Former Offender Joins CORCAN
On March 13, 2000, Guy Ritchie moved in with his wife of seven years and their two daughters for the first time. After spending 17 years in all male correctional institutions, living in a female household will take some getting used to.
Then again, everything about life on the outside takes some getting used to. "There's not much in prison that prepares you for being out of prison. It's sink or swim," says Guy, who is determined to swim. Guy is eagerly meeting the challenges of everyday of life: paying rent, buying food, using transportation and holding down a full-time clerical job with CORCAN construction at National Headquarters.
Surprised? So is Guy.
"I don't have the formal qualifications to do this job," he says, "and I wasn't looking for it. In fact, I had a lot of reservations about working at CORCAN headquarters because the people here never deal with offenders."
"I've been pleasantly surprised by my experience here," he says, in part because of the positive and helpful staff. His worries about whether CORCAN "walks the talk" when it comes to working alongside a released offender have been alleviated. "Originally, I took the job just to get me going, but I've been given an opportunity here that I want to see through," says Guy, who was hired on contract through St. Leonard's Society in 1999 while on day parole.
"Guy was doing a good job for us in the Kingston office, and we didn't want to lose his skills when he moved to Ottawa," says Barry Mair, Business Manager, CORCAN Construction. Because security requirements prevented Guy from working at headquarters until he got full parole, Barry says CORCAN set up an office for him in the halfway house, and then in his home.
In addition to dealing with accounts receivable and payable, performance evaluations and assorted paperwork, Guy is laying the groundwork for a CORCAN industry recognized certification program. It's a project he saw a need for first-hand, and one which he is instrumental in promoting.
"Guy brings enthusiasm to this project like I've never seen before. He's responsible for the idea catching fire in the institutions," says Barry. "Guy knows the downfalls of programs on the inside, and now he has a chance to have input at the ground stage."
"I thought the idea of certification would have to slide by, but people really respond to it," Guy says. He spent two months getting the necessary infrastructure in place to support certification. "Until we had a system for tracking the actual hours an offender works, we couldn't start to sell the idea. Now we've got Joyceville Institution on-line with the new database and we're doing a dry run with the working model."
Guy's push to get certification in place is driven by his own experience. Sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder in 1981, Guy was 21 years old with a Grade 10 education when he was incarcerated at Millhaven Institution. After seven years, he was transferred to Joyceville Institution, where he started work in the CORCAN metal shop. After that, he worked as a clerk in Frontenac Institution for CORCAN construction.
"Everyone looks at working at CORCAN at some point-it's got a lot of word of mouth. CORCAN isn't viewed as program: it's work. That's its saving grace, " Guy says. "When you are doing time, if you can fill some of the time by working, that's a bonus. If you get skills while working, that's another bonus, and if you get employment on the outside, even better."
"I was surprised by the pride I took in the work," he says. "There's a co-worker relationship in the shops that creates a positive dynamic."
Despite the value of the CORCAN program - Guy describes it as "the only effective program because it teaches skills" - he knows that, without industry-recognized certification, offenders' chances of doing similar jobs in the private sector are slim. And he knows that offenders without jobs have 70 per cent failure rate on parole.
"The way it is now, offenders don't want to show a prospective employer their letter from CORCAN because of the stigma attached to it," says Guy. "If offenders get out with industry-recognized certification, or they're on the road to certification, then they have skills to put on a resume."
"If you keep someone in a cage too long, he'll lose the value of life and society," Guy says. "If you give him something to shoot for, he has a better chance of keeping afloat out here."
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