Human on the Inside

20 October 2015

Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth About Canada’s Prisons
by Gary Garrison
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Kris Brandhagen
$29.95 ISBN 9780889773769

Gary Garrison’s book Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth About Canada’s Prisons is a work of nonfiction that expounds upon different aspects of the prison system in Alberta, with some references to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Garrison was a volunteer (and subsequently a coordinator) of a program called M2W2 which places volunteer visitors with prisoners of the same gender. Garrison’s position “as a person with a community agency” is to be impartial, supporting convicts, guards, police, chaplains, native elders, victims, and potential future victims. From this point of view, he must let the reader know where he comes from, what he believes, and where he stands; therefore, in actuality, much of this book is, selflessly, and earnestly, about him.

Initially I thought that the book was going to go into gory detail about crime, but that’s not the bent here. There are few crimes that are actually briefly described within these pages. Garrison’s focus is not on the crimes themselves so much as the people involved, how they are affected, and how they go forward in life. The book begins with a gripping, fast paced introduction of several prisoners, not in terms of their crimes but in terms of their pasts. Initially, Garrison’s writing style comes across as meandering, yet it always pulls back in, revealing gorgeous metaphors that compare Garrison and other outreach workers with the prisoners. The writing is trust inspiring and enjoyable despite its oftentimes overwhelming subject matter.

Coming from a background of transcribing speeches and editing a government magazine about parliament, he confesses his initial doubts about whether he could write this book, which, by nature, has to be inclusive, can’t be judgemental, and must present many sensitive areas of its subject. The way Garrison does this is by including himself and his questions. He presents a suspenseful story about a boy who drops a large rock on a turtle’s back just to see what would happen. The turtle is injured of course, and the reader likely thinks it’s a story about a prisoner before Garrison reveals that the story was about him. This is one the many ways Garrison expands on his own feelings of guilt and shame.

It really is worth reading this book, especially if you are like me, and have little knowledge of “justice, crime, public policy,” as the book is labelled on the back jacket. It is amazing how comprehensive this book is. I suspect that it’s no easy feat to reveal these truths in smart, elegant writing that keeps the subject interesting, readable, and relatable to the average reader, but Garrison carries it off. The most impressive aspect of Human on the Inside is how earnestly it is written; the text does not come across as academic, nor clinical, nor institutional, but as a humble and personal account. Garrison respects reader intelligence with writing that is nuanced and designed for the reader to draw his/her own conclusions, which makes for an enlightening reading experience.


No Comments

Comments are closed.