McCauley Author Pens Book about Befriending Prisoners
Gary Garrison’s Human on the Inside recently published.
p(dropcap).I first met Gary Garrison through The Stroll of Poets, an organization where poets gather to share their poetry in readings and in an annual anthology written by its members.
Gary has written a book about one of my favourite topics: prisons, entitled Human on the Inside. About 12 years ago, Gary felt he was at a crossroads in life and on a suggestion from a friend he got involved in, and eventually led, a program where people in federal prisons are matched with volunteers who visit them with the sole intention of being their friend. It seems like a simple thing: a volunteer comes into the prison once a month, and for around 90 minutes simply sits down with one of these men or women and they talk about hockey, politics, TV shows – whatever the inmate wants.
When you get down to brass tacks though, the fact is these people who have committed crimes worthy of being placed in a maximum security prison are often people who have never had a friend like that. They are rapists, murderers, bank robbers, people who have become habitual criminals. Outside of the program Gary ran for them, they often have no one to talk to. The guards hate them, and the unwritten code of the prison forces them to not acknowledge emotions or even friendships. What is more, most of these people were victims of crimes themselves.
In his book, Gary talks about an inmate who was taught to use heroin at age 7, and another who was sexually assaulted by a parent at around the same age. It moved me deeply to read about how Gary recognizes that most of these hardened criminals are victims too, though he doesn’t make light of what their own crime victims go through in any way.
Human on the Inside has a chapter that tells the story of Sarah Salter-Kelly, whose mother was murdered by a man named Peter Brighteyes, who subsequently hung himself in prison. The story touched me because I know another member of the same family and understand the trauma they were put through. But Sarah Salter-Kelly has come to a place of forgiveness for Peter Brighteyes, which is inspiring in no small way.
One of the things I really love about Gary’s book is that all through it one is tied to the fact that this non-fiction story is a path of learning and growth that Gary is on as he moves through the chapters of his book. Often he will write for a few paragraphs about things inside his own heart and mind either from his childhood or more recent years.
There was one passage where Gary spoke to a number of inmates where he bravely and openly told them he had left the U.S. in 1970 because the government wanted to put him in jail for not going off to kill people in Vietnam. “Can you imagine being sent to prison for NOT wanting to kill someone?” he stated to these “lifers.”
Gary’s writing touched a note with me because, in different ways, we have all been “prisoners” whether it be in a bad marriage or an unfortunate situation like debt or poor health. Gary reminded me with his words that no matter what crime someone may have committed, they are, in fact, “human on the inside” and society will never progress or grow working with a model of pure crime and punishment mentality.
Gary’s book is published by the University of Regina Press. Some of his other writing projects include the book McCauley Then and Now and a smaller booklet about Church Street. Gary has a Ph.D. in English and is the former editor of the Alberta Legislature’s Hansard transcripts.