Listen to Life Jolt, stories about women in the correctional system
The new CBC Podcast series, hosted by former inmate Rosemary Green, drops weekly until June
What's it really like inside a women's prison? How do you prepare for, and recover from, such an experience?
Life Jolt — prison slang for a life sentence — examines the lives of real women navigating Canada's correctional system. For a full year, the podcast team gained unprecedented access to the Grand Valley Institution, the federal penitentiary for women in Ontario. They followed women going into prison for the first time, spoke to lifers who have been there for years, and caught up with parolees as they left.
The show is hosted by Rosemary Green, a former inmate-turned-university student who has been out for nine years. As a guide into this world, Green offers crucial insights about the experiences of the women inside and the challenges awaiting them when they get out — not to mention her own stories of life in prison.
The nine episode series explores a wide range of issues from parenting behind bars to segregation to the over-representation of Indigenous women in Canadian jails.
Find Life Jolt on CBC Listen and your preferred podcast app, or bookmark this page for streaming audio, updated weekly as episodes drop.
Episode 1: The Before Times
The road to prison begins with a period of uncertainty and dread – the time between arrest and sentencing. It's before your day in court, before you've been convicted or acquitted. First time prisoner Diana learns that if you're lucky you get bail, and if you don't, the wait can be excruciating.
Episode 2: Welcome to Grand Valley
Grand Valley Institution is the federal penitentiary for women in Ontario, and it's where first time prisoners Diana and Emily will serve their time. It's where they learn the ropes of prison life and begin personal reckonings about the paths and choices that brought them here.
Music from this episode: Private Town from the Pros and Cons program
Episode 3: The Loop
For repeat offenders like Mary, the criminal justice system can feel like a never-ending loop. It's a cycle of crime and incarceration rooted in poverty, addiction and trauma. Mary learns how prison can feel inevitable when small mistakes carry enormous consequences.
Music from this episode: Falling from the Pros and Cons program
Episode 4: Parenting from the Pen
Prison can be especially difficult for mothers. They struggle with separation and guilt as their kids are raised by grandparents, partners, exes or worse - by strangers. Melissa was staring down a three-year sentence with a baby only weeks away. She thought the child welfare system was her only option until she learned about a program that allows mothers to raise their children in prison.
Music from this episode: Victoria from the Pros and Cons program
Episode 5: Inside and Indigenous
Indigenous people account for five percent of Canada's population, yet Indigenous inmates make up 30 percent of the country's federal prison system. For Indigenous women, the number jumps up 42%. We share the stories of Chance and Alison, whose experiences illustrate how decades of intergenerational trauma lead people to prison. And how for Indigenous offenders, finding a connection to their heritage is what may ultimately set them free.
Music from this episode: Broken Pieces from the Pros and Cons program
Episode 6: The After Times, Part 1
Surviving a prison sentence is only half the battle. Getting out - and staying out - can be just as tough. Emily was a successful entrepreneur before she became a drug mule. Now that she's out, she's ready to start over with a new prison-inspired venture, but first she has to tackle her relationships with drugs, alcohol and men. Diana faces the challenge of healing her marriage and her family.
Music from this episode: A Show of Hands from the Pros and Cons program
Episode 7: The After Times, Part 2
Hard reality begins to set in for Diana as her home life starts to crumble. Mary's hopes for freedom are derailed by her struggles with addiction.
Music from this episode: Dear Younger Me from the Pros and Cons program
Episode 8: Surviving the Hole
The hole, the shoe, segregation. Whatever you call it, many human rights advocates consider solitary confinement a form of torture. Rosemary recounts her experience in solitary – what she describes as the most difficult moments of her life, and how the experience haunts her to this day.
Music from this episode: Lost from the Pros and Cons program
Episode 9: Legacy
Prison isn't just painful for the person sent away. Rosemary left four children behind when she was locked up. She sits down with her two oldest twins for a difficult conversation about what her incarceration and absence was like for them. They talk about the challenges of being together after Rosemary's release and learning to trust that she wasn't going to leave them again.
Music from this episode: Carry Me Home from the Pros and Cons program
Life Jolt is produced by John Chipman and Danielle Carr. It was edited and mixed by Graham MacDonald.
Our coordinating producer is Glory Omotayo. Geoff Turner is our senior producer.
And Arif Noorani is our executive producer.