Diamonds in the rough


In today’s blog, Michelle, our House Director at Sir Sanford Fleming House, recounts her story about a recent experience with her clients helping to change lives:

I wonder if I saw a diamond, before it had gone through the process to make it look like a diamond if I would recognize it for its beauty. Would I be able to see its value by looking at it in its raw form?

I’m the house director at Sir Sanford Fleming House, a Community Residential Facility, also known as a halfway house for men who are making the change from prison to community life. Our residents are serving part of their sentence on a conditional release with support from my team and the justice system.

Many people label these men. It’s often easier to judge than to understand. Behind their keyboards, leaving comments on newspaper articles or social media, people refer to them as “worthless”, “scum”, “garbage”, among other less flattering and more offensive names. It’s easy for the people out there to act as judge, jury and executioner for these men because they’ve not had the opportunity to see them as I do, or get to know them as people.

Last week, I got to witness something I wish every person who rushes to judge those who have committed criminal offences could see.

For several years I have been working with a local high school teacher speaking with his law class about the justice system. But really, who better to speak to this than people who have actually been involved and incarcerated within the justice system?

As in past years’ our presentation included guest speakers; residents from Sir Sanford Fleming House. Both men volunteered, knowing they’d be standing in front of students and telling their stories. These stories, always including a cautionary note, try to get their point across about the realities of incarceration. They answer every question, honestly and openly; there is no sugar coating for the students.

They talk about their experiences, positive and negative, with the police, courts and within the corrections system. Their goal is simple; reach any of these kids before they end up arrested, charged and incarcerated. For students who are interested in working within the justice system this visit shows the human face of the people they will be working with.

The talk begins with congratulations for the students for making it this far in their educational pursuits and encourages them to remain on the path they are currently on! They then explain the realities of life while incarcerated and what is done to survive. They speak of choices that you have while in jail, and the reality that you have very few choices. One man brought examples of the prison clothing worn everyday which identifies you as an inmate.

They shared stories that were both painful and personal but are 100% authentic. Both of the presenters had a history of drug trafficking. Both had been oriented into criminal activity by older peers and/or family members as children, one of them began his first period of incarceration before the age of 10. They learned about criminal activity while they should have been playing Little League and building tree houses. For these two men Sir Sanford Fleming House was the only facility that would take them in, and they are grateful.

Jack* was incarcerated for the better part of 6 years, missing important, once in a lifetime opportunities in his children’s lives, graduations, birthdays, holidays and everything in between. He lost his family because of his incarceration and is struggling to make amends.

Davis* talked about the reality of drug dealing, that most dealers have no idea what they are selling, don’t know what’s in the drug, what it has been cut with or laced with. He learned this the hard way; he woke one day to find an individual he knew and loved overdosed. They had died in their sleep on drugs he had supplied. He was grieving for his loved one at the same time as suffering serious legal ramifications for his actions.

One of the men talked about attending a close relative’s funeral, in full shackles with 2 guards. His whole family, including his children saw this.

These men can be easily dismissed and their value underestimated much like a diamond in the rough. You can judge them, label them and call them names because they’ve come to expect this from society. But you know what? Those men sharing their stories may have just saved a child’s life.

Try to remember to see the person and their potential.

If you would like to organize a presentation for your high school class or group email me at

*names have been changed to respect privacy

One thought on “Diamonds in the rough

  1. Tyler says:

    Hello, my comment might be a little off the topic here but I just wanted to give a huge thanks to the staff at the turning point for being supportive and helpful when I was in a time of need.

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