Prison Networking

Updated: Apr 16

The relationship between prison chaplain Carl Wake and Jericho Road started many years ago. It was a simple connection between Jericho’s founder, Ray Desmarais, and Carl in the parking lot and foyer of the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) that branched into a lasting friendship and network connection between the two.

Carl began working at OCDC in April 1990, and knowing Ray Desmarais from his home church, Bethel Pentecostal, the two started chatting when Ray would visit inmates. While Carl doesn’t remember the specific details, he mentioned that Ray must have invited him to one of Jericho’s homes as a space to connect with his prison volunteer leaders. Through Carl’s regular prison networking meetings at Jericho Road, he was able to connect with the residents, developing those friendships further and maintaining that connection over the past 30 years. ---- When asked if Carl ever saw himself where he is today – 30 years into prison Chaplaincy, about to retire – his answer was a quick no. After high school Carl went to post-secondary for wildlife biology, and loved it. He even had a dream job before graduation studying lamprey on the Greatlakes. But in his own words “I looked around and felt empty. I couldn’t see myself up in the artic looking into the sex life of some bug for the rest of my life. That was eating at my heart.”

Once back in Ottawa, Carl was attending a Sunday service at Bethel and the pastor was talking about the call of God. Carl really felt during that service that God was asking him to go into ministry. Praying and asking for a sign, Carl received that through a heartfelt conversation between him and his father. His father had mentioned that so long as he finished his current schooling, they would support him on his journey in ministry. Fast forward a few years, Carl had to leave a congregation he had been pastoring at due to some complications with the church itself. He figured it would be easy enough for him to find another position and carry on – however, 7 months on Employment Insurance wasn’t what he was expecting.

It was around that time that Carl had heard some references to chaplaincy, which he had found interesting, and investigated further. The timing was perfect and “God didn’t waste a moment.” All of the experience he had acquired up until leaving his congregation were the requirements for the chaplain position.

Carls chaplaincy training started with pastoral education at the Civic Hospital, and when a position became available at OCDC he had applied. “I didn’t actually get it at first. But the first candidate didn’t last more than 5 months, and that’s when I was offered a position to be the duty chaplain in the francophone unit.”

Until the program dissolved ’97, Carl was working with 15 coworkers in an addiction program nestled within the correctional facility. It was one of the few things of its kind, and through that program Carl and his team developed friendships and rapport with inmates. Throughout the duration of the program, they were able to serve over 457 clients.

Other than growing up in the 60’s and the readily available substances during the time, Carl never had any personal experience with addiction in his life, but he says that he always felt comfortable in the environment. While it can be stretching, he never felt uncomfortable or in danger. He does find it interesting that someone like himself with no real prior addiction experience came to be the chaplain at an addiction program within a correctional center. “I felt like I could come in and offer spiritual help.”

---- Like those struggling with addiction, “Self-care is one of the biggest things I have learned through working with others. It is ok to say no, take a break, and say I can’t handle that.” Carl stresses the importance of talking through and vocalizing those high stress situations, and that in the prison system there are 10 different types of incidents that are considered critical. Himself and other chaplains would often talk to staff and officers about these incidents, providing time to check in.

He compared 2 personal experiences -a situation in 1995 where an inmate flipped out on him and later a car accident which ended with another correctional officer in a coma for 5 months. While both events were high stress situations, he is extremely grateful to his team leads for offering support and talking him through both, but especially through his emotional state as a result of the car accident.

“Our team leaders were good; they would not question when we needed time. They trusted us to take care of ourselves.”

Carl Wake and the prison networking group at Jericho Road.

He also goes on to mention that “I’m not essential. A saviour complex shouldn’t exist in these situations. Teams are in place for a reason, and we work together. Take care of yourself and you will last longer.”

A statement like that relates so well to addiction recovery – we aren’t always strong and confident, and that is ok. Knowing our limits in recovery allows us keep going longer. . “Talking about it and getting it off your chest helps the stress fall off, so you can move on.” ---- This month, in March, Carl retires from 30 years of working with inmates at OCDC. When he was reflecting back on his experiences, he always wondered why he never got good marks in biology, even though he loved it. Yet when looks at his time in Bible College and seminary, he was the top male student in his class, every year. He has a gift. He knew he had a calling for chaplaincy and pastoral care.

When asked about his retirement goals, first and foremost he wants to spend time with his two grandchildren. But he also envisions keeping his network and community active in inmate care. He truly has a heart for others, and I know that we here at Jericho Road are grateful to the connection we have with Carl, and how that will look even after his retirement.

Carl leaves us with 3 points that he says he can apply to any situation in his life.

  1. This is God’s work.

  2. Know your institution.

  3. There is a long memory in corrections. Think before you act.

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