rEview/ Human on the Inside

Local author and poet Gary Garrison goes inside the walls of the Edmonton Institution to listen to the often unheard voices of maximum security prisoners

BY PAULA E. KIRMAN

Gary Garrison's Human On the Inside is as much about some of what goes on behind locked doors as it is an exploration of human nature. 

Gary Garrison's 'Human on the Inside'

Garrison, a local author and poet who is the former editor of the Alberta Legislature's Hansard, took part in a volunteer program where he would visit with inmates at the maximum security Edmonton Institution. He talked to convicted murderers and sex offenders, particularly those who would not normally get any visitors. Through deeply personal discussions about his own life, Garrison strives to show how getting to know those who are different than us can expand our own insights into our lives. 


Or are they really that different? Garrison shows how particular sets of circumstances and choices led the inmates to be where they are, while he could have ended up like them had things been different for him along the way. The book reads like a memoir at times, and Garrison demonstrates how these prison visits changed not only the people with whom he met, but he himself. 


At the same time Garrison's experiences with the visiting program leads to some harsh critiques of the prison system. He is an advocate of restorative justice and explains the challenges his group faced, particularly when it came to physical entry into the prison. 


Written in a conversational voice, this work of creative non-fiction should appeal to people interested in social justice and the correctional system. Though published by a university press [University of Regina Press], it is not academic in tone although valuable in classes dealing with the justice system and corrections. It is a fascinating look at a section of the population often disregarded because of their actions, but who are as human as their victims and, indeed, as all of us.

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