GOING TO JAIL: THE INCARCERATION EXPERIENCE
Programs and Parole
The thing with parole and programs is that they assume recent offending and ongoing problems. Neither relates to historic offences. How do you provide a program to treat an alcoholic who hasnt had a drink in twenty years? For early parole, parole boards insist that you prepare a Release Plan which "allows you gradual re-entry into the community". It assumes that there is some problem that makes re-entry a concern. It is a first step in your "managed return to the community." It is as if you cannot get day parole unless you have an ongoing problem that you dealing with such as substance abuse, or anger or impulsiveness problems. It would seem that day parole could be denied because the inmate lacks a problem which makes his return to the community problematic.
Today I attended my first session of my Sex Offender Awareness Program, or SOAP. Dr. David Foreman told us the program would explore legal and cultural issues surrounding sex offences and consent, and that it is designed for those who do not accept their guilt. There is however a presumption of some sort of culpability. The other participant is a young guy Id already met, Brad. His girlfriend is expecting his baby around the end of the year. I know little about his offence except that it involved a sixteen year old girl and that he was apparently set up by a jealous ex. He is horrified about being labelled a sex offender. I cant think of why he is here. It isnt doing him any good, he should just be closely watched. He says he didnt have sex with the girl and he is appealing his sentence. I thought he should appeal the verdict. I found him plausible but not very articulate. He sometimes speaks up and seems to adhere to a fairly conventional, somewhat macho, sexual morality. Brad avoided me after he found out who I was.
Dr. Foreman, is knowledgeable and bright, but a bit of a motor mouth. Today he led us in a discussion of the wrongness of child sex abuse. He tends to present it as a universal and absolute thing at the core - as a moral truth. I tried to make some ethnological points but he is very conventional and Eurocentric in his thinking.
The weekly sessions lasted two hours and each supposedly had a specific topic. We were soon joined by a laconic middle aged Native man who had apparently gone too far with a woman he picked up in a bar. He simply denied that he had forced himself on the woman. Foreman tried to get him to contribute to the discussion with little success.
Near the beginning of a session I usually bring up some absurdity Ive come across in the press, things like wanting to prevent children under 18 from attending movies where the actors smoke cigarettes. (Apparently they have some sort of study to back up the idea, and want the government to take over the role of art overseers.) Or not allowing people to take pictures of their children in playgrounds or at swimming pools in case they get into the hands of pedophiles. Foreman agrees that things can be taken to the extreme but I sometimes push him to the point where he falls back on his authority. I pursue gray areas; I prevent the group moving on.
Foreman is a reasonable man. However, I cannot see how his program can benefit anyone except himself. Having a general idea of professional charges my therapy was very expensive for the taxpayer, and only mildly entertaining for me. Well, its possible that some really clueless people who lack common understanding could benefit, but then what they mainly need is social skills, not his lectures. What those in denial really need is legal knowledge.
Today, this morning, I got called into Dr. Schimpfs office. He gives the regular Sex Offender Program, or SOP. He told me that what I had said about having sex with the complainant was enough to get me into his program. He was like a merchant offering a cut price. It seemed to be a reversal of the benefit of a reasonable doubt principle. He would give me the benefit of being culpable without me admitting my guilt. I told him that I had been truthful at trial, and did not think I was guilty. I said that the truth may not have been a good idea.
He went on to imply that for an older person to have sex with someone under 18 was an offence. This must have been his morality, as it is not specifically so in the law. For someone my age, he postulated that a partner of 30 or 40 might be too young. He advised me that I should choose older partners. I was shocked, and amused. His personal morality and the law seemed confused, or maybe not. He felt my parole chances were poor in any case. One reason he offered was because I was a high profile case, which seemed to suggest that he felt the parole board was influenced by political considerations. He also felt that was part of the reason, along with my not guilty plea, for receiving a long sentence. Nine months was common in cases like mine, he informed me. He readily admitted that there is an "element of extortion, in the system". Like Weibe and Grypuick, the parole coordinator, he minimized the historic nature of my alleged offence.
Dr. Schimpf expressed things very simply. Programs are necessary for parole. Presumably they make a big difference. The Parole Board puts a great deal of importance on programs. Do they have a high rate of success? Would it be possible to determine this? He ignored my questions. Programs that can be tied into the offence are all but compulsory. If an inmate does not take programs he does not get his full good time remission. He loses one third of the 15 days a month he usually earns. A double-blind test anyone?
An offence is an offence and the best policy is to play it safe. I got the impression that he sees things without subtleties much like Dr. Foreman. My appeal was clearly prejudicial. Schimpf indicated I should drop it if I wanted to be in his program. Still making his pitch he told me that its a twelve week course on Mondays, initially just the afternoon, but later, all day. He almost sounded tempting when he mentioned that it would be warm and dry, and maybe I could have fun in the discussions. Actually I had been getting tired on the job lately because Id been taking over some of the renovation work on the recycling shed as the carpenter had been recently released. Again he mentioned that a new SOP was starting soon, but that if I were interested in taking it I would have to abandon my appeal. I declined and he pointed out that I would be here for a long time and should maybe take it next time.
I suggested that he was in the business of selling indulgences. He said he wouldnt put that on his card, and equated what he did to the issuing of licenses for people to drive cars. He confided to me that he sometimes sped. But when he was caught he would admit it, implying that because I testified I had sex with a young person whom I wasnt sure was over 14, I should have admitted my offence. I should give the Crown the benefit of doubt? He compared driving mountain roads and how he used to push the limits, to me having sex with young partners.
Soon after I arrived at FRCC in July 2004, the classification officer told me I could get day parole as early as November 17th, in four months time. He showed me a chart which suggested the possibility. This was bullshit, it was a theoretical calculation, and unless the officer was horribly naïve his words were perhaps made to give me a false sense of hope, but then he probably tells most inmates the same thing. Partly to find out more I have decided to apply for early parole, what they call day parole, anyway. Nobody thinks I have a chance.
The camp official in charge of parole applications was Mr. Grypuik, a veteran of many years in the correctional services. He told me that parole was premature, Ive not completed any programs and the denial program would not impress the parole board. I tried to explain my case, that I would be unlikely to re-offend as I was seventy one. When I mentioned that the alleged offence was over twenty years, Grypuik replied that it would be a new offence for the victim when he came forward, so it did not matter if it happened many years ago. On the basis of his argument one could argue that historic offenses should be double offenses. I would like to think that people like Mr. Grypuik are merely hypercynical but I suspect the opposite may be true.
Many inmates have no interest in parole; it isnt worth it. Parole lasts until the end of ones sentence. An inmate sentenced to a deuce will typically be out in sixteen months, likely with no conditions or reporting. Another inmate also serving a deuce who gets parole after nine months will be under supervision until the end of his two year, 24 month sentence. This may seriously affect his life style in terms of associates, residency and other conditions imposed such as remaining sober. In addition if he does violate his terms of probation, found drinking for example, he may have to return to jail to finish his full sentence. Most inmates want to be free when they are out. A few inmates may not want to indulge in the hypocritical bullshit involved in applying for parole. I dont regret my attempt at early parole but I had no intention of trying again.
Inmates tell me that sex offenders dont get parole, period. Some have been here for a year, and two years less a day, sixteen months with standard remission, is the maximum provincial sentence. I am also told that regardless of the offense, those who plead not guilty and show no remorse, do not get parole. I am still appealing my conviction. I am told that you have to complete programs (substance abuse, schooling, respectful relations, sex offender programs) to be eligible for parole. I am taking a Sex Offender Awareness Program, SOAP, for those who deny the guilt which even the psychologist giving it, Dr. Foreman, says its of little value for parole. I feel the program is of little relevancy to any of the participants, anyway. I read the parole guidelines and believed that objectively I qualified. I was certainly not optimistic, but I thought it will be an interesting learning experience. It is, as they say: Interpretation is everything.
The parole requirements are set out in the context of a typical offender who is trying to rehabilitate himself. The offence is recent, he has ongoing problems he has to deal with, he is vulnerable to bad influences, he is struggling and the parole conditions are intended to prepare him and ease him back into the community. This had nothing to do with my situation, but I had to pre-arrange a place to rent with no children around and jump through other hoops to apply. I found some consolation in that I could argue that the lack of risk and re-entry problems should not be seen as an obstacle to parole. Kafka anyone?
My early parole application went ahead despite the discouragement of my case manager, Mr. Engh, and Mr. Grypuik. They believed, and each claims thirty years experience, that the parole board would not grant parole to anyone, especially a sex offender, who denies his guilt. They feel I am automatically disqualified. They may be right , but nowhere in the manual I was given, or the regulations is there any suggestion of this. I would have to change my approach if I was to have any chance of success, but they stop short of advising me to lie. I intend to play it candidly, to be upfront with them. They cannot expect that the hoops they set for typical, problem plagued, recent offenders are just as relevant for historic offences. Supposedly their primary concern is protection of the public and confidence in my being a law abiding citizen. I suppose my attempt is another test case I can entertain myself with. Mr. Engh berated me for applying, saying I could be denying others with better chances of success from applying, as they could only handle so many applications.
The parole board has to give reasons for refusal. Perhaps they will say that I have not benefited from the deniers program I was directed to. Recent improvement is something they look for, but I have not recently changed or reformed in relation to an offence allegedly occurring over twenty years ago. And my appeal, I am not ready to be resigned to my time here, in fact less so than when the experience was novel. It is beyond absurdity,
I was given the opportunity to examine in Mr. Grypuiks office, the reports and documents that go to the parole board for my hearing on Wednesday. He is the parole board coordinator. The judges sentencing statement was the most interesting. It gives what he believes the jury found. He states that, "It is implicit from the verdict of the jury that the jury found the Crown had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the sex acts occurred before the complainant was age 14." In other words they could be selective about what they chose to believe. As I recall the Crown Counsel did not specifically put the question of age 14 to the jury. Mr. Poll only said that the jury did not have to believe the tale of how we met. The judge may have repeated this in his instructions to the jury. He also states that I was a surrogate father, or at least big brother, the position of trust angle. This is also a basis for conviction. One of the reports had me listed as a "violent" offender. I asked Mr. Grypuik about that, and he simply stated that sex offenders are regarded as violent. What about voyeurs? I asked. Yes, he replied, they are violent because they assault peoples privacy. Violence also includes words, verbal violence. I recall when I was writing my A PERSONAL ACCOUNT, I discussed a case where a judge read violence into sexual assault regardless of the circumstances. It was a well known case and Im not positive but I think the judge was Rosalie Abella, the woman recently appointed to the Supreme Court. Mr. Grypuik is the most mealy mouthed person Ive met in the correctional system. He reminds me of the KGB guy in Solzhenitsyns novel, CANCER WARD that Im reading, and he has the voice and appearance to go with it. He argued that I was at risk to re-offend because I had a high profile, and also a moderate escape risk for the same reason. In my condition? Id have to have a gun to try. What I didnt know at the time was that he had a STATIC-99 rating that Mr. Weibe had prepared from my records and the admission interview he had with me where I was quite candid, but polite.
Recently (2008) I looked up STATIC-99, an actuarial risk prediction instrument, which supposedly predicts recidivism in sex offenders. It was developed by the Correctional Directorate of the Department of the Solicitor General Canada, and is also widely used in other countries. One of the authors had previously concluded that the opinion of experts was no better than chance in predicting recidivism. This may simply be due to the fact that chance avoids the charms of psychopaths who may con psychoforensic professionals.
A study involving prisoners convicted of sex offences in Pentanguishene, Ontario found an astonishing direct correlation between success in therapy and recidivism. This embarrassing result was explained by charming psychopaths who misled their therapists. Im sure the psychopaths all drooled remorse, probably in considerable graphic detail, and shared the profound insights they had gained from their proud therapists. The same research group in a study headed by the renowned Dr. William Marshall affirmed the staunch moral fiber of the heroic Canada Customs officers who must spend many hours looking at dirty pictures and reading possibly pornographic text. He was impressed; the same material presumably caused others to offend, and incidentally helped provide him with a supply of subjects for his research. Lesser men, and women, would no doubt be traumatized, suffer moral breakdown, or rape their neighbours daughter, or pat a boys bum.
Mr. Weibe applying the STATIC-99 risk prediction instrument came up with a medium to high risk to re-offend, 26% within five years. When I looked at the schedule he would have filled in it was clear why I was rated as a medium-high risk. Age is only considered if the offender is under 25 which is a risk point. Being over seventy was irrelevant. Time since the offence is also irrelevant, again in part because the typical offender is young. STATIC-99 was designed for them. The fact that I had said that I didnt find the sex offender awareness program helpful, was noted in a couple of reports. I obviously said the wrong thing if I wanted parole. I was only half serious if that. Dr. Foreman did however qualify the STAT-99 assessment because of my age and other factors, and stated that risk was negligible
STATIC-99 is a simple schedule designed for parole, probation and police officers to use in making decisions about offenders. It is essentially a yes/no check list of ten factors including whether the offender is over 25, ever been in a conjugal relationship for over two years, having a criminal history including charges and acquittals, and whether victim was related and male. It does not require interviews with the offenders, I have also heard that some versions may include such things as a deviant lifestyle, deviant sexual preference, and attitudes legitimizing offending, but could find no evidence.
The authors admit only moderate predictive accuracy and that it does not address all risk factors. Others may be considered but should not be added to STATIC-99 as this they say would reduce predictive accuracy. Clinical input apparently does not improve accuracy, and there is some debate about its value within the psychoforensic community.
STATIC-99 which only concerns itself with the risk of recidivism favours incest offenders who are always related to their victims who are overwhelmingly female, and works against the young and those men who whose offenses involve casual sex with boys. This is true as far as it goes. Common sense will tell you that a man convicted of raping his daughter is far less likely to be convicted again - he wont have the opportunity - than one who has sex with willing street boys. Same sex individuals tend to be more promiscuous in any case. The use of STATIC-99 obscures the differences in the seriousness of the offenses. Murderers are much less likely to repeat their crime than those who are convicted of assault or drug trafficking. Should they therefore be considered more eligible for parole?
My moderate to high rating prepared by Mr. Weibe was, I believe, a result of my victim being unrelated and male, and my previous pot and porn convictions. I dont think the correctional services attract the brightest of his profession and schedules make such jobs easier. I shouldnt be nasty, he was merely very conventional and by the book. Actually though the STATIC-99 rating is correct, I will certain commit pot offences in the future and be in possession of some juicy child pornography, at least in my mind. Interestingly, one of the authors has recently acknowledged that STATIC-99 is not predictive for advanced age offenders.
Grypuik argued that my high profile was a reason for not granting me parole. He mentioned the media and the public. It seemed to be an overtly political argument. When I questioned him he said all sex offences are high profile. I didnt know what to make of that.
When I had my parole hearing in mid December 2004 I was not surprised to have my application turned down. The members were Mary Bruce, a blond woman about 40, and Kirk Griffiths who had a background in the criminal justice system. After reading me their refusal they informed me that I am a danger to the public simply because I am an untreated sex offender. Such faith in treatment! Being an untreated sex offender means they would become wholly responsible for any re-offending I might do. They couldnt excuse themselves by saying, well he was treated, and pass the buck to the therapists. It was all risk aversion and protecting thior own asses. One thing they told me was that they relied on was the STATIC-99 risk assessment instrument which put me in the Moderate-High risk to re-offend category. They said it was scientific and had a very high predictive value. They did not give much weight to the qualifications offered by Dr. Foreman based on my advanced age and the length of time since the alleged offense was committed. I had heard about STATIC-99 from an academic acquaintance but knew little about it at the time.
Not long after my parole application was rejected I found myself talking to my case manager Mr. Engh who had been sort of an invisible man. It was only after Id been at Ford Mountain for months did I find out that I had a case manager although I must have met him. A neighbour explained that my case manager was a guard who was supposed to look after my interests and added that they had a reputation as naggers. Mr. Engh was a glum cheerless man who often appeared self involved. After a couple of months seeing him occasionally I concluded that he suffered from depression. He was quite emphatic in saying I should take the SAM program to have something to show the parole board next time. I swallowed my pride, if not my integrity and agreed to take a SAM program. Mr. Engh said he covers a lot of areas. Im not sure what that means but it is something to do. I have been a bit of a loner and might get to know some inmates better. I tried to argue that I didnt have a substance abuse problem; I hadnt done much drinking for years and that it was a regular Friday night social thing. Mr. Engh said the fact I used to drink more could be taken into consideration. And marijuana, I had a cultivation conviction and had admitted to still smoking pot. That was sufficient in itself.
The instructor was a very reasonable older guard named Mr. Fenson and not Mr. Engh. Mr. Fenson has been in corrections for 26 years and giving the program for the last two which suggests that giving programs is sort of a perk. We started with a game where each inmate in turn made three statements, two which were true and one a lie. Interesting. The statements seemed to indicate that the other members were earnest. We also made anonymous comments on paper about our expectations and concerns. I was quite negative. I told myself that I could write about the program later to make it more interesting. I didnt really. Near the beginning Mr. Fenson told an anecdote about a guy who took the SAM program eight times before it got through to him. He says he was listening to recordings of inmate phone calls one night shift and this guy was telling his wife that he finally figured out why he drank. Apparently he sobered up for good. Of the twelve in the Substance Abuse Management group six have done the course previously. One of my tablemates in another group is doing it for the seventh time. He claims it is a good program.
The instructors realistically take a harm reduction rather than an abstinence approach. I had gone through discarded SAM workbooks when I worked at the recycling shed and had a good idea what to expect. The men in the course seemed to enjoy the program. For most of us it meant paid time off from our work duties, something very appreciated on rainy days. Some of the veterans recounted tales of excess from their past and were quite entertaining. They knew the course and brought up things from previous times they had taken it. There were interesting comments about the things that triggered their relapse into addiction. Some said that while they had a better understanding of their substance abuse it didnt really help much when they encountered old friends. It was still a good program they maintained. I dont think they were being cynical. I completed the SAM program in due course and Mr. Fenson gave me a certificate saying I had completed the program. I was reminded of the old joke about the guy who was released from a mental institute and had his discharge certificate. He claimed he was the only one around who could prove he was sane.
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