Prisoner-rights group re-opens

“We’re brand new. We’re starting off like we’re a new baby”



Nunavut’s John Howard Society is back at work.

The prisoner-rights group fell out with the City of Iqaluit during the fall of 2004 and later lost its bingo licence, which was being administered by the city at the time.

But in October 2005, the organization received a new bingo licence from the Government of Nunavut, allowing the group to continue its programs.

That includes sending country foods to inmates from Nunavut serving time at Fenbrook’s federal penitentiary during the holidays. They also help pay for a program that allows inmates to send videos of themselves to their families.

Evelyn Chemko, a board member with the John Howard Society, said the organization has undergone a rebirth and is looking for new members.

“We’re brand new. We’re starting off like we’re a new baby,” she said.

Chemko, who works during the evening as a guard at Iqaluit’s RCMP detachment, says it’s important to provide support to men in prison, so they don’t return to their home communities carrying so much anger with them.

“It’s really important that the men receive help, so they don’t reoffend,” she said.

“If we don’t help the men, we can help the women and children all we want, but we’re not addressing the core problem.”

Two new programs are being run through Nunavut’s John Howard chapter, which both started with Chemko.

The first provides personal products for women held at the RCMP detachment while waiting to attend court. While working as a guard, Chemko said she often noticed women who didn’t have soap, shampoo, toothpaste, towels, or even clothes.

“I felt there was a need for it,” she said.

The second involves providing quilts to new single mothers at the Baffin Regional Hospital.

While this has little to do with prisoner support, Chemko explains that John Howard’s broader mandate is community support. Add the fact she’s an avid quilter who knows a number of women interested to help, and she said it just makes sense.

“This is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” she said.

Besides bingo, the group also has plans to tap into national crime prevention funds, Chemko said.

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