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Dispatches From Burnside, Episode Nine: Where would we be without El?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
"Probably the only reason I haven't picked up a murder charge while I'm here is because El was there to really hear and understand my anxieties." [Photo via facebook]
"Probably the only reason I haven't picked up a murder charge while I'm here is because El was there to really hear and understand my anxieties." [Photo via facebook]

By Phoenix

BURNSIDE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NOVA SCOTIA -- El Jones in Halifax may be known to most as the poet laureate, a university professor with scintilating cadence like no other. Her epic poems tell a deep and intricate story, woven together with an artistic flair rarely seen in human format. Her works epitomize the exception to the rule that poetry is boring.

If you've ever been to the Alexander Graham Bell museum, you will know that the work of a genius stands way beyond what he or she becomes known for. In this case, El Jones is no exception.

Perhaps her most powerful contribution to society is one which most in her position would be loathe to even contemplate. For years now, El Jones has been striving relentlessly – and at her own expense – to intervene in the lives of prison inmates.

It has been said that a society may be judged by the way it treats its prisoners. This might also be true on an individual basis. If so, then it is worthy to note that El has helped to positively redirect a number of inmates and offenders, both in and out of jail.

She is always there, at any hour of the day or night, to be a supportive voice providing empathy for both sides of an issue. A lot of crimes happen because the offender has nobody there to help them sort through a difficult experience, and resorts to drugs or violence in frustration of it all. Having been struck at Burnside for four years, I can speak first-hand about this. I didn't even commit the offence they charged me with – a supposed car accident – which is even more frustrating.

Rest assured, I want to lash out because of it. The justice system has completely destroyed all of my contributions to society and left me an angry shell of a man. Probably the only reason I haven't picked up a murder charge while I'm here is because El was there to really hear and understand my anxieties.

I don't have any family to fall back on. In fact, I'm now certain they're behind the incident that left me with broken bones and got me locked up in here. So to be able to call El is some sort of miracle that I never foresaw.

This doesn't come cheap for her either. Each phone call costs her over a dollar fifty, and she is always topping up her pre-paid account every couple of days, so that she can be there for people in need, helping to redirect towards more positive behaviours.

Burnside certainly encourages anti-social behaviours. On top of the mere fact of incarceration, there are countless violations of inmates' rights. The people running the place set the example by not even following their own rules. El Jones has been working towards ameliorating these problems from the outside by reporting on it and making frequent trips into the jail to provide creative writing seminars for the prisoners.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to purposely go into jail, just to help someone in there. El doesn't even get paid for this.

Somebody's got to do it though. Somebody's got to be that shining beacon of hope and a positive role model for people who have made poor life decisions in the past.

In the end balance of things, the unjust irony of intervening in the justice system is that if you are successful then nothing happens. It is hard to measure the value of all the crimes that weren't committed because of El's influence. Logic may suggest that this is the case, but it certainly requires a lot of faith on El's part to keep this up day after day.

For that I am truly thankful, and so should all society give a big, heart-felt, 'thank you', to this deeply compassionate woman. We could all use a little more faith in our daily lives.

El may be slight of stature physically, but spiritually she is greater than that statue they want to put up in Cape Breton. The government should save their money on that eyesore and give El Jones an honorarium so she can continue her work in this province.

She is truly one provincial treasure that you can't afford to lose.

End of Dispatch.

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