Programming Connection

Warkworth’s LGBTQ2S and friends support group 

Canadian Mental Health Association, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), PARN, PFLAG
Campbellford, ON
2016

Correctional Service Canada, along with PARN, PFLAG and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has been running an LGBTQ2S and friends group at the Warkworth Institution medium-security penitentiary for men since October 2015.  The idea came from an inmate who recognized the need for support.  He wanted to bring together LGBTQ2S folk and their allies to create a safe space where people could express themselves inside the walls of the prison. He proposed this idea to the infectious disease nurses at the Institution, Donna Davies and Susanna Tinney.  They, in turn, met with CSC’s Regional Manager of Public Health, Janice Thomson, to lay the groundwork for a proposal to the warden. After the warden granted support, things started rolling.

Donna and Susanna contacted PARN and PFLAG in early summer of 2015 to plan a workshop. That workshop was the first of its kind to be held in a federal prison. It was also an opportunity for the group to celebrate the creator of the proposal, who had since passed away.  A second workshop was set for November – this time involving the Gender Journeys Program at CMHA.

Stacey Love-Jolicoeur, who works for CMHA and identifies as a two-spirit trans woman, is now one of the co-facilitators, along with Adam Kelly from PARN and Dianne McKay from PFLAG Canada. They lead the one and a half hour-long monthly group session at the prison. The program began with about 12 inmates and now attracts around 22 inmates.  They talk about a range of topics, such as relationships, safer sex, mental health and other concerns raised by the participants.  “Some of the inmates are identifying as trans women and that’s a very hard thing for them being in an all-male institution,” says Stacey.

Every meeting starts by reading the safe space guidelines to set the tone. Above all, members of the group know that what they say is confidential and respected. People share their stories, watch videos and partake in exercises that address LGBTQ2S issues. Each session ends with a “checkout” where people discuss what happened in the session. Some choose to document their feelings, questions or concerns in a book that is always available.

 “There’s always new people who come and feel more comfortable to be their true authentic selves. And as people have that confidence and that comfort, they can start to feel free,” explains Stacey. “It’s about making life inside prison more livable.” 

The current success of the group at the Warkworth Institution is a result of an inmate who had the courage to speak, health services staff and a warden who listened, and community groups who came together to offer their expertise and resources.

To find out more about this program, contact Adam Kelly at adam@parn.ca, Stacey Love-Jolicoeur at slove-jolicoeur@cmhahkpr.ca or Dianne McKay at ladydi@nexicom.net.