Unconditional respect is something that Caldes said allowed her to put aside their criminal history and form close, meaningful relationships with “the boys.”

“It didn’t matter what their crime was. It wasn’t up to me to judge and punish,” Caldes said. “It was up to me to listen.”

Although unable to affect how the corrections system spends its money, Caldes and Grumpich said their volunteer work with these inmates could help make up the difference.

Reported by Ben Zutter

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