“In some book I read, in the beginning of the book, it said, ‘There are no throwaway human beings.’ That really stood out for me. To me, that meant that all human beings are keepers,” says Constance Woloschuk. It was that spark of insight that led her to volunteering with The Micah Mission back in 2020.
The Micah Mission is a volunteer-led, restorative-justice non-profit organization based in Saskatoon. Its mission is to transform the lives of incarcerated individuals, those who were formerly incarcerated and their families.
It does this by “being tough on crime, one friendship at a time.” While The Micah Mission has many facets, its most notable volunteer-run programs are Person to Person, a penitentiary visitation program; and Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), a support circle for recently paroled sexual offenders.
Harry Harder of Pleasant Point Mennonite Church, near Clavet, Sask., started volunteering with Person to Person more than 14 years ago.
“I have always been interested in this kind of stuff,” he says. “I took criminology in college, so it had been a theoretical interest for a long time. But it was about 14 years ago that I said to myself, ‘I think I can volunteer with this now and see the real-life side of this.’ ”
For both Woloschuk and Harder, the decision to volunteer with The Micah Mission’s programs has altered how they see the world.
“Well, generally speaking, what happens inside prison is behind walls, and most of us don’t know what those people are like,” says Harder. “And we’re happy they’re there because we’re afraid of them. But their humanity doesn’t end at those walls. They feel the same aspirations, problems and yearning to be connected that we all want. . . . Volunteering opened my eyes to another part of humanity that I haven’t seen before. It’s another window on a part of the world that I didn’t know.”
It is the human connections that Woloschuk has made through volunteering that have made the biggest impact on her.
“Once, when I was driving, I heard this man, Brian Stevenson, being interviewed on CBC,” she says. “He is a lawyer for people on death row in the southern U.S. He wrote a book called Just Mercy, . . . and he said in the interview that, ‘We are more than the worst thing we have ever done.’ I was really moved by that, so I bought his book. And in the book he writes, ‘There is no wholeness outside our reciprocal humanity.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my God! If I’m not hopeless, then neither are incarcerated people.’ So, I got involved in The Micah Mission to visit someone who has no one to visit them. I knew this would be worthwhile. Because there are no throwaway human beings, they still need to belong, and to feel like human beings so they don’t reoffend. I feel that I know lots of really beautiful truths, but if I don’t live them, what’s the point?”
Harder encourages anyone who is interested in volunteering with The Micah Mission, or similar programs across Canada, to take the first step of filling out a volunteer application form.
“I think a lot of people want to do something meaningful and, if you come into this program, you see a part of the world you’ve never seen—racism, poverty, injustice—stare you right in the face,” he says. “Not that you fix it, but you will be exposed and be involved. It’s a very meaningful place to spend this retirement season of life.
“My feeling is that this is a place of consequence, important stuff, relating to people who don’t have access to all the stuff you do. This is real life for some people, and we need to know that.”
Woloschuk echoes the meaning she finds in volunteering: “Volunteering with Person to Person and CoSA, this is the most worthwhile thing I do. These two things, for me, are the most worthwhile, important things I do right now in my life. . . . When I think of the recovered graves of the Indigenous children from residential schools, we hear that every child matters. If you follow those dominoes, every adult matters! Everyone matters! Every life matters! Incarcerated persons need to hear that. We all need to hear that. How are you going to matter?”
For more information about volunteering with any of The Micah Mission’s programs, or serving as a board member, visit themicahmission.org. For more information about volunteering at one of the 15 CoSA programs across Canada, visit cosacanada.com.
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