Introduction by Dwight Snowshow.
The writing workshop began the week of January 21, 2019 and finished on February 26th, 2019. It was a 5-week program that was taught through the Yukon College in partnership with ShakatClubs at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC). The workshops happened on a weekly basis every Monday and Tuesday; one class in the morning and one in the afternoon. The classes went good and the people involved all had a story that they wanted to share with the youth. The big issue was not knowing how to share their story on paper, so we developed lessons to help these individuals be able to write their story.
The participants were proud of their stories. I really think the workshop helped these individuals gain confidence within themselves –to write their story and also share it with others. Some of them used it for a sense of healing and closure in their life. Society usually puts a label on people that are incarcerated, but if you read or listen to their story then you would understand why they are who they are today. Just sharing their personal story helps them on their journey of healing for themselves and their family. It was learning experience for the instructors as well; this was the first time we held a writing workshop at the WCC. Overall I think the writing workshop was such a positive experience and hopefully we can do another workshop in the near future.
Hi, my name is Tristan Charlie Roy Joe. I am a Selkirk First Nation man from Pelly Crossing. I am from the Crow Clan.
Pelly Crossing is a small community that consists of 300 or so people. These people are very culturally active. Culture is a big thing in Pelly; we go by a law which is the Dool’i law. This law has been in use for many years and many more to come. There is a lot more to speak about and a lot to mention about my people, but this can go on for days, so I’ll leave it at that. The other side of Pelly is a bit more vague and challenging to accept. There is a lot of alcohol and drug abuse that occurs on-a-daily-basis. Life in a community as small as Pelly, is pretty- challenging, when it comes to alcohol.
There is a prohibition, which was enacted by the Chief and Council before my time. The prohibition is still there today. A lot of people respect this, but the other half believes that it should be removed because of the problems it causes. People get alcohol either way; one way being through bootleggers the other being through liquor store or off sales in other communities.
Growing up in Pelly for me was pretty difficult; I experienced my fair share of abuse. Not by my family or peers but by my principal and older (high school) boys. I did not enjoy school, but I did go. Although I can read and do math, I was a disruption in class and sent to the principal’s office quite often to be roughed up, something physical. The nicer part of my childhood is that I spent a lot of my time with adults. Also, a lot of time with my brother and our cousins, we did a lot and had a great time learning together. I also learned how to carve from one of my older friends and do a lot of cultural and responsible activities like trapping, hunting, skinning animals and harvesting.
I also spent a lot of time socializing with my brother and friends. That’s when I would spend more time away from home, just roaming around town. I was aware of the alcohol use in town, but didn’t understand, which is why I hung around watching parties. I liked the enthusiasm alcohol brought out of people.
Then I would open another chapter of my life, which was stealing and break and entering (B & E). I found it pretty fun but the consequences were not. At about this age is also when I tried out my first beer and smoked grass. I hated the taste of alcohol, but I liked cigarettes and smoking weed. I then quit and was sent away to the south. I don’t remember too much of my teenage-years but I did go to high school. It was boring; I didn’t smoke, drink or smoke weed until I returned to the Yukon, when I was 16 or 17. I was young and didn’t know too much or have the life skills I needed, so I upgraded at Yukon College. I started my first job in the Yukon that year. I worked before, but not in the Yukon. I liked this job — laborer and landscaping. I did this work until the Minto Mine opened-up and I applied there and worked as a core saw operator for about two or three years. During these years I started using alcohol and drugs again. I honestly liked drinking and smoking weed, it was my thing. I got drunk on the hill behind my house more than once, it was fun.
From there, my life would consist of two things: working and drinking. Partying was life for me at that point; I didn’t care too much about anything. Drinking would also break down social barriers. I drank profusely and went to different towns and partied there too. I would fight and start fights. Lose or win, it didn’t matter to me.
My first run in with the law was when I was 21. I got picked up by the police and dropped off at home. He said if he seen me again, I would go to the drunk tank, but I didn’t listen. I left my house right after he left. I was walking to my grandmother’s and seen them again, but I walked away, through the trails. Two days later I was charged with resisting arrest. I then began my life as a criminal. I didn’t want to, but that’s just what life handed me when I wanted to drink and not quit.
By this time, I was introduced to crack and it blew my mind. I loved it and it loved me. I didn’t care about the law or people, just my needs and alcohol. I began to explore the rougher side of life, becoming a crack head on top of a drunk. It was not hard, I rarely worked and pretty much bummed around. In 2011, I was charged with aggravated assault, and spent a little time in jail for the first time.
This is when my spiral would start. I started to spend more time in WCC, twice for assault and a lot for breaches of conditions. I also was in a challenging relationship and pushed my girlfriend to the ground and didn’t like what I had done, so I turned myself in and was charged with assault. I was sentenced to a little time and six months’ probation.
I was really suffering from problems that I was not aware of and didn’t know how to deal with. I didn’t seek help ever. I never looked for it because I didn’t realize I had a problem until it was too late. My anger and alcohol problem had taken over, my concept of alcohol use — I was using to mask my emotions, not socialize. I drank to get away from dealing with issues, from drink to drink. I didn’t have any impulse control, I just did it.
November 4th, 2016 was the worst day I could ever imagine; a friend and relative of mine lost his life due to my irresponsible alcohol use and anger issues. I live with the fact of what I have done; I think about this day and night, I cannot forgive myself. People say I should try to forgive myself, but I believe that I am not going to. I am truly sorry for what I have done, I cannot take it back. I am not looking for forgiveness, but a sense of peace or closure.
What I am saying is, for the younger generation to do well by themselves and to not make the mistakes I have. Life’s always going to have its ups and downs, it’s how you deal with it. I did not deal with my issues. Although I am dealing with them now, I am hopeful that I will do better by myself.
It’s a cold and crisp February afternoon. I look out through the barred window, contemplating the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ I’m sitting in this dump once again. My name is Xavier Binette Votour. I am a 25 year- old “youth” currently sitting in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre classroom. I was born June 1st, 1993 at the Whitehorse General Hospital.
My mother is French from Quebec, she met my father here in Whitehorse. They lived together, spending a lot of time in the bush. When I was born, we lived in a cabin where Shipyards Park now is and was previously known to most as “Moccasin Flats”. They split up after my birth. My mother is, to this day, one of the hardest working people I have ever seen. She did a lot of work for Parks and Wildlife and I remember her taking me along, working in the bush. I remember it was always an adventure and something new and exciting. I grew up learning a lot of good morals; I learned a lot about wildlife, conservation and respect for our land and people, at an early age, as those were my mother’s beliefs.
My father has always been bush savvy and has always been one of the most ingenious and crafty individuals ever. He was also a man of honesty, respect and common courtesy. He is a very generous person and has always been willing to lend someone a helping hand. Unfortunately, I did not get to see my father as much as I would have liked to in the early years of my life.
Generational history, of drug or alcohol abuse, fills a void and creates inability to connect with each other. I started school at Ecole Emilie Tremblay, in a unilingual setting. I have always remembered having difficulty, no matter where I went to school. I tended to be the one to seek attention or make people laugh, even at my own expense. I had a very hard time sitting still and actually retaining material from class. I was diagnosed with ADHD among other cognitive disabilities, yet I was still expected to function at the same pace as other students. I started challenging rules, teachers and any form of opposition, which got me into even more trouble. I was expelled from Ecole Emilie Tremblay and was enrolled at Takhini Elementary.
Frightened, alone, and new to the school, I felt as if I had been abandoned by the system. I started to do schoolwork at home. It is difficult to learn a subject all alone. I ended up in a remedial class at Jack Hulland Elementary. To my surprise, I found it was very enjoyable. I had a lot of fun that year and felt a sense of accomplishment. I graduated elementary school, feeling proud yet nervous of what was ahead of me.
First day of high school: new faces, new location, new everything. It was a little frightening. I quickly learned that my erratic behaviors would land me in the detention room, where I met a teacher I will always see as one of my greatest supports. I quickly developed a bond with him that would prove to be encouraging. Due to my constant troublesome behavior, it was decided that I would be sent to an experimental military reform school, in Ontario, by the name of Robert Land Academy.
My first day at the academy was very frustrating. They take all your belongings, including your clothes, sit you down and shave your head. Needless to say, I was dragged out of the van when we pulled up because I did not want to attend this school. In this environment I quickly became extremely aggressive with authority or other youth. I also became violent as an adaptation to how it was there. I was always in trouble and on what they call “labor detail”. They would exercise disciplinary measures and all kinds of other degrading disciplinary tactics. Eventually, I just started to have an evasive attitude. I pretended to listen to make life easier but always lived this double situation. I bottled up this hate and anger towards forms of authority. When I had finished a year at the academy, I was very glad to leave and return home to the Yukon.
I started grade 10 at Porter Creek Secondary. I enjoyed classes and met some friends. Boredom and lack of motivation led me to try cannabis one day. Smoking cannabis instantly became an everyday, all day, thing. When I started to lose interest in my classes, I would go to the music room where Mrs. Bell would let me play around on instruments. Music had always been part of my life, but this is where I developed a true interest and figured out this was my passion. I decided I wanted to make beats, so I saved up a bunch and bought an MPC 1000 and a keyboard. By age 14 I was making some pretty-tight beats. Yayaaa! I now have over 500 beats posted online and you can check out my music at youtube.com/Treezon1.
Throughout the years, I continued to make music, as other parts of my life weren’t going so well. I had always felt a void or an emptiness inside that I tried to fill with something. I started drinking around 16 or 17 and instantly became addicted. I loved the warm embrace of alcohol that gave me a surge of confidence. I felt as if I could do anything, as long as I remained stupefied with this poisonous beverage.
To support my alcohol and marijuana consumption, I started to engage in numerous criminal activities. I wanted more of these substances that seemed to temporarily suppress whatever it was I didn’t want to face. I eventually got into cocaine and I also started to get into trouble with the law. I developed a cycle of going to jail, doing drugs. It did not take long to graduate to crack cocaine around the age of 21.
Even though I have struggled a lot and experienced numerous negative situations, I feel they don’t define me. My past does not determine who I am. I try every day to correct my wrongs and make better decisions. I ask forgiveness from the people I have harmed, and I forgive people who have harmed me. When I woke up today, I thought about my family, my friends, my peers and all the people I encounter who are all in the same boat. What I am trying to say is: no matter the situation you are in or the adversities you are faced with, never give up. Always try to be a better person, through the good and the bad. You never know for certain what life is going to throw at you, but you are the one making the choices.
My name is T.J. I am one of the best Player of Unkown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Call of Duty players in the world. This is my story.
I am 34 years old, I have a beautiful daughter and a beautiful wife. My parents gave me up when I was two; I went from foster home to group homes and back and forth from my parents. I suffered lots of abuse in these transitions. I had a hard time in school and following rules because of the environments I was in. When I was 13, I experienced my first time in jail.
I remember it so clearly; it was horrible. I spent hours at strip search because I wouldn’t strip for them, I cried the whole time. During this time in my youth, I learned to keep all the abuse and everything to myself, I never told anyone. I created a shield for myself that no one would get into so I wouldn’t get hurt. I remember becoming an adult, my social worker got me a place and said I was on my own. It was disheartening to say the least. I was used to surviving on my own, but I had no skills because I was institutionalized. I lost my first place because of my drinking, I trashed the place after getting kicked out. I was a train wreck. I never drank during my youth. I never wanted to drink for fear of becoming like my parents, but when I started it was hard to stop. I still, to this day, struggle with alcohol because it makes me forget my problems for a while, so it became my drug of choice very quickly.
I ended up in jail, right off the bat, in my adult years. I was comfortable in this environment right away from being in institutions all my life. I never had any successful relationships with women. My protective shield was always up; I never let anyone in so I wouldn’t get hurt. I was in and out of relationships and in and out of jails.
In 2007 I graduated to the penitentiary where I did three years. It was a horrible experience and the lifestyle down there was difficult to become accustomed to. There were actual evil people in there and it was not a good feeling, ever, to be around. I never changed my thoughts or let my shield down, even after my pen bit. I lived for nothing, my life meant nothing to me, I didn’t matter to anyone and I didn’t care about myself. It was a terrible mix. Five years ago, I was in here for assault causing bodily harm. I broke down, cried and prayed for the first time in my life. I needed help and asked for it. I got out on a wellness program that entailed doing programs and treatment. I took full advantage of this and tried my best to change. I went to every program and started talking about everything from my childhood.
All the things I held in that affected my relationships and my life in a negative way were finally getting dealt with. I reaped the benefits immediately; I was sober for the first time in my life and I developed my relationship with GOD. I met my wife the day I got out. She was and still is the best thing that ever happen to me. For the first time in my life I had a purpose and something to work for and was excited to go home at the end of the day. Dealing with my problems with my counsellers really cleared me up on the inside.
I was in a good relationship for the first time in my life, and I couldn’t believe it. It was really weird because I was scared at the same time. All the time, actually, because I was used to living in fear. Fear of going to jail, fear of messing up everything I did right.
My mom got sick while I was in a halfway house. She was flown from Watson Lake to Whitehorse. I met her down at the hospital after getting a phone call from my close cousin. There she was, the person who abused me the most. Responsible for most of the pain in regards to my childhood. Mom. I didn’t understand what happened, but I broke down and cried. I forgot about all the abuse and all the bad things that occurred while in her care. I just wanted her to be okay. I learned a lot that day about what life is really about. I never left her side until she passed away. I chose to forgive her and I always treat people that I love exactly that way, even if they do bad things to me because you just never know how long you will have with them.
I grieved for a long time. It was a difficult thing to deal with, but I didn’t grieve alone. My partner was there for me. For the first time in my life I had someone because I treated them good. I was sober for over a year at that time. A little over two weeks had passed after my mom passed away and I got some good news. My wife was pregnant with my first child. This was difficult for me because I had just started my path for a positive change. It was going to be a long road for me.
I prayed like I always did and supported my wife during her pregnancy. When my daughter was born, it was a surreal moment. Time literally slowed down when she arrived. I cried because I knew what true love felt like. I would do anything for her. I had been doing great for a long time now.
I was sober for over two years now. My life had completely changed. I was a father, a good husband, and I wasn’t getting in trouble with the law. But, I eventually started slipping and drinking.
I thought that I could drink and handle it. I blacked out and committed an offence. I let my guard down and that’s all it took, just one time. I am now sitting in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre waiting to see what will happen.
They told me I could help someone by sharing my story when I started this writing program and this is the reason I took it. If bad things happen to you, talk about it. I keep talking about it and it did help me. Alcohol really is bad, and it wrecks lives if you don’t know how to handle it. I wrecked mine. I now know that I cannot drink and I don’t want to do it anymore! I let my wife and kid down because of my own problems.
You got to live life like you are important, because you are. My story is not over and I will do whatever I can to work on myself, because I have seen glimpses of a good sober life and all the benefits it reaps.
My name is Joey Vaneltsi and I am 34 years old. I am originally from Fort Mcpherson, Northwest Territories, but I have lived in Whitehorse for most of my life. While growing up I started hanging out with the older kids, I thought it was cool to go to parties with them. We used to fight a lot. I remember buying beer for the first time when I was 13 years old and I thought that was cool, too.
I played a lot of sports growing up, like hockey, flag football, baseball and basketball. I really enjoyed sports, it felt good for you. Due to hanging out with older kids, I ended up going to the Juvenile Detention Centre for six months when I was 15 or 16. The youth and staff told me that the adult jail was a very bad place filled with bad people. After that, I was expelled from high school and didn’t go back, which looking back, was a bad choice on my part.
“I thought as the judge was reading out my sentence. The looks of surprise and anguish were clear to see. I felt shame and embarrassment for having everyone knowing what I did…. Let’s start at the beginning shall we?”
My name is Edward, I am 47 years old. This is my story.
I grew up in a town 800 km north of Whitehorse, by the name of Dawson City. It has around 1500 people in the winter and triples in size during the summer due to tourism. I attended Robert Service School, which went from kindergarten to grade 12. We only graduated six people every year as it was a small town.
I have four sisters and one brother. I lived 40 meters or so from the school, which was a bonus for me, to be so close to the school. I remember sitting on the heater when I was seven as my mom got my snowsuit ready. It was always crazy dark in the morning and the sun only came out from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m in the winter.
I always enjoyed being around groups of people and to be surrounded by friends. By the time I made it to high school, I started becoming more independent and focused on sports and girls.
I joined every extracurricular sports team, such as volleyball, soccer, badminton, and baseball, when in season, Most of my friends were all as Air Cadets, which enabled us to compete in rifle shooting and synchronized drilling and ski biathlon along with summer cadet camps across Canada.
Near graduation at age 17, I joined the Yukon Ambulance Service and the Emergency Measures Organization for ground search and rescue.
By the time I was done high school, I met my wife from Manitoba and was married by 19.
I was fortunate to get hired on with the Yukon Liquor Corporation. We had our first child at 24, and a year later, our second was born. We had 13 years together, and then one day I decided I didn’t want to work at the Liquor Corporation any more, nor did I want to be married.
I spent the next 10 years travelling across North America hiking and rock climbing with my German Shepherd- lab cross. His name was Bear.
After my decade-long sabbatical, I returned to the Yukon at age 29. I began working in the mining industry as a geological technician/emergency medical responder.
I re-established myself as a stable person in my daughter’s lives, only to find they were taken away from their mom and put into Child Services.The next day I had an appointment with the Manager and we set up a visit schedule with the girls. It was a long, arduous sequence of getting more time with my daughters and eventual sleep overs. Eventually they allowed me more time and access. Things progressed smoothly with the family and work for the next 10 years. One day, shortly after the mineral exploration season was completed, I was asked if I wanted to work out of town with a construction company, doing a concrete job.
The work site was out of town, surrounded by a giant gravel pit. At first it entailed pouring smaller slabs for a water dock, which continued for the first week. The following week, we were pouring forms for one ton barrier blocks.It took only a moment of not paying attention for my concentration to drift and I lost my footing. I saw the blue sky flash by my eyes three times as I fell from the platform and hurdled towards the ground. All I remember was the hollow sound of my skull hitting the side of the platform I had been standing on, then ……blackness. I was rushed to the hospital and the nurses immediately slapped a hard cervical collar on me, as they loaded me on to a plane bound for Vancouver.
Long story short, I suffered a class three concussion, which is the worst you can get without cracking your skull open. I did receive permanent brain damage, and I had the sensation of floating for the next six months. As a side effect of the injury, I acquired a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, in a sense I became a different person who becomes mean and quick to anger with violent tendencies.
This change in personality caused many unfortunate events to unfold in my life. The head injury somehow deleted my filters that would normally prevent me from acting on my desires and impulses.
I started physically attacking people who would piss me off and ended up seriously hurting someone permanently. Up to this point I had no prior criminal record. I ended up acquiring over a dozen assault charges causing bodily harm and was sentenced to three years jail. In 2010 I was sentenced to a three year term in Federal corrections from 2010 to 2013.
It has been a long journey from that day till now. My behavior has gotten a bit better but I still struggle with violence, which leads me to my current incarceration at Whitehorse Correctional Center and the tale of my woe. Be more careful on the job site as the devil is in the details.