Images shared on the Women Helping Women Beadwork Instagram page show some of the beadwork that inmates at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley had been creating and were selling while incarcerated. Inmates are no longer allowed to sell their work out of the jail, and a petition has been started asking to see the program reinstated. Handout Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Just over a month after a popular beading program that saw inmates at a women’s jail create and sell beadwork was abruptly halted, a group of concerned citizens has started a petition asking that it be reinstated, and some are wondering why the jail put a stop to a program that they say has helped many women to build skills and confidence while behind bars.

In a letter addressed to Manitoba’s Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen, a group headed up by Sandra Burling and Charlotte Poitras questioned the reasoning for the changes to the Women Helping Women Beading program in early May. The group has also started an online petition asking that it be reinstated at change.org.

Before those changes went into effect, the program saw Burling, a Winnipeg resident, work with inmates housed at the jail to help them promote and sell traditional Indigenous beadwork that they created while incarcerated.

But in early May, Burling said inmates at the jail were told that although they could still do beadwork in their cells, it could no longer be sold outside the jail and that justice workers would determine what beadwork could and could not leave the facility.

In their letter, the group asks Goertzen and Lee why a program that was bringing some joy and sense of fulfilment to people who are already part of a “highly marginalized” population could not continue.

“By taking away their right to sell beading, not only are you depriving these women of a vital source of income, but you are also further marginalizing them and denying them the opportunity to break free from the vicious cycle of the justice system,” the letter reads. “It is crucial to recognize that many Indigenous women are already victims of systemic injustices that have disproportionately affected their communities.

“Restricting their access to means of support and programming not only undermines their progress but also erodes their hope for a better future.”

The group is also asking justice officials to consider how beading often brings Indigenous women closer to their culture, which can often be something that helps them work towards rehabilitation.

“Beading is deeply rooted in their cultural traditions, allowing them to maintain their identity and reclaim a sense of pride and purpose, even in the face of adversity,” the letter reads.

The province said the changes were put in place due to “health and safety” concerns but did not elaborate. During an August media conference at the Manitoba Legislature, Goertzen said there had been reports of assaults, intimidation and bullying related to the program.

“There were individuals who were being preyed upon in those ways because they weren’t beading enough, or they weren’t beading at all,” Goertzen said.

“There had become sort of an economy that’s grown up around this, and it was causing concerns and security issues within the facility itself.”

But in their letter, the group advocating for the women said that all the women taking part in the program should not be punished because of the actions of some.

“It is essential to acknowledge that the actions of a few individuals should not result in punitive measures against the entire population,” the letter reads.

In an email to the Sun, a provincial spokesperson said, “Manitoba Corrections takes the health, safety and well-being of all inmates in its care very seriously. The Women’s Correctional Centre (WCC) recently transitioned to a new model.

“The beading craft continued in the facility in a way that increased access for inmates free of charge, while alleviating inmate safety concerns associated with the previous program.

“Beadwork will remain the personal property of inmates and will be allowed to be sent outside of WCC at designated times such as Mother’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, etc.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 22, 2023 at 18:08

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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