The Unlikely Philanthropists

28 Feb, 2013

Inmates have raised $129,000 Over Two Years for Charities

More than 130 Canadian charities have benefitted from upwards of $129,000 generated over the past two years by some of this country’s most unlikely philanthropists—federal inmates, many of whom are serving life sentences for murder and have limited opportunity to earn money yet choose to give away what they have to those less fortunate.

It may come as a surprise to many Canadians just how much time, effort and expense prisoners expend throughout the year giving back to the communities they let down in one way or another.

From a $4000 donation from inmates at Fraser Valley Institution to the Bowls of Hope Society of Chilliwack, BC, school lunch programs, to the Exceptional People’s Olympiad hosted annually for the past 36 years by Collins Bay Institution in Ontario, documents obtained by Postmedia News through access to information laws show significant contributions involving both cash, goods and time.

John Chaif, an inmate at Ontario’s Joyceville Institution who is serving a life sentence, helps coordinate a lot of the charity work that goes on at the mediumsecurity prison.

Noting many people who end up behind bars were ‘pulled off the streets’, he said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that inmates want to help the needy.

“It’s an interesting illusion that people who are in prison are no longer members of society right? It’s not true,” he said in a telephone interview. “One of the misconceptions is that because a person does a bad thing, they’re a bad person and they don’t care about other people and that’s just not always the case. People have compassion and look after each other even inside the walls. So of course that spreads out into the greater community as well.”

According to the documents, inmates across the country have raised money for local food banks, kids sports teams, they’ve sponsored families for Christmas, fostered children through international aid organizations and contributed to numerous charities like the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Habitat for Humanity, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Children’s Wish Foundation, the Humane Society, the Hospital for Sick Children, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Boys and Girls Club.

The medium-security Leclerc Institution near Montreal which is slated for closure, hosted disabled people on multiple occasions around Christmas and Easter to ‘allow prisoners to be in contact with people who are different from themselves’, according to documents detailing the initiative. The visits allowed inmates and their guests to share a meal and included the exchange of gifts as well as a donation to the organization itself.

Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said she’s heard of female inmates banding together to help one of their own. In one case, women pooled their funds to help a fellow inmate whose child needed a wheelchair. In another, an inmate’s husband needed a motor scooter due to complications from diabetes.

Inmates are also putting their skills and talents to work for others. Through the ‘Garden Project’, inmates in New Brunswick “worked hard in preparing, planting, weeding, cultivating and finally harvesting our vegetable garden throughout the summer,” according to a memo. The harvest yielded 2,434 kilograms of vegetables that were distributed to food banks in their community.

Source: The Montreal Gazette


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