|Susan Love & Adina Ilea|
By Erin McCracken
The day the doors to David’s prison cell slid open and he was free after spending five and a half years behind bars for sex crimes against children, he was given a one-way ticket to Ottawa and placed on a bus.
Armed only with expired identification, a little cash earned inside prison and two boxes and a bag containing his few possessions, David arrived in the city with limited prospects.
The challenges he faced reintegrating in society were enormous. There would be hurdles in finding a job and stable housing, securing money and proper identification and abiding by strict supervision rules that kicked in upon his release.
“It had been almost six years,” said David, speaking under a pseudonym to protect his identity. “It was overwhelming. Scary, because you’re coming out into society and it’s open, it’s freedom.”
“So it was difficult at first, but eventually you blend into it.”
The key to blending in, in part, proved to be two smiling women who met him at the bus stop as planned, – his first introduction to a surrogate network of friends and family who wanted to help him rebuild his life, and in the process, ensure he would not reoffend.
They are among more than 50 volunteers with Circles of Support and Accountability-Ottawa, one of 20 CoSA programs across Canada through which 500 volunteers are helping nearly 200 high-risk, high-needs sex offenders reintegrate in society after prison.
“At first I didn’t know what to do. I have no social life,” said David. “There was a bit of boredom, a bit of loneliness, but I was able to talk to CoSA about it.”
Each week, he met with his group of four volunteers to talk about his issues, and spent one-on-one time with each of them by going out for coffee, or watching a movie.
They provided him with friendship and support, referring him to services in the city that could help him.
Positive social supports, experts say, combined with sexual-behaviour counselling and treatment, are key to ensuring former offenders such as David do not fall back into their old patterns, leading to more victims.
After almost a year with CoSA, David seemed to be doing well. He had stable housing at a halfway house for ex-inmates and was taking part in a counselling program there. He had found work.