Down Inside: a glimpse into Canadian prisons

Robert Clark provides insight into his 30 years working in correctional facilities

Thousands of citizens are incarcerated in Canadian prisons every year, housed in over 200 different facilities. In his new book, Down Inside, Kingston author Robert Clark offers a glimpse into the realities of life behind these closed doors.

Clark spent 30 years of his life working in different positions and at various locations within Canadian correctional facilities.

Clark had originally set out for a cathartic experience in writing down the tale of his life. When he started to put pen to paper, however, he soon realized his work was so much more than a simple memoir. Clark had finally found a way to introduce the general public to the Canadian prison system and all its controversies, publicizing his unique, inside perspective that many people would never have otherwise been given.

“I’m very anxious for people who read it to take it to heart and see what needs fixing,” he said about his intentions for the book.

Clark was keen on emphasizing his views on how inmates should be treated with respect instead of with any intent to be “tough on crime.”

Even as a guard in a prison gymnasium, Clark found to receive the best results from his inmates, he had to approach the situation with a friendly and easy-going disposition.

“Treat them like human beings,” Clark said.

His goal in the correctional services wasto make inmates better people after having spent time incarcerated, something he felt could be achieved through this respectful temperament.

Clark believes good people can commit terrible crimes. In his time spent working in maximum security prisons, or lower security facilities, he found most of the inmates to be kind-hearted and good-natured.

“From my point of view, the safest way to rehabilitate is to create a humane and respectful environment,” he said.

Clark also stated that inmates don’t respond well if insulted and that many correctional officers take a more “mean-spirited” approach to the inmates. It’s something he considers more dangerous for all those involved.

While Clark doesn’t notice a pattern or any specific type of person that applies to work in prisons, he also remarked that it’s very easy for this type of job to change a person.

“Every day can seem difficult,” he said about his work.

Though he believes many of his colleagues subscribe to the notion that they’re taking revenge on the inmates for their crimes, Clark doesn’t believe guards should be making prison tougher than it needs to be.

The media’s typical portrayal of inmate life doesn’t necessarily help the situation, either.

Clark says he isn’t surprised that the majority of Canadians know very little about what goes on inside of prisons, considering there are no realistic depictions of what it’s actually like on the inside in popular media and television.

In some ways, his book acts as a response to this lack of awareness and these false portrayals, sharing a first-hand account of his personal experiences working in Canadian correctional facilities.

Clark described several prisoners he had met in maximum security prisons and seen again some 20 years later, in lower security but still incarcerated.

He commented on how it was interesting to see how they aged and that, despite their crimes, Clark still had hopes these prisoners would do well.

“We would joke about the old days,” he said.

With the release of his new book, Clark hopes the prison system similarly leaves some of its more controversial aspects in the old days. 


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