‘Part of my healing journey’: Women involved in correctional centre beading program want it back to normal

Former participants and current supporters of a beading program at the Women’s Correctional Centre (WCC) are disappointed with changes to the program they say will hurt inmates who rely on it.

Ericka Fiddler and Mary-Ann Sawicki both spent time at the correctional centre in Headingley. While there, they both participated in the program that taught beading to women.

They each said being able to learn beading was therapeutic and helped their time in jail.

“It just gets my mind off everything and it actually really helps me centre myself and ground myself and I just like making really nice stuff for people,” said Fiddler, who added she is still beading to this day.

“It just became part of my healing journey afterwards,” said Sawicki. “When I’m going though a hard time, I can bead and it takes my mind off of all of that. And it helps with gaining my culture.”

As part of the program, the women were able to send their work off to be sold, with any money made going into their account or being sent back to their family – whatever they wanted.

“It helped me a lot because when I was in jail, I lost everything I owned when I went to jail,” said Sawicki, adding the program really helped her. “When I got out, I had money. So I was able to go buy myself clothes and stuff.”

However, that will change, as the province said the correctional centre is switching over to a new model.

“The beading craft will be continued in the facility in a way that will increase access for inmates free of charge while alleviating concerns associated with the previous program,” a government spokesperson said in an email to CTV News. “Bead work 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.”

For Sandra Burling, she said learning about the change was upsetting and disappointing. She runs Women Helping Women Beadwork, the initiative that would take the completed beadwork and help sell it.

“The purpose of the project was to enable women when they get out to maybe have their first month’s rent or maybe buy themselves and iPhone or get an outfit or whatever it would be. There was nothing suspect about we were doing,” said Burling.

“It’s almost like they’ve made it feel like it’s a bad thing. You know, whereas, this is an opportunity. These women are busy. They are productive. They have pride in what they’re doing. They’re in touch with their culture and their traditions. And, I mean, I don’t see how this is a bad situation.”

Fiddler feels this could be a big setback for a lot of women in WCC.

“Jobs are so limited, people don’t have family that support them like that. I know for a fact, like myself. I didn’t have people sending me money. I couldn’t pay for phone calls. I couldn’t buy stuff off canteen that I needed,” said Fiddler. “Taking that away from people is just pushing them back.”

Sawicki said she thinks this change will do more harm than good.

“I feel like personally for me, if I would have gone out with nothing, I probably would have went back to the same kind of life and selling drugs, stuff like that. But because of beading, I don’t do that anymore and I feel like I earn money in an honest way now,” said Sawicki.

The debate made its way into the Manitoba Legislature Monday, which led to an exchange between NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine and Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen. Watch the entire debate here.

The province told CTV News the transition to the new model for the program will happen in the coming days.

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