Bails, trials, juries, hearings… all foreign terms to which I have limited understanding and experience. Today however, I was granted a new perspective. As I mentioned in the previous post, my friend was recently shot. More than just a victim, he is also being charged as a criminal, a rather common story for many in his community. And while he seeks to free himself of past wrongdoings and bad decisions, he finds himself caught in a web of complications to which the outcome remains unclear. As we waited for his case to be heard this morning, I chatted at length with his assigned police officer, a regular cop in the Lawrence Heights (LH) community – well known amongst both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ teams.
He described LH as a unique site of violence, explaining that unlike other neighbourhoods of its kind, there are no Lawrence Height gangs. If someone is shot or robbed, the police are never sure who is responsible. Of even greater difficulty, is that neighbouring gangs often enter and take aim at innocent by-passers as a means of threatening the entire community. To make matters worse, community members generally refuse to testify or act as witnesses in fear of their own lives. Consequently, regular shootings are part of the norm. According to my policeman friend, Lawrence Heights sees shootings every other day, most of which go unreported.
Outside the adjacent courtroom, a pack of kids, no older than 16-years, moved about. Never had I been so curious, what is it that brought them here? They all seemed nervous and I wondered what their lives might look like 10 years down the road. I heard the lawyer read my friend’s criminal record aloud, the first crime he committed was in 2001. It’s 2011 and he’s 27 years old. He has spent at least 200 days in prison over the past decade and I am certain that the Don Jail did nothing to set him straight. But now, my friend wants to start a business. He has customers, contracts and employees and he knows that this is his gift for change.
Employment is essential for ex-offenders to transition back into regular life and to keep them from returning to jail. It’s proven and we know it, if only Canada’s criminal justice system knew the same.