A Winnipeg man who had been involved in prison ministry for many years recently found himself face to face with the man who drove drunk and crashed into his car, killing his wife on impact.
Louis Balcaen has been involved in prison ministry for the past 17 years in Manitoba.
"When you decide that you want to volunteer, you have to take training with Corrections Canada," says Balcaen. "I started attending chapel and after the service, they serve coffee. Some of the guys who attend the service will stay to chat."
Building relationships with men who are incarcerated is a process.
"It takes time to build trust and a relationship. It requires a lot of listening and building rapport."
When Balcaen started volunteering he met the chaplain who was a board member of Future Hope. The chaplain invited Balcaen to join them at the charity with aftercare and he says 'the rest is history.'
"If you're going to be a prison volunteer, you cannot judge. You're not going there to judge. The key component of my ministry there has been accompaniment."
When Disaster Strikes
In February 2020, Balcaen picked up his wife after volunteering at the prison to take her to dinner. A drunk driver struck their vehicle and Balcaen's wife was instantly killed, leaving him in an injured state.
"After a couple of months in the hospital and a few more in rehab, I was able to walk again. I'm happy to say I'm well recovered from that."
Surrounded by friends and family, Balcaen says the last two years have been a time of grieving and healing.
"When you have to face these life-altering experiences, you have to dig deep into your faith. That was my anchor through this, my faith."
Restorative Justice has taken on a personal meaning for Balcaen as he works with men coming out of incarceration. After this incident he had to go to court and face the drunk driver.
"One of the comments I make is, we don't realize how lucky we were to have good families. One of the common denominators I've found with many of these guys is, they have not had that. Quite often after they are born, they are put in foster homes."
Balcaen shares that it wasn't easy to face the man in court.
"That was probably one of the most difficult things to accept, that as I listened to his story, I recognized that he was fairly typical with men incarcerated, growing up without a stable family. For both of us, we were in pain. The driver was a man with a fiance with young children who had grown up in several foster homes."
Balcaen says the driver could recognize the harm that he caused Balcaen's family and his own.
"I forgave him. I don't think I would have if I hadn't had the experience I had volunteering in prison ministry. My family and his family are all victims."
After time to physically and emotionally recover from the crash, Balcaen has started up prison ministry once again.
"I'm very happy to have resumed our relationship. This is what we help our guys at Future Hope to do. Pick up the pieces and forgive self and others."
To hear more about Future Hope, check out their website.