COLUMN: Ed Olfert — July 26, 2012

Ed Olfert
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Ever spend $150/night for a hotel room and end up with three nights on the floor in a sleeping bag? It happened this past weekend.

Last Friday morning, I and two other CoSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) members presented ourselves to Saskatchewan Penitentiary. “Max” was being released. Max is a young man, mid twenties, who was doing time for ugly sexual assaults against children. Max is desperate to discover and change the unhealthy part of him that drives him to that violence. On Monday, Max was required by his probation to report to an office in Edmonton, to begin a long and intensive sex offender program.

Because of CoSA’s awareness of these issues, and because some trust had been established while Max was incarcerated here, we were cleared to accompany Max, to spend the weekend with him, and to deliver him to the appropriate authority on Monday.

Max is a pleasant and thoughtful young man, with a sharp and sarcastic sense of humour that worked well for us (most of the time.)

First stop was Tim Hortons, where an iced cappuccino was pronounced “the taste of freedom.” Then we got as far as the Shell River Bridge, where Max asked to touch a tree, to stare into the brown water. Because we had all day, we wandered north of Hafford to explore the Crooked Bush, then as far as North Battleford for a KFC lunch. In fact the weekend turned into an orgy of fast food feasts, all selected by Max.

Time in Edmonton included the Valley Zoo, the Royal Alberta Museum, West Ed Mall (of course), and a movie, “Spiderman,” complete with 3D glasses. It also included a stop at a TD bank. Four years ago, at the other end of the country, Max had passed a bad cheque. Now he was determined to clear that up. The bank staff gaped at him; the books had been closed on that transaction years ago. Max, meanwhile, celebrated.

“It was only $125, man! I thought it would be way more!”

There were frequent phone calls to family four provinces away, planning with siblings for a birthday gift for mom. Max had complete freedom as long as we accompanied him, and he was a model of co-operation, albeit with much more energy than we possessed.

At the hotel, three of us were male, and in a room with two double beds, the man fear that two of us might touch if we slept together prevailed, hence the floor.

Max asked that we drive by the facility where he would be held while in program, and the apprehension was obvious as he stared out at the barred windows.

“I’m going right back inside!” he bemoaned. Yet the determination to see this through prevailed.

On Monday, we drove to the corrections office. Before we entered the building, Max looked at us and announced, “This was probably the best weekend of my life, man!” His anxiety was again palpable as we sat before the corrections staff, much more so when two police detectives entered to escort Max to the next part of the process. Historically, Max has little trust in this part of the system.

The hugs and emotion were genuine. Max parted with his head up, tense but determined.

Four days with Max reminded me that we are indeed created in the image of God. When we place ourselves far and brutally outside of that holy embrace, it is a result of an equally brutal intervention into our lives. The opportunity to glimpse into the vulnerability of Max’s reality, the opportunity to hug him and to believe in him and to encourage him allows me to observe a tentative spirit, reaching out for that holy identity. “Do I still have worth?” The many scars attesting to Max’s acts of self harm bear witness to the struggle in that query.

Find a way to help someone answer that question. It pays back.


Organizations: Tim Hortons, Valley Zoo, Royal Alberta Museum TD bank

Geographic location: Edmonton, Hafford, North Battleford

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