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Service learning on the inside

Changing the conversation around employment for ex-HMP inmates

Teaching and Learning

By Michelle Osmond

The Workin’ It Training Fair at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) is an annual event where community organizations and training partners spend the day speaking with inmates about career and employment options once they’re released.

Second-year doctor of medicine (MD) students Matthew Downer, Josh Lehr and Madison Lewis participated in the most recent fair, learning about how the facility functions, greeting inmates and hearing first-hand about the issues that contribute to poverty and social challenges.

Faculty of Medicine, students, service learning, global health
From left are Josh Lehr, Madison Lewis and Matthew Downer.
Photo: HSIMS

Community effort

The fair is a partnership between HMP, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the John Howard Society N.L. and the Community Employment Collaboration.

Elayne Greeley is a co-ordinator at the Community Employment Collaboration in St. John’s. She is also part of a research exchange group with the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research.

Along with Dr. Jill Allison, co-ordinator of the Faculty of Medicine’s Global Health Program, she is co-convening a group called Service Learning in Community Engagement and says she is always looking for opportunities to connect the university with things going on in the community.

“It’s changing the conversation around employment within that population.” — Elayne Greeley

Dr. Allison and Ms. Greeley jumped at the opportunity to give students a chance to learn and gain insights on how employment impacts health, meet community career and employment staff and see the services available after inmates are released.

“The whole purpose of the training fair is to create hope and planning for the individuals because, as you can imagine, everyone inside has worked before and when they come out, they will work again,” explained Ms. Greeley.

“It gives them the opportunity to think about whether the work they’ve done has contributed to where they are or whether it’s been a positive or negative component of their lives and whether going back to school is where they should focus or doing different training. It’s changing the conversation around employment within that population.”

In the name of learning

The MD students helped as greeters, asking questions such as what kind of work the inmates did in the past, what kind of work would they like to do in the future, who they would like to connect with at the fair, have they finished school and would they like to do more training.

“Although some were dismissive, some were really determined to make a positive change upon finishing their sentence,” said Mr. Lehr. “Many of them expressed their gratitude for us being a part of the fair and giving them hope and encouragement.

“It was useful to learn about what’s available to inmates upon leaving prison and I like knowing more about my community and organizations in the city,” he added.

Ms. Lewis agrees.

“When inmates get released from prison, they have nothing. Some of them have trouble finding money or getting a job. As a future physician, I will be dealing with members of these populations. If I choose to practise as a physician in St. John’s, knowing about these resources and organizations will help me provide better care to my patients.”

Mr. Downer also felt it was a tremendous learning opportunity.

“It was a fantastic way for us to be able to engage our community here in St. John’s, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this learning experience.”

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