MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The do-gooders who do most of their good behind bars

BARRY BROADFOOT July 1 1969
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The do-gooders who do most of their good behind bars

BARRY BROADFOOT July 1 1969

The do-gooders who do most of their good behind bars

WHAT THE 8,000 do - gooding Canadians who belong to the Junior Chamber of Commerce believe in basically is free enterprise. Ironically, two of the most active Jaycee chapters are flourishing in the most unfree of all environments — they are inside two federal penitentiaries.

The move to sign up inmates as “jailcees” began in 1964 at the BC pen in New Westminster. Alfred Dunn, then local Jaycee president and now a national vice-president, decided prisoners could develop themselves by belonging to his self-help organization. Penitentiary officials were skeptical

but gave Dunn permission to sell the idea to the inmates.

One Sunday Dunn found himself standing in a gloomy hut on the prison grounds talking to 30 cynical convicts. “They were mostly hardrocks,” he remembers, “and it was like talking to a frozen wall.” When he had finished his pitch, there was silence. Then somebody asked: “Are you going to get us parole?”

“Right then I knew I had to lay it on the line,” says Dunn. “I told them we weren’t giving them anything. We were offering them an opportunity to help themselves.”

Twenty - seven prisoners agreed to join. Since then, in spite of some failures that Dunn attributes to weak leadership, the Bridgeview Jaycee chapter has gained strength. There are now more than 70 members and a long waiting list. The group prints its own newsletter, organizes Red Cross blood drives and supervises a safety campaign in the prison shops. Fortnightly meetings encompass seminars on public speaking, chairmanship and business-letter writing, usually with local business leaders as guest speakers.

Now the BC experiment has been copied by Dorchester Penitentiary near Moncton, N.B. There, “jailcees” have even held a Bosses’ Night — a traditional Jaycee ceremony — in this instance singling out several hospital staff and training instructors for praise.

Not all inmate do-gooders continue to do good after they are released. The first Bridgeview Jaycee let out on parole soon wrote some bad cheques and went back behind bars. “I guess we gave him too much responsibility,” says Dunn. “Like most people in prison, he was immature.”

But, he insists, there is a benefit to the majority of members. “They cope better with the outside world when they leave.” BARRY BROADFOOT