Our Stories

There Was No ‘Other’ Anymore by: Debbie Ackley

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on There Was No ‘Other’ Anymore by: Debbie Ackley

There Was No ‘Other’ Anymore by: Debbie Ackley

On November 17, I read from Born from Silence at two penitentiaries in Gravenhurst, Ontario: Beaver Creek and Fenbrook Institutions during Restorative Justice Week. This year the theme was “Fostering a Restorative World View”. In three of the four readings with inmates and staff (held separately), the reading was done in a circle. I am so grateful to chaplains Harry Nigh, Eusebia da Silva and the chaplains of both institutions: Arn Main; Miles Schell and Abraham Yonas for inviting me to do this.

 It was one more layer of healing for me as the men and the staff listened to my story with attentiveness, openness and a willingness to “make room for my story” in the house of other own beings. I came home knowing something deep had been healed and transformed in me. There was no “other” anymore.  I, too, was able to take in filaments of story that they were willing to share with me. It was the first time my story had been heard in the “criminal justice system” and after four years this was one more necessary step in healing and restoration.

 On November 21, I also read in a circle at a Dismas Fellowship meeting, a support group for men and women released from prison. The experience was similar, but perhaps because I heard two other stories in more detail this time, I came away with their stories in the forefront of my soul. After many years of facilitating dialogue circles, this experience of reading my poetry in circle brought a new depth to my understanding of co-creating “safe containers” for shared story telling. Our world views are carried in stories. This round of story telling did one small thing toward fostering a restorative world view.

Debbie Ackley lives in Toronto where 4 years ago her teenage son was brutally swarmed and beaten by 15 other youth at a party in Rosedale. Only two youth were ever charged (one of whom was drafted to the NHL shortly afterwards) and with mistakes in collecting evidence no one was ever convicted. Debbie’s whole family endured this trauma. Her book of poetry, Born From Silence gives witness to her struggle to find meaning and hope. As she says, her experience of reading in Fenbrook and Beaver Creek was the first time she was able to tell her story within the criminal justice system.

“Unleashed” By: Rev. Harry Nigh

Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on “Unleashed” By: Rev. Harry Nigh

We gathered on a coffee house patio next to the soaring, abstract sculpture of a wind-filled sail beside Hamilton’s harbour. The sculpture is called “Unleashed”. It was here next to this sculpture that we scattered Charlie Taylor’s ashes on the waters of Hamilton Bay after his death 3 years ago.

On this day we gathered to mark the 15th anniversary of Charlie’s release from prison and to reflect on the all that has happened in its aftermath. 

In June, 1994, Charlie had just finished his seven-year sentence for sexual crimes against children. It was his fourth adult sentence for crimes against children. The tragic irony is that no one ever a served a day for all the times he was sexually assaulted when he was a child in care.

Earlier that winter I had received a call from Bill Palmer, psychologist at Warkworth Institution asking for support for Charlie on his return to the community because Charlie would serve every day of his sentence and would be released without any community supervision.

“Could you put him on a Mennonite farm?” Bill suggested as a new beginning away from the city in which he would always get lost.

I had known Charlie for many years through the M2/W2 ministry. Ed Vandenberg and John Aukema had befriended Charlie all through his sentence as his M2 sponsors. Les Horne had also known Charlie in his capacity as Child Advocate for Ontario.  Charlie loved Les like a father.(Click here for Les’ poetic tribute given at Charlie’s memorial service.)

In Les’ words, “The name he used for himself when he felt pampered was Chuckie, but it sounded so daft when he said it that nobody ever picked up on it. 

“The story of Charlie’s childhood and his history of institutional care is very familiar to students of child welfare.  He was an unwanted child in a troublesome family.  One of his brothers died violently in Kingston Penitentiary.  Charlie used to say that his brother had the mentality of a child of three and that the prison pipeline reported that he was killed by the staff.  He would get very angry when he discussed it.”

A Circle of Support?

The idea of a farm did not go anywhere so I responded to Bill by saying, “what if we created a Circle of Support for Charlie?” Members of my congregation and others volunteered their help in reaching out to Charlie. “We’ll call our group “Charlie’s Angels”; I suggested, and soon Les Horne, Murray Lumley, Dorothy Alexander, Beryl Stephen, along with a very supportive police officer, Det-Sgt. Bob Maxwell and his pro bono lawyer, Douglas Alderson became Charlie’s circle. Later Julie Bender, Rick Pauw, Rob Brown, Edgar Rogalski and, Eileen Henderson were vital members.


Remembering Chris-By: Eusebia da Silva

Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on Remembering Chris-By: Eusebia da Silva

May 8th

8:36am: Well, I’m sitting in the train station waiting for the ride to Brampton that leaves at 9:15am from here in Kitchener. Thank-you God.   (I feel lighter).

Well it’s 9:27am and I’m on the Via Rail, on my way to Brampton. I’ve always loved the sound of a train in the distance. You know, the whistle.

It’s really cool to hear the whistle on the train I’m on. Present, no longer off in the distance.  I used to wonder where the train was going.

Now, I’m on the train that is whistling, no longer in the distance, and I know where I am going.

This prose poem was written by Christine (Chris to all who knew her) in her journal just moments after leaving Grand Valley Institution on May 8th, 2007. They were read at Chris’ memorial service on November 27th to a group of friends who Chris had come to speak of as her “family”. We gathered in the basement of Walmer Baptist Church, in the same place where Chris had shared many a meal and sat in many a circle with her ‘Dismas family’ over the past two years. Together we remembered and honoured the life of our friend Chris who we had come to know and grown to love over the last two and some years.

Recently, a friend shared with me this wonderful Jewish saying: “What is truer than truth? Answer, “the story.” What follows is some of Chris’ story, yet her story is part of a bigger story… which is God’s story. Now that she has left this world, Chris is “no longer in the distance” no matter how far off that train whistle sounded at first, no matter how far from God she felt at any point in her life. The train that Chris was waiting for didn’t leave her behind… she was going home for Christmas no matter how long it took her to get there… we can listen for and love the train whistle as Chris did… wherever Christmas will take place for us.

There were a number of desires Chris expressed when she came out of prison in the Spring of 2007. I met her one winter day in the quiet room of Grand Valley Institution. In a small dark room with little more than a couple of places to sit, a bookshelf and a coffee table, Chris shared some of her story with me. She was coming out in a couple of months and her only connections on the outside were the staff at Ellen House in Brampton and her long time friend and partner Lisa.


Imagine: By: Donald Tremblay

Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Main Page Quotes, Our Stories | Comments Off on Imagine: By: Donald Tremblay

Imagine: By: Donald Tremblay

Imagine the world and all its complexities

Imagine the galaxies and all its intricacies

Imagine the universe and all its design

Imagine the intellect which is God’s mind

                                              By: Donald Tremblay

Yesterday’s dead tomorrow’s unborn By: Lindsay D.

Posted by on Apr 15, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on Yesterday’s dead tomorrow’s unborn By: Lindsay D.

Yesterday’s dead tomorrow’s unborn
So there’s nothing to fear
And nothing to mourn
For all that has passed
And all that has been
Can never return
To be lived once again
And what lies ahead
Or the things that will be
Are still in God’s hands
So they’re not up to me
To live in the future
That is the unknown
For the past and the present
We claim as our own
So all I need to do
Is live for today
And trust I’ll be shown
The truth and the way
For it’s only the memory
Of the things that have been
And expecting tomorrow
To bring trouble again
That fills my today
Which god wants to bless
With uncertain fears
And borrowed distress
All I need live for
Is this one little minute
For life’s here and now
And eternity’s in it.

New Heart Song By: Michele C.

Posted by on Mar 30, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on New Heart Song By: Michele C.

My heart song sings a melody that beckons from within

A thumping base that comforts me and draws me nigh from sin.

An instrument of Perfect Peace

The Truth, the Life, the Way.

A breath that birthed me in the womb

My song cannot betray.

Be still my heart and hear the tune,

My heart song softly plays

Feel its rhythms, sense its sounds

And ne’er be led astray…

ODE to Despair By: Donald Tremblay

Posted by on Mar 30, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on ODE to Despair By: Donald Tremblay

A voice cries out from a festering wound,

In a place of darkness, continual gloom.


Tortured souls, wails unheard,

A place of madness, a wretched world.


Those who delight in spiritual death,

Dignities denied, all rights oppressed.


Misery abides deep in it’s mire,

Emotional carnage, hate never tires.


Injustice rages, hearts grow cold,

Virtue has withered, empties our souls.


Compassion has ceased, loves heart has failed,

This hell is alive, it’s the Don City jail.

Bread for the Journey by: Adrian (Ed) Vandenberg

Posted by on Mar 30, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on Bread for the Journey by: Adrian (Ed) Vandenberg

Bread for the Journey  by: Adrian (Ed) Vandenberg

We will miss Jim. Also known as James Anderson, Jim had become a special part of our “family” and community.  He had a brutal past, and lived for most of his life on the edge of society.  He was haunted by the demons of addiction and abuse.  But he had become a special friend to those who knew him.  Among Jim’s qualities were his honesty, his quirky sense of humour, his love of animals, and his loyalty to the people on his “circle.”  He was a hard worker and would give his full strength any work that needed to be done.  Jim regularly help set up for our Toronto Dismas gatherings.  And he could be depended upon to help in many other ways.

I was therefore shocked to learn early Wednesday morning, June 17, 2009, that our dear friend’s body was found on the property of a furniture factory where he had been doing landscaping and yard maintenance.  He had been murdered. This day turned out to be an incredible roller-coaster-type of day, that led to some other unexpected events.  I will not go into the details, just that some of us who knew Jim well were also instrumental in talking the fellow, now wanted for killing him, to turn himself over to the police.  I want to tell you more about Jim and the days leading to his tragic death. 

I want to say more because there were some key signs that Jim didn’t pass away alone.  When Jim met me at my office a week earlier, I knew he was not well.  He had what appeared to be symptoms of blood poisoning.  He was about to be homeless again.  I urged him to seek medical help, and we managed to get an appointment with his doctor for the next day.  Then we talked about other things.  Jim had just been to the food bank.  I also had something for him in the office refrigerator – a loaf of communion bread from my church that we had been given the Sunday before.  “Would you like some bread, Jim,” I asked.  “It is communion bread from my church.”  Jim gladly took it for the journey.  We had no idea that he had only a few more days to his life.  This was the last time that I would see Jim.

Jim was not a church-going guy.  But I had come to know him as a person of faith in Jesus Christ.   Jim’s countenance would usually light up if we talked about faith issues or when I offered to pray with him.    One of Jim’s favourite expressions was “holy luck,” which was his definition of God’s blessing.  He could point out to many experiences of “holy luck” in his life.  He had escaped death many times.  But he knew that his “luck” in this area was running out. 


A short history of years of knowing Charlie by: Les Horne

Posted by on Mar 30, 2012 in Our Stories | Comments Off on A short history of years of knowing Charlie by: Les Horne

Its such a long time since we first met.

I was a traveling man.

My job was to journey the province inventing plans for impossible children,

the kind who cannot be helped.

The original word was “Incorrigible.”

Charlie was incorrigible but,  he was an adult and none of my business;

yet the obstinate persistence of a psychologist forced the system to pay attention.

Institutionalized at the age of three Charlie lived in a big warehouse wearing the label Retarded..

He was rejected but not retarded.

I’ve heard horror stories of abuse told by other children from Orillia.

Charlie relayed them with pain and embarrassment to explain the volcano of his anger.

They also explained his confusion about the meaning of the word Love: the meaning of Love and Sex. 

Sex was getting somebody to meet your needs.

He didn’t know then that love is caring for someone else’s needs.

Charlie grew up in institutions.

His education was institutional and very inadequate.

He learned that he wasn’t worth much but he never learned to read. 

He learned to survive deprivation but he never learned trust.

Charlie could trust nobody not me, not Harry, not John or Ed, his visiting “friends”.