Latest News

Breaking Barriers – To Employment

June 19, 2019

Written by Selwynne Hawkins

For people who have been recently incarcerated, access to a stable job reduces the chances of recidivism and is a key factor in successful integration into the community. But, even after an offender has “served their time,” they continue to face stigma and discrimination for mistakes they made in the past. This stigma manifests itself in many ways, making it difficult for people with criminal records to find employment.

In a year-long project, the Research and Evaluation team at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary performed a qualitative analysis to investigate the barriers people with criminal records face in their search for employment.

Barriers to finding and securing employment

Most employers require criminal record checks for job applicants. A clean record is taken as an assurance of good character. However, the implications of a criminal record check are not always clear or transparent. In some cases, a prior offence that shows up on a police information check is unrelated to the job application at hand or occurred when the individual was younger or in a challenging phase of their lives.

Larger employers often have policies in place for hiring people with criminal records, while often smaller employers may not always have a policy in place. Employers without policy surrounding criminal records are more likely to reject applicants with criminal records, as they are lacking knowledge of best practices for addressing criminal records within their own organizational context.

Unlike the human rights acts of Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, the Alberta Human Rights Act does not protect against discrimination based on criminal record. For Albertans with criminal records, a criminal record can be a significant barrier to securing employment. Even after someone with a criminal record has secured employment, they may still face stigma and discrimination in their workplace should this record become known outside of the employer.

Without access to sustainable employment, individuals tend to find ways to secure some means of financial support by being forced to work in dangerous conditions and/or end up working under the table for less than what would be available to them should they be working legitimately. They work without benefits, the security of WCB, and without vacation pay or overtime pay as required by law.

Some of the recommendations we learned from the research were that we need to start addressing these barriers, with accessible information and education for employers. This education will assist them in implementing changes to their human resource policies regarding exclusionary practices around criminal records. It will open up possibilities for employers to have more meaningful and open discussions around criminal records. Secondly, and a much larger challenge is to address changes in legislation requiring employees to investigate past criminal records on a criteria that includes length of time since the record was incurred and whether the record has relevant risk to the position being hired.

What can your workplace do to give women a chance at integrating successfully with employment and providing them with the independence they need to avoid becoming recriminalized?

 

 


Profile of a Practicum Student

June 17, 2019

JACKSON ECKES

Written by: Andleeb Azad

Jackson Eckes is a recent graduate, with a Criminal Justice degree, who hopes to one day have a career helping youth. He first heard about the Elizabeth Fry Society during his post-secondary education and became involved with the Society in June 2018, when he started with the Youth Mentorship program. He has worked with this program both as a volunteer and a practicum student. Attracted to the Elizabeth Fry Society because it helped him make a positive difference in someone’s life, Jackson supports clients in court matters by providing them with the necessary legal information and knowledge of court processes, as well as building positive relationships with at-risk youth to provide emotional support and encouragement in while they work to stay out of trouble and reintegrate into the community.

What has working with the Elizabeth Fry Society taught you, both in your personal and professional life?

My perspective has opened up more than anything. Working with The Elizabeth Fry Society during my practicum has given me the chance to get a feel of what it was like to get some experience in the field of legal work. I learned a lot about the legal system, court processes, communication skills, time management, patience and logical reasoning during my practicum.

Why do you believe the Elizabeth Fry Society is important for our community?

The Elizabeth Fry Society offers many resources and programs that support rehabilitation and reintegration into society of individuals involved with the legal system.

How has your role with the Elizabeth Fry Society changed you as a person? How do you think it has changed or impacted those who’ve come to its doors seeking help?

It is rewarding to know we are making a difference in someone else’s life by showing them court is not as serious or intimidating as it might appear and to offer referrals for people who need it (legal representation, counselling, disclosure, etc). I always felt like I was making a difference no matter what I was doing. The role was important for me because it was not only required for me to graduate, it gave me the experience I need to help me out with my future career.

 


Indigenous Learning: Beading

Beading on the Path to Healing

Written: by Wes Lafortune

Elizabeth Fry’s Indigenous Program Coordinator, Barbara Smith gently cups a tiny beaded moccasin in her hands adorned with wolf willow seeds. It conjures up memories of her own childhood on the Piikani Nation where her grandmother first introduced her to beading at the age of nine.

Barbara later relocated to Calgary but spent many hours on the Nation with her grandmother where she learned more about their culture.

“All I knew is that I loved this woman,“ recalls Barbara.

Her respect and admiration of her grandmother’s beading piqued her own interest in learning the craft. She apprenticed the skill by learning basic stitches until she established her own unique signature beading style.

That introduction to traditional beading has led Barbara on a long journey of learning and becoming an accomplished and well known skilled beader in her community. Many dancers are wearing Barbara’s work on their regalia on the powwow scene.

Barbara eventually brought her skill to the offices of Elizabeth Fry Society in Calgary where for the past five years she has shared her wisdom and taught hundreds of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women alike how to bead and create cultural crafts including pouches, necklaces and moccasins. The women not only learn how to bead, but learn the history behind the craft and gain cultural pride as they master their own personal skill.

“It can be entrepreneurial,” says Barbara referring to the finished pieces which

are highly prized and valued in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community. Yet what is obvious when listening to this proud Piikani woman talk about this tradition is not about commerce, but the healing that occurs when women, many who have experienced significant trauma in their lives, join this group and and find a place of acceptance.

“They build a safe place,” she says. “It’s our community.”


The Mother I am Today

May 10, 2019

“I owe a big thanks to The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in helping me become the person I wanted to be and am currently,” Dovena said. “And to be the mother I am today.”

Dovena first came to the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in 2008, when her caseworker mentioned the organization. She participated in a program the organization hosted at the time, and over the next ten years, Dovena came into the office for food, toiletry items, or just to talk.

“I always felt safe and connected with the staff. They were always so kind to me and accepted me.” Dovena said.

Knowing that the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary works in partnership with Calgary community agencies to provide safe, affordable housing for women, Dovena came to the organization seeking assistance in finding a place to call home after completing her sober living program. Shortly after she moved into her new home, she knew the next step in her journey was to enter the SAGE program.

The SAGE program is a 12-week program that provides a cultural foundation and supports women through experiential learning and expressive activities like photography. Participants are empowered and equipped with skills to help them on their path towards accessing training, education or employment.

“Through the program, I learnt that I am not very good in making eye contact with other people until I trust them,” Dovena said. “I am getting better at this. The program helped me become more self-assured, I did not give myself enough credit before and would always second guess myself.”

“I enjoyed coming in the morning seeing the staff member of the program and being able to talk with her about what was on my mind, before the program started for the day.”

At the SAGE program, she felt a connection with her fellow participants as well.

“We had some similarities which we could relate to with one another,” she mentioned.

“I have grown in my confidence and am comfortable enough with myself now to stick up for myself. Having the dedication to complete SAGE was a huge accomplishment,” she said.

Another great moment for Dovena occurred in February, when she gave birth to her son. Dovena does not currently have custody of her three other children, but she is in the process of changing this situation. Dovena’s eldest daughter, who is very protective of her youngest sibling, wishes to come home and live with her mother permanently. This may occur as soon as July. For her two other children, the process will take a bit longer, but she is grateful for a renewed connection with them. “They fear that I will not come back when I leave after visiting them, but they know that I am making a home for them and it is a matter of time we are all under one roof together,” Dovena said.

When asked what family means to her, Dovena says, “being together, showing love for each other and sharing time together.” She explained that she and her four siblings were all separated at a young age as their mother was unable to take care of them. So the sole essence of having a family together under one roof means a great deal to Dovena.

In September of 2019, Dovena will begin a new chapter in her journey of recovery and stability by going to back to school to upgrade some classes. Her ultimate goal is to become a social worker in addictions counselling.

“The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary was a great support for me,” Dovena said. “If the staff didn’t have what I needed they would go to great lengths to find it. The resources they directed me to were priceless. They were my home away from home.”


Mental Health and Crime they are linked

May 6, 2019

There is a stigma associated to mental illness that causes one to become more isolated and further into their anxiety, depression or other disorders. It is not as simple as working through the issues or triggers like “relax, everything will work out in the end” when said, can cause further frustration for the individual. Without support, mental illness can take a toll causing negative consequences for actions that are often uncontrollable and end up redirecting life in an undesirable direction.

Due to self-harming myself and attempted suicide I have had to be admitted into two hospitals in the span of six months. There were safety concerns that I would attempt suicide again. While in the last hospital I had an altercation with another youth and was charged with assault with a deadly weapon at the age of 15 years old. I was put on probation for a year.

My relationship with my family is not the greatest so my Probation Officer suggested a mentor would perhaps be beneficial for me. With previous counselling I always felt judged and I would retract from their guidance. Saying YES to receiving a mentor was the best decision I made, as this has been the most supported I have ever felt!

My mentor is my rock supporting me emotionally, mentally & physically – no matter the mood I am in. The conversations I have with them has really opened my mind to understand different perspectives and learning what different decisions I could be making to better a situation. I do not take my mentor for granted with the wisdom they share. I have noticed that I make more informed decisions and am making serious changes in my life for the better.

The support I am receiving from my mentor has enabled me to actually be more confident in public areas. I used to be removed from society and it was paralyzing to go out in public places. I even have been going to the gym which is a big deal for me, I would never want to touch the equipment others previously used.

Recently, I got into trouble with the law again. While at a store, I had a terrible episode resulting in me being charged with theft under $5,000.00. With my illness I have periods which render me incapable of controlling myself. With this incident I have been referred to another program which focuses on my mental health.

My mentor, my rock, has been with me at every court hearing and legal aid meeting pertaining to the recent charge. Never giving up on me and seeing me through this detour in my life.


SAGE Spring Program update

May 1, 2019

Written by Selwynne Hawkins

With five weeks remaining, the current SAGE cohort has now passed the halfway mark. And, since we last checked in, they have covered a lot of new ground.

The group spent a week on conflict resolution—where they focused on ways to communicate their opinions and needs clearly. This module included mock debates, role playing, and group problem-solving activities.

In their self-esteem week, participants created vision boards and reflected on the things they like most about themselves. They also spent time discussing their skills for employment, and visited Bow Valley College, where they were invited to attend an Elder panel on Good Medicine.

Three current participants—Jamie, Adrienne, Andrea—graciously agreed to share their experiences in the SAGE program.

“I’ve taken a few of these ‘job seeker’ programs, and I really think this one is a lot of help,” Andrea said.

“Especially with all of the activities we do,” Adrienne agreed. “Like what Stacey makes us do.”

Stacey, a local indigenous actress, leads four sessions with the SAGE participants throughout the program. With Stacey, the participants learn and gain confidence through experiential learning. During self-esteem week, she led role playing activities, which were a big hit with participants.

“Those are fun, too,” Andrea said. “Really makes us step out of our comfort zone.”

The SAGE program offers a balance of functional life skills, strategies to express emotions, within an Indigenous worldview including ceremony and cultural activities and processes. SAGE prepares women with the necessary skills that will not only assist them in their personal life, but within the context of successful employment experience. Through the wide-ranging activities, participants gain further confidence and strategies for developing their emotional well-being. So far, they have learned and improved their lives throughout their active participation in the program.

“Communications skills, problem solving,” Jamie recounted. “Resume writing.”

“It’s been a good review for a lot of stuff,” Andrea said. “I get really nervous for interviews, so we get a lot of practice. But what I like the most is the Indigenous part. Going to the sweat, the library for creation lodge…”

“Yeah,” Adrienne added. “And we’ve met so many Elders, too.”

In the coming weeks, they will spend time discussing healthy relationships and visit the YW Employment Resource Centre. They’ll also spend a week on professionalism, complete a cover letter workshop, and practice in mock interviews.

Near the end of the program, SAGE participants will spend a week at the Women in Need Society (WINS). Through a week of volunteering at the donation sorting centre, they’ll gain experience and learn about accountability. In their final week, they’ll focus on “next steps” for participants—making sure they’re ready for school, employment, or whatever goals they are focused upon. .

Though the program is only halfway completed participants have already grown more positive and self-assured.

“It’s built up my self-confidence a bit more, the exercises we’ve had to do,” Andrea said. “I really like it.”

“I used to be really shy before, and didn’t talk,” Jamie laughed. “Now I’m talking!”

Follow along on our blog and social media accounts for more updates on the group as they wrap up the 12-week program.

 

 


Volunteer Profile: Jessica Zuk

April 8, 2019

Written by: Andleeb Azad

Jessica Zuk is an undergraduate student, currently enrolled at Royal Roads University in Victoria in the Justice Studies degree. Upon completion of her degree, Jessica wishes to work as a probation officer, hopefully for an organization similar to the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary. She began to volunteering with the organization in the Youth Mentorship and Legal Advocacy Program in March 2018.

Jessica became a volunteer because she wanted to help others who have not had the same chances she has had in life.  She wished to gain hands on experience working in a justice-related non-profit organization, and wanted to familiarize herself with the field.

Jessica explains that her role with the organization has allowed her to make significant change in the lives of the youths she has worked with.  “I strongly believe in the mission and purpose. I understand that those who become involved with the justice system are not ‘bad’ people. In fact, they are often victims of circumstances beyond their control. We all need to be aware of the role poverty plays in our criminal justice system, and without organizations like the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, we would not be working towards breaking the cycle of poverty.”

What has working with the Elizabeth Fry Society taught you, both in your personal and professional life?

Through volunteering with the society, Jessica believes that she has developed patience. “Dealing with youth forces you to become patient, which is a weakness for me, so I have been fortunate to develop that trait during my time with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary,” she asserts. Furthermore, her listening skills have developed. “I have always been a strong listener, but I would also add that being a good listener is a really important skill to have when working with youth.”

Why do you believe the community should be supporting the Elizabeth Fry Society?

Jessica recommends volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary: “Definitely do it! It’s incredibly rewarding and inspiring. It is also a great way to challenge your biases and perceptions about young offenders and the criminal justice system in general.” Specifically on the area she is volunteering in, Jessica comments “I think it’s very important because young offenders so often become adult offenders, thus early intervention and support is so critical… I think it’s incredibly important to mentor youth. When youth become involved with the justice system, they are more likely to become imprisoned as adults, thus it is important to have a program that promotes pro-social behavior for these young people.”

There are other ways to support the Society (donating, for example) and Jessica explains why support is vital: “The work is really important. This may not be a flashy multi-million dollar company, but the impact the organization has on peoples’ lives is something that should be celebrated and recognized. It’s the people behind non-profit organizations like the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary that are making the greatest social impact in our communities and changing the world for the better.” To those who need help and may be hesitant, she advises “You can’t go wrong getting involved in a program like this. The volunteers and staff at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary are incredible people who are very dedicated to what they do. They will do everything in their power to support you and help change your life for the better.”

How has your role with the Elizabeth Fry Society changed you as a person? How do you think it has changed or impacted those who’ve come to its doors seeking help?

“I love volunteering. I believe one cannot live a fulfilling life without giving back to others,” Jessica says. “I am very proud of what I am doing and the organization that I volunteer for.” She also believes it has left a lasting impression on her life, as well as those who she has helped: “I hope to leave a positive impression on my mentee because I know she has certainly had a positive impact on me…I do feel that I am making a difference. Every volunteer is making a difference simply by donating their time and spending time with the clients. Even if my relationship with my mentee positively impacts her life in the most minor way, I still feel that my time was well spent.”


Volunteer profile: Cole Buchanan

April 7, 2019

Written by: Selwynne Hawkins

“Volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary has really shown me how the justice system can have much greater effects on disadvantaged groups, and it has really humanized the concept of a ‘systematic issue.’ ”

Cole Buchanan, a student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, is a recent addition to the Adult Criminal Court Program on the Case Management Office floor. He started volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in January 2019, but the organization has been in the back of his mind since grade school—when his social studies teacher mentioned the organization as part of the Calgary non-profit landscape.

Cole is a globally-minded citizen: he loves to travel and is fascinated by international affairs. When he’s at home in Alberta, he feeds his travel bug with visits to the Rockies. After completing his Bachelor of Arts, he hopes to pursue a Master’s in Political Science. His dream job is a position with the United Nations.

What have you learned by volunteering for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?

I think the biggest thing I’ve gained from volunteering with the organization is a deeper understanding of the justice system’s interactions with regular, everyday people. I study Political Science in university, which has given me a lot of “academic” perspective, which is often very theoretical and, honestly, sometimes a bit pretentious. Being able to see how real, ordinary people deal with the justice system and the government and how it all functions in real time as a whole is truly fascinating for me.

Volunteering has really shown me how the justice system can have a much greater effect on disadvantaged groups, and it has really humanized the concept of a “systematic issue.” Seeing the difference between someone who can afford to send in a lawyer […] versus some of the clients who fear being unable to pay their rent or afford groceries because they’ve had to miss work for a court date, or seeing some clients who struggle with English […] It really starts to make clear what it means to be at a disadvantage in society.

What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering for the organization?

Do it! The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary is a wonderful organization that carries out extremely important work in our community. Volunteering has been a really positive experience, and as an organization they really care about their volunteers and offer a lot of training and support.

 

How does your role with the organization make you feel?

I value my volunteer position immensely, because I actually witness the difference I make every time I’m on the court floor. While I’m not single-handedly reforming the entire justice system, I think a majority of clients I speak to learn something that makes their court experience easier on them. Whether that be an opportunity to find free legal representation for low income accused, diversionary measures that can avoid permanent criminal records, or something as simple as where to go next in the court house, I think I’m able to make a difference in individual peoples’ lives every time I’m volunteering.