Sometimes it’s scary to go home

Column 123


Kelly Scaglione has a multi facetted view of the penal, system. She’s married to a soft spoken police officer. She’s served on the board of directors for the John Howard Society which helps men reintegrate when they finish a prison term.

She helps out at the Salvation Army’s Bayside Mission, which is often the first ‘home’ available to inmates who have completed a sentence and are now ‘free.’ Kelly has learned they are never free. Neither are their families.

When she read about downtown merchants’ concerns about the van that drops off inmates released from Central North Corrections Centre in Penetang, she wanted to look further. The van, clearly marked Corrections Canada, does pull in to the Barrie bus terminal seven days a week, releasing 3, 4, 5, 8 people at a time back into the world. They are given enough money to get a bus ticket to ‘home’ wherever that is. If it’s Alberta, that’s a long trip. If it’s Owen Sound, it’s a lot quicker.

These fellows usually carry a bag with their worldly possessions in it, also clearly marked Corrections Canada.

Hard to get a new, fresh start.

Kelly started to approach these young men, simply offering them a reusable shopping bag for their possessions, something with a little anonymity. Then she’d talk with them a bit. If she had the money, she’d buy a few $5 Tim Hortons cards and give each young man one so they could get something to eat. If they had a long wait for a bus, she’d sit and chat. She offered dignity. She offered a friendly face to people who are scared and uncertain about what comes next.

Sometimes they have a home to go to. Often they don’t.

Often they don’t have weather appropriate clothing, shoes, boots, hats, scarves, gloves. Kelly learned that if they’re being released in winter, the prison system is mandated to provide them with warm clothes and a box lunch, if they ask. Most don’t ask.

“This is a lost part of our community that nobody wants to deal with because they are criminals. They can’t get jobs; they have criminal records, and it’s so hard for them to start over. And here they are,” says Kelly says as we talk about the merry-go-round of addiction-crime-prison-release.

Some of the Corrections Canada van drivers just drop the released inmates off. Others take them in and help them get their tickets. And then they bring them over to Kelly. The trunk of Kelly’s car is stocked with boots and shoes, a tshirt, a sweater… all things that have been donated to Kelly in her quest to give these folks dignity so maybe they can start again.

“Not to be rude, M’am, but why do you care? Why do you want to help?” That’s what many of them will say, she says. “I look at these boys, these young men and one of them could be my son.”

Kelly has three sons. One will be released from federal prison in Alberta in December. Kelly talks about how a criminal conviction happens to an entire family. Their family lost connection to grandparents, to family and friends when their oldest son was convicted five years ago. Like I said, her knowledge of the penal system is multi facetted.

Christmas Day there’s a drop of releasees, just like any other day, and Kelly tries to add a bit of chocolate, a $10 Tims card, something to recognize that it’s Christmas.

Kelly’s cause is simple. Dignity can make a huge difference to a person who’s done something wrong, to a person with mental illness, to a person with addiction. Others have heard her story and offered to help… Kevin Augustine at Alcona Sobeys gives her reusable shopping bags. National Sports and Marks Work Wearhouse give clothes and shoes. The students at St Joe’s High School had a clothing drive and handed her 60 bags of clothes. Salvation Army is setting aside a small room for her to use once their renovations are complete. Right now everything’s in Kelly’s dining room until it goes into her car.

And on and on it goes.

Kelly used to work as a surgical unit clerk at RVH but the stress of medical service over-rode her ability to be useful. The stress of trying to get out to Alberta to see her oldest son, to spend time with him, to find money for airfare… it is a family absorption.

“This has been the biggest eye opener for me. People have no idea this goes on. These kids have so much more life ahead. How do they ever move forward if we don’t help them?”

Kelly tries to get to the bus terminal every day. She estimates she’s seeing 25 former inmates each week. Every week for three years. It feels like a drop in the bucket in many ways, but it’s a drop with a remarkable ripple effect.

She recently was approached by a young man who told her she’d helped him when he arrived at the Barrie bus terminal. “Thank you,” he said. “You were the only one who cared.”