Inmates learn life skills for an increasingly complex digital world

Written by Oscar Baker

Oscar is an award-winning multimedia reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation and St. Augustine, Fla. Winner of the David Adams Richards award for non-fiction writing for The Violent Ones. Follow him on Twitter @oggycane4lyfe

March 28, 2018

It’s back to school for some Indigenous prison inmates who are learning critical thinking skills to help them navigate an increasingly complex digital media and financial environment once they are back in their communities.

Ashley Nash and Karen Paul, who lead the Adult Learning and Literacy branch of New Brunswick’s Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) recently held workshops at Dorchester Penitentiary for minimum and medium security inmates to introduce them to digital and financial literacy skills.

“Every aspect of life now is very digitized so its important for that reintegration,” said Nash, adding that some of the inmates haven’t sat in front of a computer since the old Commodore 64 days of the last century. “I believe we have made a large impact on the lives of Indigenous people in New Brunswick by helping them to gain or enhance their skills on all different levels.”

Nash, who is herself a graduate of adult learning programs, says for some inmates culture shock will be intensified by the vast changes in technology that have happened while they have been incarcerated. The workshop taught participants how to use Internet search engines, format resumes and much more. She’s hoping after talks with Correction Canada the courses can be offered for longer periods of time and more frequently. The program has been around for four years and the next steps is to secure funding to enable JEDI to offer it to former inmates as well.

In the meantime the adult learning and literacy courses still service First Nations communities across New Brunswick. The courses teach reading, writing, numeracy, thinking growing, documentation, lifelong learning and computer use. Nash said the internet connection in some communities can be a problem, but watching the students learn and grow is well worth the effort.

Statscan reports that one in four inmates are Aboriginal despite the First Nation population only accounting for three per cent of Canada’s population.

Jonathan English the Atlantic director of faith-based non-profit Prison Fellowship Canada says the chances of inmates reoffending are high without proper supports, such as financial and digital literacy training. 

“I think without the three pillars, employment, housing and a healthy community the chances of reoffending are somewhere around 70 per cent,” said English. “So a lot of (inmates) made their living through illegal means. A tax paying job is different, so learning to manage money for them and their families is needed.”





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