A paved road is surrounded on both sides by trees coated in snow.
COSA Photo Club

This photo was taken by Chuck as part of the CoSA Photo Club which is comprised of core members, volunteers, and friends. Creative activities like this do wonders for bringing new energy and direction for everybody involved.

Restorative Justice Week, the third week of November, is a celebration and promotion of restorative justice around the world. This year, MCC is releasing a special two-part restorative justice story on Undercurrents, MCCO’s podcast that tells stories from our local programs. The story is about Chuck,* a man who was charged and convicted with possession of child pornography. It’s also about the people supporting Chuck his father John,* his therapist Andrea and his Circle of Support and Accountability (CoSA). CoSA is a small group of volunteers plus an MCC staff person who support a person (called a ‘core member’) in their re-entry to the community after finishing a prison sentence. Here is a special sneak preview from those episodes of Undercurrents featuring excerpts from the accounts of each of these people.

*Content warning: this story contains references to child pornography. We don’t go into detail, but please take care as you read.

Chuck, Core member: There was no question. I was guilty of my crime and I wasnt going to ever even contemplate, uh, not pleading guilty. When my lawyer presented me with what the Crown was going after as far as sentencing goes, it’s, um, they were proposing six to nine months.

And I knew I needed therapy and a lot of therapy. I knew I needed help. I knew that, uh, Im going to jail as much as it is as a punishment, I just wasn't going to be getting the help I needed.

Chuck had heard good things about the Ontario Correctional Institute, or OCI as it’s called. He knew about its thorough psychiatric and therapy-based rehabilitation program for Ontario male offenders. The problem was that Chuck’s potential sentence of six to nine months was at risk of being too short to qualify for OCI. So Chuck did something very unusual: he asked for a longer sentence.

And it was, it was a hard decision. I mean, to ask for more time, I was really scared to go into jail. I knew it wasn’t going to be a good time.

For many, being charged, convicted and sentenced to a jail term has a tremendous impact. This crisis can be a ‘wakeup call’ that draws people into seeking greater understanding of themselves and their patterns of harmful behaviour. They then search for new meaning in their lives, sometimes finding spirituality to be helpful in walking a new path forward.

Rick Pauw, MCC Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) Associate: Spirituality is at its best when it’s transformative. And when are people most transformed by spirituality? In times of crisis.

It’s amazing with core members [the person who is re-entering community after finishing their sentence] how many of them talk about finding God or finding Jesus, so many of them it’s been when they’ve been in jail.

... It’s not for me to forgive somebody who has abused another. Its a whole other question. Its for me to understand how to support the core member in their struggle to deal with what they did, and to maybe ask more challenging questions and to do it in both a meaningful and rich and often really painful way, because without those conversations, theres a lot of continued burden of shame and unworthiness and not feeling like a real human being which doesnt help them then work towards a healthier and safer future.

[Talking about their offense] can give them a sense of relief, and [it] can almost give them a sense of their humanity back.

- Andrea Bevan, therapist.

Andrea Bevan, social worker and therapist: I dont use the words evil and that type of thing when Im working with people [but] I have fellas that will use those terms. We do explore, “Is that fair? Is that compassionate towards yourself to think of yourself as an evil person?

Some of the guys I work with have this really long history of self-loathing and this really destructive relationship with their self.

Chuck falls into this category. After a lot of therapy, he has identified several traumatic incidents with his peers from when he was around 12 years old that were sexual in nature and contributed to his poor mental health and depression later in life. We won’t unpack that here, but it’s worth mentioning because, to paraphrase addictions specialist Dr. Gabor Mate, “The first question is not ‘Why the abuse?’, it’s ‘Why the pain?’” This is where therapy can truly be life-changing.

Andrea: You know, I generally find, even for some of those folks, that when they come in to even talk about something where they haven’t had that opportunity before, it can give them a sense of relief, and [it] can almost give them a sense of their humanity back. It’s an opportunity to sit down with someone and to be able to talk about this stuff and to be proactive and to talk about strategies and all of that stuff. You know, it takes it away from being this entity thats sort of uncontrollable and needs to be all that they identify with.

CoSA has made a significant difference for our son.

- John, father of Chuck.

John, father of Chuck:

Recovery, I think, goes hand in hand with a personal commitment that he has to have and self-discipline that is still, I think, developing. And it will take a lot of perseverance to do that.

Ultimately, John speaks with a sense of guarded hope, not just for his son, but for others like him, who have struggled for years in silence.

John: These people would come out [after finishing their sentences], they need new connections, new interests, new spiritual awakening and support from people they respect. The people running this organization [CoSA] need a huge pat on the back for what theyre doing, because it has made a significant difference for our son.

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Chuck’s hope is that in sharing his story, we can, through confronting tough questions and facing our fears, prevent future victims and create safer and healthier communities for everyone. He also hopes that fewer people have to go through the pain he and his family did. People should not have to offend and be charged in order to find help.

Chuck’s story will be released here or wherever you listen to podcasts on November 17th and 24th. Please subscribe so you don’t miss any episode.

*Pseudonyms used for privacy consideration.