Education program for Manitoba inmates helps give hope for life after incarceration

STONY MOUNTAIN, Man –

A program giving inmates a chance to get an education while serving time in Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution is looking to expand, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.

It’s called Walls to Bridges and has been running in Winnipeg since 2014.

It brings instructors and students from post-secondary institutions across Canada inside the prison walls where offenders join them to study together.

Some of the incarcerated participants have been impacted by historical traumas, such as the residential school system and faced social barriers accessing a post-secondary education prior to their prison sentence.

“I believe it’s my job to break down those barriers and turn my life around even though I am where I am today,” said Larry Duck, a 31-year-old inmate at Stony Mountain who recently completed the 12-week course.

The program builds on the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program in the United States and is offered in Manitoba through the University of Winnipeg.

It’s a program that’s helped Duck, who is serving a 15-year sentence, earn actual university credit hours so he can further his education upon his release.

“My plans are to take Aboriginal Studies to start learning more about our culture,” Duck said.

While the in-person courses at the prison have been on hiatus due to COVID-19, the program continued to run during the pandemic at Stony Mountain with a maximum of five inmate participants through phone and video conferencing.

Before the pandemic, the classes would usually have eight inmate students and eight university students learning together, something Stony Mountain hopes to start again this coming fall.

In Winnipeg, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) said eight instructors are trained in the Walls to Bridges program, offering courses in conflict resolution, criminal justice, English and urban and inner-city studies with others in the works.

The costs of running the program have been covered through student bursaries.

CSC said the University of Winnipeg has completed 11 courses at Stony Mountain and is hoping to increase the number of classes offered and the number of participants.

Sharon Perrault, the executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, which helps men in institutions and the community, supports the initiative.

“It gives them hope for when they do come out that, ‘Hey I am going to be doing something productive with my life but now I also have a support system out there that I’ve connected with before I’m released.’”

It’s a program Duck said he hopes to use as a stepping stone to help give back to his community one day, outside the prison gates.

Walls to Bridges first started in Canada in 2011 as a partnership between Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener and the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The program has also offered courses in Manitoba at the Women’s Correctional Centre. 

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