Respite and Solace for Prisoners and their Families

Meredith Egan, Quaker Concern

Winter 2009

Springhill, Nova Scotia is wellknown as the home of icon Anne Murray; a productive source of geothermal heat (extracted from the abandoned coal mines), and Springhill Institution. On the outskirts of the town on the way to Springhill Institution is a home called “Spring House”. When you enter the back door, a sense of quiet calm, of welcome and safety pervade. In summer 2007, Vince Zelazny, John McKendy (both of New Brunswick MM) and myself visited Spring House where we shared a meal with Sr. Christina Doyle. We conversed about the house, St. Luke’s Renewal Centre inside the walls of Springhill Institution, and fundraisers held in snowy February in PEI.

In the early 1980s, Judy and Rev. Pierre Allard and Rev. Dr. Charles Taylor dreamed into being the
Christian Council for reconciliation (CCR). This charitable organization is responsible for running both St. Luke’s, and Spring House; Quakers Fostering Justice (QFJ) offers small annual grants to support this important work. The relationship between our organizations is nurtured carefully and is meaningful to us.

Spring House offers hospitality for families and friends of prisoners while visiting Springhill Institution. Because this prison, like many others, is in a fairly rural community, services for families are sparse and expensive. Often friends and families must travel long distances to maintain contact with those who are incarcerated; Spring House is often described by guests as “a home away from home”. It was staffed by the Sisters of St. Martha of Prince Edward Island until the recent retirement of Sr. Christina; currently the role of hostess has been taken up by Millie Munn, a volunteer with CCR. She and her husband, Walter, offer both spiritual nourishment and hospitality to all who visit.

St. Luke’s Renewal Centre is unique in Canada in that it is a spiritual retreat house maintained within the walls of a federal prison. Springhill Institution is a medium security prison with a rated capacity of 450 men. The Renewal Centre has six bedrooms and can accommodate up to five inmates for overnight programs. A wheelchair accessible washroom and ramp make the centre completely barrier-free.

The most popular room in the centre is the meditation room–an all glass room looking out over the hills of Cumberland County. The room is furnished with a very comfortable easychair, positioned so one can sit in the chair and gaze over the fence at the hills. Men speak of finding freedom for their spirit to imagine a new way of being.

Programs are offered to prisoners in a setting where there is quietness, opportunity for reflection, and meaningful conversations with the Facilitator and resource people. There is also opportunity for reading and watching resource materials–and even cooking a meal. This “time away” is especially important for long-term prisoners as it allows them to remove themselves from the routine of the Institution for brief periods of time. In effect, it encourages the participant to step outside of the prison environment and outside of the prison persona he may have become. This enables contemplation–similar to the vision early Quakers had for prisons when they advocated for prison reform.

In this time, when the current Canadian government is encouraging more punitive measures in prison, it is an honour to support this important resource with its unique spiritual work. We hope this is a model for spiritual support that can be spread across Canada.

Meredith Egan is the
Programme Coordinator for
Quakers Fostering Justice, and a member of Vancouver MM.

Much material for this article was cultivated from CCR’s Executive Director
Peter Hoar, and their website, <www.CCRprisonministry.org>

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