'They owe this': Farm work gives convicts and victims of violent crime a chance to heal
On small farm in Mission, B.C., offenders and victims have something to offer each other
By Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja, CBC News Posted: Oct 24, 2016 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 24, 2016 1:42 PM ET
As a rule, in Canada we keep incarcerated offenders and victims of crime apart. But on a farm in Mission, B.C., they work together. The idea is that offenders and victims have something to offer one another.
Offenders work six-hour shifts at the 3.2-hectare farm — known as Emma's Acres. They come from two nearby minimum security prisons: Mission Institution and Kwikwexwelhp Healing Village for Indigenous men, 140 kilometres east of Vancouver. In the past year, 20 offenders have worked on the farm.
John has been in prison for most of his adult life.
"I get up at 5 o'clock every morning because I know I am coming out here. I ain't done that in 35 years," says John, an inmate at Mission Institution serving a life sentence. John says he doesn't want to draw unwanted attention to his victims, so he asked CBC not to use his last name.
'It's just something I can't undo.'
In March 1985, during a blizzard in Toronto, John, left, and two accomplices pretended their car had broken down. When a Good Samaritan stopped to help them, they robbed and killed the man. John pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life.
"It's just something I can't undo," he says of his of crime. "Something I got to live with, the victim's family has got to live with. A mother lost her husband. A kid had to grow up without her father."
Prison cut John off from the outside world.
John continued to be violent in prison, and for 20 years, he was held in special handling units and had limited contact with the outside world.
"I watched a maple leaf blow in over the fence one day. One guy stabbed another guy over that leaf. Just so nice to have it, to feel it, to touch it. Two guys argued over the leaf, one guy got stabbed," John said. "He got stabbed pretty bad, too, over a leaf."
Ray King, whose son was murdered by Clifford Olson, is a regular on the farm.
The promise of the farm is that it can help both convicts and victims of crime get to a better place. Ray King has been coming to the farm since 2013. In 1981, King's son, Ray Jr., 15, was murdered by serial killer Clifford Olson.
"I come here, and all there is here is life," he said. "All I have been dealing with since 1981 is death, and it's such a welcome change."
John and Ray have an unlikely friendship.
John and King spend time together over lunch. The first time King went to the farm, the offenders thought he was one of them, he said.
"Helping them helps me," he said. "The biggest thing is my change in attitude towards these guys who have made a mistake, and they understand that and they are making up for it — or at least trying to."
'We are gonna keep going until we make this work.'
Every morning, as the sun rises in downtown Mission, Glen Flett waters the city's hanging baskets. Flett's up at 3:30 a.m. to get the work done before he heads to the farm. The farm was his idea. He and his wife, Sherry, began clearing the land in 2013, and it's been operating ever since. Flett pays for it with money he makes watering, selling produce and whatever grants he can get. Flett says it's hard to come up with the $100,000 a year he needs to keep the farm going. "We almost lost our home and stuff, but we are gonna keep going until we make this work."
Glen Flett was an inmate himself.
Flett and an accomplice murdered Ted Van Sluytman, 40, at a Hudson's Bay store after a robbery in Toronto on March 27, 1978. Flett was convicted of second-degree murder and served 20 years in prison. He's been out on parole since 2006.
Flett says meeting his victim's daughter changed his life.
In 2007, Flett met the daughter of the man he killed. He says that allowed him to fully understand what he did, and ever since, he's been trying to make up for it as best he can. "I am not living in my guilt; what I am living in is my best. This is my best," he says about the farm. "Sadly, it took that tragedy to bring me to where I am today."
Working the farm is a way of giving back.
"I don't know if they deserve this; I think they owe this," says Flett about the offenders who come to the farm. "This is not about, 'Oh, gee, aren't you getting a break.' This is about giving someone else a break."
"What happens when you lock people in jail forever is they start thinking they're victims. They're not the victims."
'This is home for me now.'
John's next chance for parole is June 2018. "This is home for me now, and I made up my mind, this is gonna be me for the rest of my life," he said. "My dreams are out here."
Watch the full documentary on Emma's Acres
Top News Headlines
- Laura Babcock murder trial jury to begin deliberations tomorrow
- Women who accuse Trump of sexual misconduct call for Capitol Hill investigation
- The fight over free speech at universities comes down to the question of the purpose of higher-ed
- Suspect, 3 others injured in 'attempted terrorist attack' at NYC transit hub
Latest Canada News Headlines
- Calgary election polling failures caused by 'perfect storm,' research firm says
- 'Tis the season for doorstep stealing? Shoppers vent about delivery security
- Linesman Vaughan Rody celebrates 1,000th NHL game in Winnipeg
- 'He got away with everything': Woman says court cared more about abuser's future than her safety
- Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor suffers gunshot to the face while out trapping
- Police release images of man seen with Tess Richey shortly before she was killed
- What the case of a man who vanished in the Village 23 years ago can tell us about Toronto's missing
- Sydney man thanks couple who rescued him after dramatic 1986 crash
- Location, location, location: How your health-care coverage is linked to where you live in Canada