by Rikki Fryatt, Clinical Counsellor, EFry
“Starting next week, you’ll be facilitating a parenting group in the prison.” My director’s words fell heavy onto my ears. My internal response was squeamish avoidance. My stomach clenched. My heart raced. During my past three years working as a clinical counsellor within EFry, I’ve worked alongside hundreds of women, oftentimes mothers, who were homeless, dealing with addiction and countless accounts of trauma. I had never stepped foot in a prison. ‘Prison is dangerous,’ I thought. Feeling unsafe, I determined that I didn’t want to run this program.
Anxiety over my new assignment weighed on me. I was angry, then scared, then numb. After marinating in this discomfort for a few days, I was gently remind of my professional capacity and ability to connect with marginalized clients who were likely no different from the incarcerated women I would encounter at Fraser Valley Institute for Women. The directive was given and it was up to me to make it happen.
A Desire to Make a Difference
I grew up with a dysfunctional family. Living through my own systemic trauma shaped my desire to be a resource for change. My clinical calling has always been to serve those whom society chooses to bypass. I wasn’t willing to be yet another cause of rejection or disappointment. They didn’t deserve to have anyone else drop the ball on them. I realized that simply showing up with compassion could make a difference. With this in mind, I began to think why not me?
I struggled to juggle fearful uncertainty with my core desire to help society’s overlooked women. I was scared and tempted to throw in the towel but I clung to the compassionate voice asking ‘why not me?’ and showed up.
The prison was unfamiliar, restrictive, and unforgivingly lit with harsh fluorescent bulbs. I wouldn’t be able to offer clients the normal getting-to-know-you intake sessions to establish trust and familiarity. I was immensely out of my comfort zone. However, being entrusted with the task of developing material to strengthen and empower incarcerated mothers was a challenge I accepted.
Just Like Me
The program has now been running for six weeks. Mere words cannot adequately describe the significance of this experience for me. All my fears, anxieties, and uncertainties disappeared as I’ve joined these determined mothers journeying towards wellness and self-betterment. The love for their children is undeniable as they desperately seek hope and change. They express teary-eyed wishes to understand past patterns and break destructive cycles. Together, we explore the role of personal accountability and responsibility in developing themselves into strong role models, positive forces in their children’s lives.
As I get know these women, I see myself: overcoming a challenging past, pursuing personal growth, and striving for a better tomorrow. I’m honoured to dare greatly alongside these brave women and am grateful to be asked to do so.