Though her job description now reads Program Delivery Officer, Correctional Service of Canada, June Kaida says she is still very much the teacher who moved to Canada from Tanzania some 25 years ago.
"Actually," she says, "I'm probably more of a facilitator now. But I find that the skills I acquired as a teacher are invaluable in the programs I facilitate at the Edmonton Institution for Women." One of those programs-the Offender Substance Abuse Pre-Release Program-contains various elements like role-playing, group exercises and dilemma resolution, not unlike the activities you might find in a typical classroom.
The difference, says June, is that some of the people in the program, unlike school children, "have never been taught how to ask for help or solve problems systematically. In prison, they often see their problems as too big to solve or too complex for others to understand."
That's why another of the skills they practise in the program is how to say no. "Refusal skills are vital to overcoming substance abuse problems," says June.
While getting through the program is obviously difficult, getting into the program is no easy task either, given that 80 per cent of offenders at the Institution for Women have some sort of substance abuse problem. Selection, says June, is based on risk, need and how receptive the women are to treatment. "And each of the programs (June also facilitates the research-based Cognitive Living Skills Program) has a maximum of 10 participants."
It's not always easy to see offenders struggling to overcome such serious problems, says June. Nor does it help that many of the women she deals with are of Aboriginal descent while June is Black and originally from Kenya. Still, she says there a number of things working in her favour. One is the fact that because she's worked with women throughout her career, she feels more comfortable working with women than men. Another is that she's worked closely with Aboriginal women in the past. From 1983-1990, she worked at Blue Quills Native Education Center and from 1990-95, she worked in the Native Student Services Department at the University of Alberta.
"I believe I did a good job," she says today, "but there was one key hurdle I couldn't overcome. And that's the fact I'm not Aboriginal." While race proved to be an insurmountable hurdle there, it hasn't been an issue in the Correctional Service of Canada, says June. "I think that's because equality was already in place when I got here."
Perhaps that's why she describes the CSC as the best employer she's ever had. "CSC has given me a voice. They listen-and hopefully respond-to what I say."