The Encourager Blog


Although the challenges faced by prisoners and their families are many and varied, much of what they experience can be wrapped up in one word, “institutionalization.”

The best definition of institutionalization I have come across so far, comes from the late Rod Carter, a man who served federal time himself, and pioneered the Restorative Justice course at Queens University in Kingston Ontario.  Carter defined institutionalization as, *"a gradual process of assimilation into the norms, values and expectations of the prison world."

 In other words, you get so used to being inside prison, you can't remember what it's like to be outside of it.  Carter says institutionalization occurs because of physical separation from society and the loss of contact with family and friends.  Factors promoting institutionalization include lack of privacy, loss of control over daily activities, prison issued clothing, different language, different rules, limited decision-making power, lack of responsibility and pressure to conform to the inmate subculture.

In response to the question: How did you cope doing time? Here are some answers I’ve heard:

Response 1: In there, it’s sort of a, "dog eat dog mentality." Being in good shape is going to be your best friend. I think everybody goes through that in there—because everyone has their own opinions and when you put everybody together it’s going to come out.


Response 2: I worked out and did a lot of drawing and painting. Ya…..when you have a lot of time on your hands, a lot of people don’t realize what they are capable of doing. I didn’t know that I could draw, paint and colour as well as I can. It prompted me to take a course at school. I took visual arts. That was a positive thing that came from it.  I drew, painted, and worked out.


Response 3: Doing time is kind of like being a parent. No one really teaches you to be a good parent, so you learn as you go. That was a challenge, especially being a former police officer. Let’s just say your life is in danger every day, depending on the level of the security of the prison. The danger varies depending on whether it’s high, medium, or low.  But you must be careful who you talk to and where you go every day. You must be on guard every day because someone’s probably thinking of harming you and killing you. I had lots of threats on my life. What helped me survive was my wife and unconditional love. She would say, “you did what you did but I am here for you.” But what she couldn’t give, the prison volunteers did. They were there for me. I put a very high value on volunteers.

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