Halifax group prepares presents for prisoners

Each inmate at the Nova Institution for Women is getting a gift

Women who will be spending their holidays in prison will be receiving at least one gift this year.

The Halifax branch of the Elizabeth Fry Society is giving one gift to each inmate at the Nova Institution for Women.

“Often, we’re the only gift they’ll get,” says Emma Halpern, the society’s executive director. “Most of the time they really don’t get to celebrate the holidays.”

The Elizabeth Fry Society helps women who are currently incarcerated or trying to reintegrate into society. Halpern says there is added strain for women who are released from prison around the holidays.

“You’re coming out and you’re scrambling because you’re behind,” says Halpern. “You haven’t had the chance to get a bit of extra cash. Those families have a tremendous need for support.”

Along with the usual food banks and toy drives, Elizabeth Fry is also trying to ease reintegration during the holidays by offering a clothing room at their Dartmouth office. The room, which features a wide range of clothes for women and children, is open on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings.

Dawn Corkum, a housing support worker with Elizabeth Fry, says women being released can have an even greater need for clothes.

“When women get out from being incarcerated most of the time they have nothing,” she says.

Dawn Corkum, a housing support worker with the Elizabeth Fry Society, stands by a rack of shoes in their clothing room.   Jakob Postlewaite

The organization also has a family sponsorship program, where it matches the children of incarcerated or released women with a business or family that can help. Elizabeth Fry is sponsoring between 25 and 30 families this year.

The Elizabeth Fry Society was started in 1939 and works with women and transgender people who are vulnerable to criminalization or have already been criminalized. The society serves about 250 clients a year in the Halifax area.

The Coverdale Courtwork Society

Another society helping around the holidays is the Coverdale Courtwork Society. This society also works with transgender, non-binary and two-spirited people affected by the criminal justice system.

Ashley Avery, the executive director, says money isn’t the only concern for their clients at this time of year — mental health can also take a toll during the holidays.

“These issues are exacerbated around the holidays,” says Avery. “Especially if women are just released from jail.”

The society offers counselling services like workshops for healing trauma, women in recovery, and grief counselling. Avery says these workshops are helpful around this time of year.

Coverdale is also offering a few holiday-specific services. They have a drop-in centre that will have a day to give out gift bags with mittens, hats, gift cards and personal care items. They also offer four ways to donate to their clients: by adopting a family, hosting a donation party, donating cash directly or sending e-cards.

The society also plans to keep their offices open until Christmas Eve, so their clients can get the help they need, even if it’s at the last minute.

The Coverdale Society started in 1923 as an interprovincial home for young women. They provide assistance to women who are currently incarcerated or have been released. They also educate women on how to navigate criminal courts.

Jakob Postlewaite

Jakob Postlewaite

Jakob Postlewaite is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of King's College. He has worked as a columnist and reporter for the Cape Breton Post under his own byline. He also studies film at Dalhousie University.

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