A Canadian View: Freedom Behind Prison Walls

by | Nov 22, 2018 | Formation, Reflections

The Province of Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul started the Ozanam education fund several years ago, which provides grants to a candidate sponsored by a member conference. We have helped almost 200 candidates. One unique candidate was a man in federal prison for a life sentence. We have recently awarded a second grant to help this person, whom I shall call John, take an online course towards his BA in theology.

I recently had the opportunity to meet John for about two hours behind the prison walls that he will remain in for another 15 years before being eligible for parole. While there is no doubt that John committed a terrible crime about 9-10 years ago, it is also evident that he has found Jesus inside of the prison which has resulted in him joining the Catholic church to live his faith. He has become a person who has helped other inmates in their faith journey as well as being a supportive voice for those trying to find their way inside those cold walls.

While I sat in the small room with John, I did not feel any fears or anxiety but rather found the conversation to be engaging, honest and humbling. I spoke with a man who did something horrible but now exhibited a sense of joy and sincere love for others. There are many victims of a criminal act, whether the victim, their families or the families of the offender. John made no excuses for his act of violence and when I asked him what lead him to such an offence, he simply said greed…for money. The result of his action has been to spend a minimum of 25 years in prison and to lose all contact with his two small children. The final 10-15 minutes of our meeting were very emotional for both of us and we parted with a commitment to continue our correspondence.

This visit has left me with a strong commitment to do more regarding restorative justice and prison ministry. I have always opposed capital punishment and am pleased Canada does not allow it. In meeting with this prisoner, my opposition is much stronger as I have seen what a person, no matter how bad the crime was that he or she committed, can do with the rest of their lives, whether inside or outside of the prison walls. Perhaps the walls we build on the outside and live within, especially with our own pre-judgments of others, are walls that we need to climb or take down.

About the author:

Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.



Opinions expressed are the author’s own views and do not officially represent those of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Tags: Canada