Albert Brown, correctional coordinator for The Salvation Army in Saskatoon, doesn’t have the easiest job in the world. He runs a rehabilitation course for clients of prostitutes, also known as “johns.”
“I have one day to help the men get past their denial,” says Brown, “and make them see the harm they are causing to prostitutes, their families, the community and themselves.”
Popularly known as “John School,” the alternative measures program originated in 2000 and more than 360 have taken the course. Since then, only five are known to have re-offended. “If the men don’t take ownership of their issues, they’ll be sent back to court to be dealt with,” states Brown. “Failure is not an option.”
The eight-hour day begins with prayer. “We pray that God will help the men lower their defences,” Brown says. “It’s not intimidation and it’s not shame-based. We’re here to help.”
After a brief introduction, police officials explain legal implications. “It’s not jaywalking,” adds Brown. “This is a serious criminal offence carrying steep fines.”
Police exhibit weapons confiscated from prostitutes. Former sex trade workers talk about sordid life on the streets and community health workers warn of the diseases that can be caught. None of the stories are pretty. There is no glamour to prostitution and they want to dissuade the men from any such notion.
Community residents explain what it’s like to live in a red-light area, where women can’t walk down the street without being accosted. They relate how backyards are routinely checked for used needles or condoms before children can go out and play.
After that, a former john discusses how he got into trouble, the implications that had for his family and how he’s struggled to put his life back together.
The most emotional part of the day follows when a couple speaks about how their daughter met a man at a local fair. Within days, she was working the streets. The parents’ nightmare lasted for years, never knowing if she was safe. Despite their love and best efforts, the daughter disappeared and her body was found a couple of years later.
Finally, there’s a debriefing where the men each stand in turn and explain the impact the session has had. By the end of the program, they’re emotionally exhausted and many are ready to change their harmful behaviour.
Graduates who meet the terms put in place by the Crown will not have a criminal record. For many, the course has also been spiritually life-altering. Until then, they had been in denial, angry and bitter, so they’re shocked when Brown tells them about God’s love. “Many are surprised that Jesus would even care about them,” he says. “I tell them that Christ has always been there, waiting for them to unclench their hands and take his.”