Winnipegger Angele has a son in prison and it's something that is always top of mind for her.
"First and foremost, the victims need to be heard and received support from the justice system and from friends, family, and the communities," says Angele. "Prisoners' families, particularly their children, are often referred to as the hidden or the innocent victims of crime and incarceration."
Angele's son [who will remain nameless] has been in prison three times, which not only affects him but Angele and her daughter.
"The reality is that those in prison are also someone's children, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, friend, work, colleague, or neighbor."
Hurting People Hurt People
An incident took place when Angele's son was very young and she believes the criminal behavior stems from this.
"When he was just a preschooler at the age of three, he witnessed his father's suicide and has been angry ever since. You have to imagine that 30-plus years ago there was not as many counseling or mental health resources as there is today. This shook our family to its core and we were forever changed."
Angele shares that as a young boy, he was attracted to risk-taking behaviors and developed a rebellious streak. While Angele tried her best to encourage him in making better decisions, as a teenager her son became more rebellious and left home.
"He seemed to be hiding the truth about how he was living and I really worried about him. He was into clubs and the drug scene. Those life choices have consequences."
One day, after the police had come to Angele's house multiple times looking to arrest her son, she got a life-changing call.
"When he was twenty, I got a call from a legal aid lawyer telling me my son had been charged. We quickly learned how, as a family, we can be stigmatized too. The stigma of imprisonment can be very difficult for family members and friends. It can mean being treated negatively by members of the community, facing negative treatment or comments by colleagues, the media, friends, and even other family members."
Her son was sentenced to seven years in prison.
"Usually outgoing and cheerful, my daughter and I became reclusive and evasive, paranoid that the word had got out and more people would find out. Personally, I just could not bear the idea that people in my family, at work, and in our community, were talking behind our backs."
During that time, Angele would visit her son when she could or call to connect with him.
"Prison changes people. The person needs to survive on the inside and I mean that literally. I wondered, did he have good guards? How would or was he coping on the inside? I was never quite sure he was telling me everything that was happening on the inside."
After seven years, Angele's son got out only to be arrested for another charge and put back in prison after just nine days.
"We felt so raw. I could hardly speak about it for days."
During this time Angele and her daughter were cleaning out the garage. They stumbled upon a drawing her daughter created one year after her father's suicide. It was three people holding hands (Angele, her daughter, and her son) with band-aids on their bodies.
"It struck me that 20-some years later we were still doing the best we can, experiencing pain, experiencing some joy and some sadness in everyday life. In the process of continued healing, having faith, and living in and with hope. And yes, with a Band-Aid on our hearts."
Angele admits she struggles with forgiveness. Each time she sees her son she reminds him that he is not his crime and that he has strengths and qualities that can help him thrive outside of prison.
Hope for Angele and Her Children
Since her son was incarcerated she started volunteering with Future Hope.
"My involvement in Future Hope has been very beneficial," says Angele. "When I first read their book Two Steps Forward, it gave me a lot of insight and hope. I realized that without direct support from social groups it is terrifying and difficult for them to cope on the outside being active with Future Hope. Contributing time, energy, and support to the guys has given me much hope by helping others who struggle to make it on the outside. It has helped me to accept what is, is."
Angele hopes her son will see the potential he has outside of prison and be coached in a community setting that Future Hope offers that is helping incarcerated men become contributing members of society once again.