It’s a peaceful drive along the forested road to the minimum security prison Kwìkwèxwelhp. A sign bookended by two colourful totem poles greets visitors as they approach the entrance. Barbed wire and the buzz of security cameras are startlingly absent, replaced by butterflies flying lazily in the late summer heat, and the clacking sound of grasshoppers - hardly what one expects when hearing the word “prison”.
Called the “Healing Village,” the minimum security facility is the only one of its kind in British Columbia. Home to 50 inmates or “residents,” the facility is located in the heart of the Chehalis Indian Band’s traditional territory, 140 kilometres east of Vancouver and high in the mountains of Harrison Mills. The Healing Village aims to reduce the ratio of Aboriginal offenders in custody through incorporating holistic traditions and teachings of Aboriginal people and elders.
Trinity Western University alumnus Terry Hackett is the Warden of Kwìkwèxwelhp. The 34-year-old Regina, Saskatchewan native has been working with Correctional Services Canada (CSC) for 14 years. He was first exposed to corrections while attending a career fair at TWU and soon began working part time in the system while he was still a student.
Graduating in 1998 with a BA in psychology, Hackett has filled multiple roles with CSC at a variety of security levels such as correctional officer, parole officer, and Member of the Emergency Response Team, but nothing could truly prepare him for working at Kwìkwèxwelhp. Recalling his initial thoughts upon working at the Aboriginal-focused institution, Hackett says, “It was a humbling experience and an opportunity that was new. I had a big learning curve not just as a warden but in this new environment where we do things differently. I had to do a lot of listening, a lot of understanding on what the challenges were, and rely on the staff and the elders to come up with solutions.”
Kwìkwèxwelhp employs three elders to work with the residents. A Community House (longhouse) has also been built and functions as a place for sacred ceremonies and meetings. There is also a traditional sweat lodge, healing garden, and a cold water bath site in the river on the property – hardly a tough iron bars facility.Hackett explains why the Healing Village is so different from other institutions saying, “It’s connecting the offenders to their culture. Allowing them to heal on a variety of levels, mentally emotionally, spiritually and physically. Each offender that comes here has a healing plan that is developed with the elders and with the parole officers, and it deals with the four areas of the medicine wheel.”
The percentage of Aboriginal offenders is high in Canada.About 20% of those incarcerated are Aboriginal. According to Kwìkwèxwelhp, the main focus of the village is “to promote positive change by providing a safe, secure and respectful community atmosphere based on holistic Aboriginal teachings.”
Says Hackett, “Some inmates (coming from other prisons) get institutionalized or stuck in a routine and our biggest thing is to get them into a routine that reflects community rather than one that reflects prison. Because when you go out into the community you’re not waking up at 7:00am because breakfast is made, here we are really focusing on life skills and the residents are responsible for their choices and decisions.”
Residents at Kwìkwèxwelhp learn job skills such as culinary arts training, traditional food processing, horticulture, heavy machine operation, and sawmill training. They can receive secondary and post secondary education, and have the opportunity to work alongside the Chehalis First Nation with the projects they are pursuing for their community.
“Our number one goal is public safety and making sure that each of these guys has every tool that they can utilize so that they do not reoffend,” says Hackett. “When they leave the mountain they not only have the skills internally but they have the job ticket and certification to say that they are ready to go to work. And that’s what we all come to work for.”
Hackett will soon be moving on from Warden to the position of Director of Correctional Operations, Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, where he will be taking the knowledge that he has learned with CSC and transferring it to the peace-building and reconstruction missions in Afghanistan.
Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is a provincially chartered, independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university, enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 42 undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include nursing, counseling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.
Last Updated: 2009-09-04