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Okanagan College professors pen in-depth book on history of Canadian corrections

Melissa Munn and Chris Clarkson

Discourse about the lived experiences of those behind bars is about to break free across the country, with a special virtual book launch event next week.

Okanagan College Sociology Professor Melissa Munn and History Professor Chris Clarkson joined forces to co-author Disruptive Prisoners: Resistance, Reform and the New Deal, published this fall by University of Toronto Press.

The book is a collective biography that reconstitutes the histories of Canada’s federal prison system in the mid-20th century – constructed after years of extensive research of archives, penal press material and government document reviews and interviews with various stakeholders.

A virtual book launch is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 27, when Munn and Clarkson will discuss the evidence that these prisoners were active agents of change who advocated for and resisted the initiatives that were part of Canada’s “new deal for corrections.”

The pair come from different academic disciplines, so collaborating on the project was a learning process that achieved amazing results.

“Working with a historian challenged me to learn new approaches to research and I really loved that,” Munn said. “It forced me to look at things from a new angle and also become more certain with my disciplinary expertise.”

Munn currently runs the Penal Press website and has been interested in preserving these histories for quite some time. It was her passion to make sure these types of histories survive that hooked Clarkson to join in the efforts.

“I’ve always been interested in the historical experiences of the residents of institutions like orphanages, asylums or old age homes, but most of those histories are written using documents produced by administrators and you rarely even get the tiniest glimpse into the perspectives of the residents,” explains Clarkson. “The prisoners’ newspapers offer an exciting new window on life within prisons and allowed us to look into the operation of prisons in a way that hasn’t been possible in the study of other institutions.”

First-hand prisoner accounts provide an engaging glimpse behind the bars of Canada’s federal prison system. A question-and-answer period will follow the presentation.

The event is being hosted by the Olde Gaol Museum, a historic jail built in 1863 that operated for 140 years in Lindsay, Ont. In 1957, a group of citizens began collecting, preserving and sharing the heritage of Lindsay and surrounding townships, leading to the establishment of the Victoria County Historical Society. Before its closure in 2003, the society redeveloped the jail into a museum.

The virtual event is free and will take place Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Zoom. Registration is required online: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Sspgyq6bSYyHXG3Y5xJ_jQ 

Copies of Disruptive Prisoners can be ordered online: https://utorontopress.com/9781487525910/disruptive-prisoners/



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