Deprived of a Fighting Chance

An Inside Look at Rehabilitation in a Canadian Detention Centre

Non-Fiction - Education
438 Pages
Reviewed on 11/02/2014
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Eduardo Aduna for Readers' Favorite

Nelson Mandela once said that a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones. Ghislaine Dean's novel shows us how one of the "advanced" countries in the world deals with its prisoners -and it's not a pretty sight. Rehabilitation clashes with punishment and inmates are given intermittent rays of hope while being stuck in an endless cycle of hopelessness and desolation. Ghislaine Dean's experiences were written with such emotional frankness that I found myself commiserating with her frustrations and celebrating with her whenever she encounters tiny triumphs.

Deprived of a Fighting Chance: An Inside Look at Rehabilitation in a Canadian Detention Centre is a beautifully raw and personal account of encountering ordinary people trying to do good things and being shut down by a bureaucratic system intent on keeping change, even if it is positive, to a minimum. It shows first-hand how being inside a detention center can distort the humanity of inmates, staff and guards; and reduce a supposedly rehabilitative facility into a melting pot of simmering hate and frustration that can only inevitably explode. Irritation and understanding clash whenever the correctional officers act more inhuman than the inmates under their charge. It is both sobering and frustrating to read each quote, each anecdote and each conversation about men and women trying their best in adverse conditions - only to be hindered by the very system that's supposed to help them eventually become productive members of society. I found my fists clenched while reading the chapter about Paul D. and my eyes wet when learning about the plight and determination of Farah H.

The novel shows how tiny glimmers of compassion, wrought by dedicated individuals, can touch the lives of the down-trodden and the desperate, and give them hope and motivation to become better than they currently are. With frank, no-nonsense prose that tackles a tricky subject head on, Ghislaine Dean's Deprived of a Fighting Chance: An Inside Look at Rehabilitation in a Canadian Detention Centre is one of those rare books that I would have no qualms recommending to everyone I know.

Jack Magnus

Deprived of a Fighting Chance is a memoir written by Ghi Dean. Dean was the education coordinator for a Canadian Detention Center for 2½ years. During that time, she was the liaison for volunteer tutors, the student-inmates and the Independent Learning Center, the Canadian agency in charge of adult correspondence courses. She operated out of a broom closet that did not lock and was cautioned to hide her telephone at night from the correction officers. Dean’s efforts to provide educational opportunities to the inmates were subjected to criticism by correction officers whose view of detention as a punitive process was in direct opposition to her efforts at education and rehabilitation. Dean shares a number of stories of her students in the center, the challenges they faced in getting their books, grades and exams, and the real-life changes that their educational experiences made possible.

Ghi Dean’s memoir, Deprived of a Fighting Chance, is a fascinating, if sobering, reading. While I read it, I tried to put myself in the place of the inmates Dean encounters, and found myself shuddering at the thought. The treatment of people, some of whom have not yet been convicted of any crime, as being evil and less than people was hard to read about, as was the author’s problems with the anti-education faction in the Correction Officers group. I was thrilled to read about the inroads so many inmates made while Dean was employed at the center and disgusted by the way the powers that be refused to let this brilliant and compassionate educator continue to throw lifelines to the drowning and lost who had found their way into the prison system. Deprived of a Fighting Chance is a remarkable and compelling story and is most highly recommended.

Anne-Marie Reynolds

Deprived of a Fighting Chance is Ghi Dean’s account of the time she spent working in a Canadian prison rehabilitation center. It’s a maximum security detention center and it’s a callous cold place to be – and not just for the inmates. Ghi has nothing more than a tiny room for an office and spent most of her time fighting red tape as the people above her constantly moved on and changed. At the same time, she was a teacher, supposed to be delivering correspondence courses to inmates and providing support to them. On top of all that, she was learning how a maximum security prison worked. Follow her footsteps for those two and a half years she struggled through, live her ups and her downs, and read about how she developed a plan for the education program. Learn about how rehabilitation works and the effect it has on life in prison. Learn how even the officers at the prison gained something from those rehabilitation programs.

Deprived of a Fighting Chance by Ghi Dean is a real eye-opener into the way maximum security prisons work. Many of us say that the prison officers have a cozy life but this account will make your blood run cold in places. It makes you realize just how difficult their lives are, how much red tape and bureaucracy they have to cut through every single day. Ghi has included some personal stories from inmates she taught in the prison and that lends even more substance to the reality of life in prison. Excellent book, a must-read for any true-story fan.

Faridah Nassozi

In Deprived of a Fighting Chance, Ghi Dean narrates her experiences during the two and a half years she worked with the Independent Learning Centre in a Canadian detention centre, helping inmates take courses to prepare them for their return to outside society. Ghi Dean gives a detailed account from her first day, and how everything she had heard about prison did not prepare her for the experiences she underwent during her work with the inmates. By taking on each inmate as an individual, she got to learn some of their life stories, their struggles, their desire to be better and how, in many cases, the system frustrated their efforts. Her story begs one main question: how can the jail system be improved so that it delivers the required punishment while at the same time ensuring that these inmates return to society in a better form than they were before?

Ghi Dean allows you to see the prison system through the eyes of an educator whose sole purpose is to change the inmates for the better, unlike the usual view of the inmates that we always get through the eyes of the prison officers or through society's stereotyped notions. If you have not been to prison, forget what you have heard, forget all the myths and theories about the inmates, the prison officials and the entire system. This book will give you a new look at the people behind those walls. The one thing that really stood out for me in Deprived of a Fighting Chance is the fact that not everyone in jail is a cold-hearted murderer who does not deserve a second chance in life or is unwilling to reform. For whatever reason they ended up in jail, many of these inmates are really willing to turn their lives around and return to society better people, but many times the system lets them down.

Maria Beltran

Deprived of a Fighting Chance: An Inside Look at Rehabilitation in a Canadian Detention Centre by Ghi Dean is a personal account of the author’s experience as Education Coordinator in a maximum security detention center in Ontario, Canada. The narration starts when she left a teaching job and signed a contract as an unclassified Rehabilitation 2 Officer with little or no training at all in her new job. What follows is a journey into the hearts and minds of prisoners and a serious look at a system that deals with society’s unwanted members. There are stories in this book that give us hope about humanity but, sadly, there is still so much to be done about the rehabilitation of criminals, not only in Canada but around the world in general.

Ghi Dean’s experience as an Education Coordinator in Canada is certainly worth the telling and this makes Deprived of a Fighting Chance: An Inside Look at Rehabilitation in a Canadian Detention Centre a very interesting read. There are many characters mentioned in this book, each with a story of their own, but it is amazing how the author is able to define their strengths and weaknesses - so much so that it is easy to empathize with most of them. Objective and written from the perspective of an insider, this is an informative and well-presented concept meant to change society’s preconceived notions about jail inmates, as well as open the eyes of those who are running the penal system to seriously look into the rehabilitation of these men and women who deserve a better chance in life.