A New Journey

Stacy, whose name has been changed for her protection, remembers the way she felt the day she was released after two years of incarceration.

Stacy, whose name has been changed for her protection, remembers the way she felt the day she was released after two years of incarceration. Her heart was pounding, her brow perspiring and her hands shaking. She wasn’t excited; she was scared. “I didn’t know anyone in Edmonton, or anything. You can imagine that would be scary after two years of being in jail,” she says.

But after being released, she walked down the stairs, towards the door, and realized she wasn’t alone. Berna Gudzinski, Federal Prison Liaison with the Bridging New Journeys program, was waiting for her. And for the next six months, Gudzinski was by Stacy’s side, helping her through many challenging situations that would come her way. “I was surprised by just how much Berna did for me. We’re friends, and nothing will change that,” says Stacy.

ECF granted $40,000 through it’s Community Grants Program to support Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton’s Bridging New Journeys program

The Bridging New Journeys program operates through the Elizabeth Fry Society and helps women to reintegrate into the community after having faced prison sentences. Members of the Elizabeth Fry staff help women make decisions that reduce risk factors of recidivism, replacing them with support and resources necessary for success.

“Each woman completes six pillars of success: basic needs, housing, employment/education, health care, support systems along with future goals and plans,” Toni Sinclair, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, wrote via email. Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) provided a grant to the society last year, to help ensure that the program, which has helped 120 women so far, continues.

For Stacy, that help came in many different ways; she learned how to create a resum, how to deal with the effects of her former addiction and how to prepare for parole. In fact, Stacy says, without the program, she may have even been deported. “Even though I’ve been in Canada since 1965, once you commit a federal offence, you can be kicked out,” says Stacy. To ensure Stacy was best represented, she needed a lawyer and despite many setbacks, Gudzinski’s determination helped her find one.

Gudzinski went with Stacy to all the meetings and was her support throughout the hearing. “I have no idea what I would have done without that support,” Stacy says.

“So many women serve a prison sentence and are released into the same set of circumstances that caused them to become criminalized in the first place. This is why Bridging New Journeys is important,” says Sinclair. “This program gives women the sets of skills and tools to overcome these risk factors and the connections in the community to have the best possible chance at success.”

Stacy’s life is completely different today than it was before she went to prison when she was addicted to drugs and had a very dangerous lifestyle. Now, she’s reconnected with her family, she has a full time job, and she’s been clean since 2010. She’s been able to stay away from the people who she used to associate with, and start a new life.