This week the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan, United Way of Saskatoon, and many others are celebrating Elizabeth Fry Week! To get a better understanding and raise awareness about the important work the Elizabeth Fry Society does in our local community, we spoke with Executive Director, Sue Delanoy, about how they are working to help move people from poverty to possibility.
What does the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan do?
“The bottom line for us is thinking outside of the bars. We think that there’s too many women incarcerated. And the reason why it’s really good for us to have E-Fry week around Mother’s Day is to combat the stigma. People believe these women have done something bad and they should be punished, end of story, no empathy. But we can draw attention to the fact that majority of women incarcerated are mothers – they face a lot of mental health and addiction (issues), and face many poverty crimes – so are we really servicing women well by having them incarcerated? Are there alternatives?
When you think too about the correlation of how many kids are in care, because they’re separated from their parents who are incarcerated, I actually think it’s going to be worse than residential schools. We have way too many families separated, and the longer a family is separated the longer the chaos.”
What services do you provide to help these women?
“The work we do is before, during, and after (incarceration).
At any given time in this province we have about 400 women incarcerated. We visit you in jail and we’re the hope-builders, we give you resources – they can phone us toll free any time they want, we’re their advocates, we’re their link, we’re their hope, but the real work begins when they get out.
It’s easier working in the jail than it is out… the women will tell you it’s harder on the outside because they’ve got to learn how to live differently. The biggest thing we’ve done is we’ve developed a relationship, so they’ve come to trust us. They rely on us on the outside as much as they do on the inside. We try to mentor the women with experiential women, I have experiential staff who have been there done that , and (now) they are leading successful lives.”
A couple of the ones I’m able to see are my two staff members who I met in jail. When they get out of jail, we let (many women) volunteer and they wash the floors, they take out the garbage, do whatever, and we surround them in a cocoon of love. And then we found out that they had some really great skills… And (my staff members) success has motivated others’ successes.
Prisoners are mothers and fathers, and sisters and children, and they’ve done something wrong and we’ve decided as a society how to punish them… but with punishment comes corrections, and a new start. When you put a child in time out, the parent then explains to them what they’ve done wrong and gives them the opportunity to correct it. That’s what we should be doing in corrections.
We want to give you a hand up, not a hand out. And we’re here to listen to you and point you in the right direction.”
How does the United Way of Saskatoon and Area help support the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan?
“You’re really supporting our Tuesday night healing circle. We have women who are living in the community who are struggling with their health and wellness, their sobriety, their families, their challenges of reintegrating themselves into community, come every Tuesday night and we have anywhere from 15- 25 women… and they get a chance to just say ‘Hi my name is Sue and this is what my week has been like.’ It’s a chance to cry and to hear someone else’s story.
United Way for us is really important because the fact that we are a funded agency has leveraged us to have legitimacy… We do function and do something that really does make a difference in this community. It’s that chance to acknowledge something that the general public doesn’t want to acknowledge – we want to say people who have done a crime are bad and we should forget about them. United Way doesn’t. That connection about poverty to possibilities, people always ask ‘where do you start?’ And for me you start at the beginning, you start with strong supportive families. We just happen to have the mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmas who are away from their families. And yes they’ve done wrong, now what do we do about it?”
*Note, this information has been condensed and edited for clarity