Friday, April 17, 2020

No leavesies!

Halden is a 75 acre complex consisting of many buildings. It opened in 2010 and received the Arnstein Arneberg Award for its interior design. It facilitates around 250 guests.

Each 110 square foot living unit contains a private bathroom, TV, desk, mini-fridge and a tall window for plenty of natural light.

There are more than a dozen common areas each with fully-equipped kitchen, dining area, couches and a video game system.

The site also offers such amenities as sports and gym facilities, jogging trails, a library (books, films and music), chapel, English lessons and other education programs, counselling and even a music studio with broadcast functions.

There is also a fully-featured chalet guesthouse where a tenant can entertain their entire family for a 24-hour visit.

Staff areas are small and spartan because staff spend most of their time forming a community with the residents. It’s like a small village with a balanced focus on living, working and recreation.

Hmm... Are you wondering if this might be… the world’s most liberal prison or something! Well, I assure you there are no weapons here. No watchtowers, barbed wire or electric fences, and the only surveillance cameras are outdoors.

There is however a very big wall around the place and guests are confined to their rooms at certain hours.

Yes, it is a prison, widely considered the most liberal. It’s in Norway, and it houses inmates of the most serious and dangerous kind as well as a bevy of drug offenders. And yes Norway is in Scandinavia, that magical land where they are always decades ahead of the rest of the messed-up world in terms of social intelligence.

I was first exposed to Halden Prison in a Michael Moore film. It has the feel of a Canadian half-way house (I have visited such places in volunteer roles), as if the convicted have skipped prison and gone straight to a parole circumstance but without unescorted leave privileges. Halden Prison shocks a lot of people because a lot of people really have little clue how to think critically, quite frankly. Some people assume that they are somehow innately superior to convicted criminals as opposed to privileged benefactors of advantageous environment, circumstance and/or mental health. And some people assume that criminals deserve all the punishment they can get without realizing quite how bad they actually have it or how badly it aggravates and harms society when we bend more toward revenge as opposed to rehabilitation. The revenge model, rarely so determinedly celebrated than in the United states of America where incarceration has become a self-propelling Big Fucking Profitable Business, creates such a chasm between the convicted and the non-convicted and such barriers to re-normalization, that the so-called “released” have almost no choice but to seek the aid of their criminal associates whom the justice system has so eagerly afforded them, thus increasing crime rates.

But my god, how dreary I am of explaining this shit. I once worked in a Community Corrections Centre (a step between prison and half-way houses) and I can absolutely assure you that a slight majority of guards at this particular shit-hole were far more despicable human scum than most of the tenants. I would sometimes stare at certain coworkers in awe thinking I can’t believe you’re on this side of the glass.

To be fair there were some most-excellent human beings among the guards as well, and they have remained good friends.

The last time I checked: In a list of 223 nations Canada ranked around 85th best in terms of incarceration rate at around .107%. That’s about 32,000 inmates. Nothing to celebrate.

At all.

I think the nation of Liechtenstein had two at the time. Two whole inmates! I mean, it’s a tiny nation, sure. But two! Perhaps they’re simply the nicest people ever or maybe all their convicts are quietly murdered after a couple nights. I don’t know.

India was ranked about 12th best with around .03%

Norway, you ask? Around 30th best at .06%

The USA ranks a distant dead last with a staggering .655% or more than two million inmates. I’m pretty sure they are going about things the Wrongest Way Possible.

I saw how badly the Community Corrections Centre residents were treated in subtle terms; the environment, the policies, the vampiric management style (not so much the way they were spoken to in normal moments necessarily) and I started to understand how challenging it was for convicts to embrace rehabilitation efforts with sincerity. I could see how easy it would be to fall back on the criminal community for support; the community which gave them more respect quite frankly. The community which was pushed together by society’s determination to marginalize them. When I saw this I knew I had to volunteer. I knew how much better our helping hands had to be, than the alternative, in order to win them over to our side, and to the long hard road to attain a normalized life again despite all the barriers, many of them permanent.

A co-volunteer (and self-starting organizer) in this community, who once started out a brief inmate himself for frankly preposterous reasons, is one of my favourite people ever. I call him the Noble Punster. His life is now deeply dedicated to helping ex-convicts reach their potential in every way possible including spiritually, where applicable.

I had hardly known him on the occasion he asked me what I needed in order to get out of the very difficult circumstances life had squeezed me into at the time.

“Honestly,” I said. “I need seven hundred dollars for car repairs. I don’t know where I can get it.”

He wrote me the cheque on the spot, and was eternally gracious while it took me a year and a half to pay it off.

And today, for N day he requested:

Norwegian prisons

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