Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Prisoners have rights too

Because we live in a country that still adheres to the principle of respecting human rights -- that is, the rights of all human beings -- we are expected to treat all people humanely. I, for one, believe this is a good thing and indicates that we are a civilised society.

Yet, even though we have standards when it comes to respecting human rights, we often seem to slip when it comes to the treatment of those who dwell behind bars.

Today is Prisoners' Justice Day, and I can't explain it any better than this small excerpt from a webpage about the day. It explains that it is:
...the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily -- victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

...the day when organizations and individuals in the community hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

...the day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison for protecting themselves against their abusers. This makes it obvious that the legal system does not protect women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners. the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Natives, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons. Prisons are the ultimate form of oppression against struggles of recognition and self-determination.
The shirt pictured in the image above is from Matsqui Penitentiary, an institution where I sometimes take part in writing workshops. It was a gift from one of the men in the program.

I understand that this year, the men at Matsqui weren't allowed to sell the shirts they've made, nor were they permitted to wear them. A small violation of rights, perhaps, but the denial of small rights only leads to the erosion of other ones. But then, all of this is easy for me to say because I live outside the confines of those walls.

For an eye-opening look at life 'inside', check out I. M. Grenada's weekly blog, The Incarcerated Inkwell. It's well-written and a great look at a very different way to have to live one's life.

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