It was almost like Christmas in July when a truckload of goods arrived for First Nations communities in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
On July 13 Sarah Jackman, executive director of the Punky Lake Wilderness Society, received three eight-by-three-foot dining hall tables and benches, children’s beds, rocking horses, and developmental toys made by inmates in various correctional institutes around B.C.
She also received 1,100 pounds of organic produce grown by inmates at the Ferndale correctional institute in Mission.
Since September Jackman has partnered with Corrections Services Canada and wardens at five institutions in the Pacific Region.
Dubbed “Cariboo-Chilcotin Project,” the aim is to give back to the communities while offering an opportunity for offenders to build and develop work skills, said Correctional Services of Canada media relations officer Jean-Paul Lorieau.
The goals are to improve the lives of Aboriginal children and youth through the contribution of products which can improve their quality of life, provide offenders with opportunities to learn employment skills and make intrinsic changes which ultimately can assist them to adopt pro-social values and attitudes and contribute to safer institutional environments by engaging offenders in meaningful work.
“When you’re incarcerated you are supposed to do seven hours of productive labour every day,” Jackman said. “They were running out of things for them to do. They were finding the more boredom set in the more trouble was being caused.”
The psychiatric inmates are knitting hats, mitts, scarves and blankets, she added.
“It’s all coming to us free of charge and I get to be like Santa and distribute it and keep what I need for the camp.”
Lorieau said the program provides offenders with raw materials to produce the items.
The program has engaged First Nations leaders and organizations in the region to develop lists of needs which includes furniture for homes, schools and band offices, as well as children’s clothing, toys, educational materials and other items.
The project is in the early stages and the plan is to continue to expand the project and create further opportunities for giving back to communities, while providing offenders with opportunities to learn employment skills they can use for a safe and successful reintegration into the community.
Anaham Chief Joe Alphonse said he has toured several of the adult correction centres involved in the project.
“It is a great way of helping the inmates get back into society,” Alphonse said. “It gives them an incentive to help the communities.”
Jackman has received feedback that the inmates are also really enjoying the program.
“There are several inmates from the Chilcotin communities and it’s giving them a chance to give back to the communities they maybe have harmed,” she said.