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Jun21WedA life sentence isn’t the end of the story for three offenders at Greenfield House. June 21, 2017 by Kristin Ostensen
After serving 23 years in prison on a charge of first-degree murder, Wade has a list of “firsts” waiting to be checked off when he completes his sentence: Go to a hockey game. Get a cellphone. Learn to drive. Go bowling.
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Wade was first incarcerated as a young offender at 13 and has spent his entire adult life in jail. Now 43, he sits across the table from me at Greenfield House, a Salvation Army corrections residence in Moncton, N.B., ready to put that life behind him. “There’s a little bit of apprehension, but I’m not scared of getting out; I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “And I think that with help, with a place like this, I can’t be anything but successful.”
This is Wade
Located on the corner of a quiet street in Moncton, Greenfield is an unassuming facility, comprised of two yellow three-storey homes connected by a pedway. With 26 beds—22 for men and four for women—the house has quietly facilitated the reintegration of offenders since 1987.
“One of the best testimonies we have is that nobody knows we exist,” says Alex Greening, executive director, who has been with the house since 2001. “We’re serious about what we do.”
Greenfield may keep a low profile in the Moncton community, but it is well known among offenders.
“Guys are literally beating down the doors of their parole officers trying to take their program,” says Wade, referring to Greenfield’s Positive Lifestyles group for “lifers”—inmates serving a life sentence—which takes place at the house on Tuesdays (see below).
Wade was one of those guys. He has taken the Positive Lifestyles program twice—first in prison and then at Greenfield. From there, he started doing community service at Greenfield, helping in the kitchen two days a week, which was recently increased to five days while Greenfield’s full-time cook is on leave.
“As soon as I walked in the door, I knew that this was where I was supposed to be at this point in my life,” Wade says.
“The relationship you have with the CSC (Correctional Service Canada) is impersonal—they don’t want to get to know you, it’s more hands off. But here, everyone’s asking, ‘How are you doing? How’s your day? Do you want to talk?’ It’s surreal. All the lifers I know who have taken the program are blown away by the atmosphere here. It’s like, finally, somebody actually cares.”
Before coming to Greenfield, Wade was used to being judged by his long record.
“When I first met Alex, I said, ‘Look, I know my file reads like crap.’ And he said, ‘Hold on a second.’ He pulled out a blank piece of paper, held it up and said, ‘This is your file with us,’ ” Wade recalls. “He said, ‘This file means we give everybody an opportunity,’ and that’s never happened to me before.”
Wade is determined to make the most of it. When we meet, he has just finished preparing a light lunch for the residents—coleslaw, fresh-cut veggies, lunch meat and cheese. Staff and residents eat in the dining room together, chatting like friends. For dessert, there are chocolate meringue squares. “They’re really easy to make,” Wade smiles proudly, showing me the recipe.
Laid back and approachable, Wade is a long way from the violent offender he once was. For this change, he credits the psychological help he’s received in prison and Positive Lifestyles, which is led by Vincent Farrell, Greenfield’s chaplain.
“A lot of it comes down to Vince, the way he delivers the program,” Wade says. “Even though I’ve taken it twice, and I’m scheduled to take it again, I learn something different every time. It’s about how we’re all emotional people and it’s true—our emotions dictate every aspect of our life.”
This focus on emotional development is crucial, Greening says, especially for lifers who have suppressed their feelings for years. “They wear a ‘con code’ armour—they can’t show love, fear or loneliness,” he says. “That becomes normal and natural to them, and it’s hard to adjust after prison.”
When Wade is eventually granted day parole, he hopes he will be assigned a bed at Greenfield. “When I applied for community service, I wasn’t familiar with The Salvation Army’s halfway house,” he says. “It’s by the grace of God that I ended up here.”
Derrick and Alex Greening relax on the front porch at Greenfield
This is Derrick
It was March 28, 1994. Derrick remembers the night in bits and pieces, his memories obscured by drugs and alcohol. It was the night his mother’s fiancé died; the night he became responsible for second-degree murder. “I miss him very much,” he says, his soft voice full of emotion. “I wish I could take it all back, but I just can’t.”
Derrick has been living at Greenfield House since October 2015, while he is on day parole. As with Wade, he first came to Greenfield to do community service in the kitchen. But he has known Farrell much longer.
His journey to Greenfield began at Dorchester Penitentiary, N.B., in 2006, when he was called up to the prison’s chapel one day. He didn’t know who called him or why, and was pleasantly surprised to find Farrell waiting for him.
“We hit it off pretty good and then every time that he was in, he came to see me,” says Derrick.
“When I first met him, he never thought he’d get out,” Farrell recalls. “He was doing OK inside—not getting into any major trouble—but if he’d kept on the road he was on, he wouldn’t be where he is today.”
“They classified me as ‘institutionalized’ the first week I got in because I shut the outside world out. It didn’t exist to me anymore,” says Derrick. “My mental state was all over the place.”
This response to imprisonment is common—and difficult to overcome. “Especially with guys in situations where life has been lost—you lose yourself,” Farrell says, “and once you lose yourself, anything is possible.”
The key to overcoming institutionalization, he notes, is building relationships and changing the offender’s perception over time. “It’s coming alongside and listening, being consistent, having patience. Once the perception is changed, then the emotions will change and the actions will change after.”
“Vince would say, ‘You’re doing good. Keep doing what you’re doing. Stay positive. Keep going to the chapel,’ ” Derrick recalls. “He was so encouraging. He put hope in my heart.”
Between his relationship with Farrell and his three years of community service and work release at Greenfield, Derrick felt confident coming to the house on day parole. “It gave me time to get used to the place, to understand how everything works,” he says. “If they had put me out here without that, I probably would have ended up going back.”
Since his release, Derrick has found a full-time job at a bakery and started attending the Army’s Moncton Citadel Community Church, at the invitation of another Greenfield resident. As at Greenfield, Derrick immediately felt welcomed as part of the corps family.
“Majors Leigh and Vida Ryan, the corps officers, are just like a brother and sister to me,” he smiles. “It’s a hug and a handshake every time I go to church.
“They’re willing to give, to love, to share. No matter what situation a person is in, they’ll help him out,” Derrick continues. “That’s my church. I love The Salvation Army.”
Though Greenfield House and its employees are not allowed to proselytize because of government regulations, Greening knows that their faith sets them apart. “We don’t promote our faith; we live it.”
The house holds a short prayer meeting every morning at 8:30, bringing up to a dozen residents and staff together in the common room. On the morning I visit, some residents hover nearby, listening quietly in the dining room.
“They don’t have to participate, but they’re respectful, and that’s a good sign,” says Greening.
Becoming a Christian has helped Derrick leave the “con code” behind. “Years ago, if somebody had slapped me on one cheek, I would have slapped them on two cheeks,” he says. “I don’t do that anymore. I try to do unto others as I would want them to do unto me. That’s what the Bible says.”
It also gives him confidence about his future. “Putting my trust in the Lord and the right people got me to where I am today,” Derrick says. “I used to listen to the wrong people; now I listen to people like Alex and Vince, who have my best interest at heart.
“I don’t worry too much about things anymore,” he concludes. “I just leave it in God’s hands.”
Albert was once a resident at Greenfield. Now, he and his wife, Debbie, both work there
This is Albert
As Greening leads me to the third floor of the men’s residence during our tour of Greenfield, I can smell fresh paint. “Well, I can tell where Albert’s working today,” Greening smiles.
A former Greenfield resident, Albert is now The Salvation Army’s resident handyman. He is at Greenfield most weekdays, along with his wife, Debbie, who studied criminology and has been working there for about five years. “She’s a good worker and she loves it here,” Albert says proudly.
He lived at Greenfield for a year after spending 19 years in prison on a life sentence, but he and Greening go back much further. They met at Dorchester in 1989 and have stayed in touch since. Before Albert was released to Greenfield on day parole in 1999, he spent a year working at Greening’s photography business on community service. “Alex and his wife, Sheila, took me under their wing, big time,” he says.
Working for Greening was an important step in the reintegration process for Albert, who grew up in a fishing village in Newfoundland and Labrador. With roughly 72,000 residents, Moncton was a big change for him. “The best part was that I got permission to go out shopping with Sheila,” Albert remembers. “I got to see the town and got to know my way around.”
Along with the Greenings, Albert has a long list of people he remembers with gratitude for their support during and after his incarceration—the three preachers from his mother’s church who helped him reconnect with his faith, the Mennonite pastor who assisted him and Debbie in countless ways, the schoolteacher who taught him how to read, the corrections officer who helped him get on the path to parole.
Understanding the challenges lifers face, Albert does what he can to help. Five years ago, for example, he was instrumental in organizing transportation for inmates to attend the Army’s Monday night Bible study. “I had some lifers that I wanted to bring out to a Bible study at a church, but I needed a connection on the street. I asked Major Leigh, ‘Are you it?’ And he said, ‘I’m right on board.’”
Albert also employs one of Greenfield’s residents part time, and as his handyman business grows, he would like to eventually employ a lifer full time.
As he comes up on 20 years since he was released to Greenfield, Albert appreciates the support the Army provides to offenders like him. “Alex does good here, and I can’t say enough about Majors Leigh and Vida,” he says. “Greenfield, the corps—it’s all one to me. They all work together, and I’m glad I’ve had a chance to be a part of it and help out where I can.”
Led by Vincent Farrell, chaplain (left), Positive Lifestyles is offered on a weekly basis at Greenfield House, Southeast Regional Correctional Centre (Shediac, N.B.) and Dorchester Penitentiary.
Positive Lifestyles is a nine-session support group to help offenders develop life skills that will equip them for reintegration following their release from prison. The sessions are divided into three components: self-esteem, stress and anger (emotional component); mental fitness, loneliness and dealing with crisis and grief (perceptional component); and problem solving and goal setting, conflict resolution and addiction (action component).
With a discussion group format, Positive Lifestyles helps offenders take a deep look at their lives, understand themselves, find positive ways to deal with stresses and issues, and build relationships within the group.
The Greenfield Connection
In 1948, my family immigrated from Newfoundland to Canada, settling in Moncton, N.B., when our money ran out. The Salvation Army heard about our situation, and a young couple came to our assistance. They brought us food and made sure we had shelter. They were there for us at that critical time of our life. Over the course of time, we developed a relationship with them and we started attending the Army.
Five years after I started this job at Greenfield House, my sister came to me and said, “Did you know you were meant to be there?” She went on to tell me that the young couple who helped our family get on our feet all those years ago were Mr. and Mrs. Greenfield. This house was named in their honour. Being a man of faith, I believe there’s no such thing as coincidence. God put them there, at that moment in time, to help us, knowing that someday I’d be the executive director here. That’s why Greenfield House has such a special place in my heart.