Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 19, 2003
Religious associates learn about prison ministry
By ANITA TOLENTINO
Special to the WCR
Associates and members of religious congregations gathered on Saturday, May 3 and experienced again the power of our Baptism call and responding to the call of ministering to one another.
Almost four years ago the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception and their associates led by Sister Marion Garneau spearheaded a networking gathering with other associates of various Christian congregations in Edmonton to share the ways the different congregations lived out the spirit, charism and vision of their associations. The participants of the initial seminar found the experience rewarding and refreshing so they decided to hold the gathering annually.
This year the Sisters of Providence and associates hosted the networking assembly in their centre.
A real life experience talk by guest speaker Diana Gardiner touched the hearts of the 70 attendees. Gardiner, who is on parole till June this year in Grande Prairie, shared her thoughts and reflections about her addiction to alcohol and cocaine, the abuse she encountered since her childhood, two failed marriages and spousal abuse, her lack of self-esteem and self identification, the fear and loneliness she experienced in jail, the shame and devastation she thought she caused her family and the guilt of why she had led that type of lifestyle.
"I thought I was hurting no one but myself, getting a high on cocaine and trying to forget and numb the pain I was keeping inside of me . . . but I was so mistaken. My whole family got affected with my arrest.
"My daughter left my granddaughter to her husband, my youngest daughter had a difficult pregnancy and I could not be there for her, my parents and relatives in Nova Scotia learned about my arrest on the Internet, and my daughter in White Rock found out about it too. It was like a ripple effect. Cocaine controlled me. I thought I was in control.
"When I got to jail I was terrified and felt humiliated. However, after I attended the programs that were offered in the institution, I slowly felt a big change in my life. The trauma and abuse program helped me face my underlying problems that brought about the drug use in the first place. I have come to terms with what happened in my life. Prison had taught me self-esteem and I started to like myself for who I am. The dark world of cocaine is truly a nightmare. I am glad that I was rescued . . . in jail."
With the help of the Rev. Colleen Lynch, women's reintegration chaplain, Diane Gardiner has turned around and is now enjoying a different perspective on life. Diane is willing to come to schools or organizations to share her life experiences and story in order to save other people, young and old, from getting hooked on alcohol and drugs. She also praised the work the women's integration chaplain has done for others and herself.
Another speaker, Janet-Sue Hamilton, the warden of Edmonton Institution for Women, spoke about restorative justice that "strives to provide support and opportunities for voluntary participation and communication between those affected (victims, offenders, community) to encourage accountability, reparation, and movement towards understanding, feelings of satisfaction, healing and closure."
One of Hamilton's strategies in rehabilitation that she finds very effective is giving the women a chance to share their ideas and becoming part of the decision-making in the activities in prison especially those that relate with prison industry. Hamilton said her priority in her role as a warden is to make the women prisoners better persons and develop their self-esteem so that when they reintegrate with society they can become independent and productive.
The last speaker, Karen Kingdom from WINGS of Providence (Women in Need Growing Stronger), talked about women who are abused, in deep trauma, grieving, afraid, and in high risk and in need of security and support.
There are 12 existing apartments that accommodate women who desperately need a shelter and they are allowed to stay there for up to six months. WINGS has programs as well to help women learn survival after they come out of their care. WINGS came about through the initiative of Sisters of Providence.
Religious and associates of Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception, Sisters of Charity of Providence, Filles de Jesus and Grey Nuns felt that their day of prayer, reflection and sharing was educational and spiritually inspiring.