Onashowewin: the way we see justice

09/20/2018, Winnipeg, Canada, Clara writes:

E. Fry: working with women, for women

Last Friday two members of Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba came to visit Onashowewin and have a networking meeting. Onashowewin’s staff welcomed the executive director Jyoti Singh and Trudy Stevenson, one of their bail workers, and we all sat around a table eager to learn about each other’s work.

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba (EFSM) Inc. is as an independent non-profit organization which was established in 1983 to address the unique needs of women in the provincial and federal justice system.

90% of the women participating in their programs are indigenous. This must be the reason why in 2006 E. Fry became officially an indigenous organization itself, aiming to provide advocacy, access to resources and support to women who are in conflict with the law. Jyoti and Trudy explained to us the main struggles their clients face, which are pretty much the same as those Onashowewin’s participants go through: addiction, poverty, mental health issues, marginalization, racism, long-term effects of residential schools and other forms of discrimination.

They described to us some of their most successful programs, starting from their Bail Verification and Supervision Program which consists in offering supervision and support to adult women and transgender women charged with offences while they are in the community awaiting trial. In the last 5 months E. Fry bailed 30 women out of custody and gave them the possibility to live in the community, connecting them to resources such as housing and counselling. They have an elder, a spiritual advisor, who recently started working in the Bail program once a week.

The reason why this program is successful and well considered, is because E. Fry respects the set bail conditions and is impartial. If the conditions are not met and their clients commit breaches they have to report them. They always look at policies and try to make them better to be able to get more women out and help them in a healthier environment.

The only women they are not working with are the ones who have committed arson related crimes, crimes against children and sentenced women; they cannot be accepted in the community program, but E. Fry always tries to redirect them to other resources and programs.

E. Fry has two separate waiting lists, one for women released to their own community residence and one for women released to outside addresses (attending E. Fry programs once a week). This was decided in order to avoid having one slowly moving list depending entirely on the free spots in the organization’s residence.

The organization has two housing units and they are planning to have a third dedicated to women coming out of prison to help them reintegrate into society.

Another program they talked about during the meeting is their Free Clothing Program which in the past was available just for women attending court or coming out of jail and is now open to anyone every Monday from 1:30 to 3 pm. Recently, they started a partnership with John Howard Society and began running a small section for men’s clothing, alongside the meetings with a reintegration worker.

Another interesting program, which Jyoti said the women particularly love, is the Food Program. Here they have the chance to have cooking sessions, including traditional indigenous recipes, and learn about healthy options.

Three other programs they are running are theKicking Addictions, the Women for Change Anger management program and the Stoplifting Program.

Last but not least, a project caught my attention and surprised me, as I have never heard of anything similar before. The Reading Stories Project aims to connect institutionalized women with their children through reading. A volunteer attends jail and records mothers reading from a book, every two weeks he/she goes to the E. Fry office and edits them. Then, a copy of the recording and the story book are sent to the children, so they can read together with their moms.

The two visitors concluded their presentation affirming how difficult this job is and how dedicated people can make the difference. I could feel that the people in front of us had that strong motivation needed to help these women, who are too often forgotten and left alone to deal with extremely difficult situations. One sentence of Trudy’s stood out for me: “It’s hard to give up on them because too many people gave up on them”.

The work E. Fry carries out is really courageous and I believe decisive for those who are willing to change their lives. This organization guarantees the fundamental rights of those who have been marginalized by society, gives them a second chance and provides them with the tools and support that many of them have never had.


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