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This article was published 23/11/2018 (875 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Visiting a loved one or friend in one of Manitoba’s prisons is difficult for anyone who doesn’t have a car.
Headingley Correctional Centre and the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley, Stony Mountain Institution, Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie, Milner Ridge Correctional Centre, Brandon Correctional Centre, and Selkirk Mental Health Centre are all located 10 kilometres or more outside City of Winnipeg limits, and there are no public transit options.
Volunteers with Bar None Prison Rideshare project are addressing this transportation issue by arranging rides for those who need them to travel to and from any of these correctional facilities.
"We just try to be a conduit for drivers and passengers," said Bar None organizer Jon Benson.
Benson said the group formed in 2015 to address social justice issues and has accrued a list of about 100 volunteer drivers since that time. Neighbourhoods Alive grants through the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association and West Broadway Community Organization, along money from with a few fundraising events, is used to reimburse volunteer drivers for mileage costs.
"It (the lack of transportation) was identified as a big need that existed," Benson said. "Predominantly the people who wind up in prison don’t have their own cars."
So far this year, Bar None volunteer drivers have provided over 300 rides. Benson said the majority of riders, which includes young children, are going to visit prisoners in Stony Mountain or Headingley men’s jail.
Winnipeg resident Rebecca (last name withheld) said she and her son, 10, and daughter, 5, have used the Bar None Rideshare service to visit her partner in the Headingley Correctional Centre about 10 times.
"The kids were so excited to see their dad," she said. "I’m very thankful for the service. They make it possible for our relationship and the kids’ relationship with their dad to continue while he’s away."
She said there is a cost to make phone calls to prisoners and it’s hard to keep in contact so having the chance to visit in person is important.
Rebecca said she’s found the Bar None Rideshare volunteer drivers to be very friendly.
Julie Mikuska decided to sign up as a volunteer driver in July after learning about the program through social media. Since then she has offered about seven rides.
"I am retired and I like to drive," she said.
The program’s social justice philosophy also matches her own personal ideals as she wants to help counter the negative stigma placed on those who have spouses, relatives or friends in prison.
Mikuska said her first ride was to take a woman to Headingley men’s jail to pick up the woman’s husband being released that day. The couple was happy to be together again, and the man swore that he would never go back to prison.
She said Bar None contacts its list of volunteer drivers a few times a week with requests for rides, and she matches those to her own schedule.
She’s enjoyed hearing the riders talk about their lives and seeing the happiness they feel after visiting with their loved one or friend.
Another Bar None volunteer, Mike Johannson, said studies show that prisoners who receive visits from relatives and friends are less likely to be jailed again.
He also volunteers at Headingley Correctional Centre as part of a religious program and that’s how he heard about Bar None Rideshare. He recently signed up as a volunteer driver.
"I was thinking about doing it for a while."
Benson said prisoners and their relatives usually find out about the rideshare service through word-of mouth as Bar None doesn’t actively advertise.
He said more volunteer drivers are needed since now only about half of rider requests are being filled.
For more information on the Bar None Rideshare project, see https://barnoneblog.wordpress.com
St. Vital community correspondent
Andrea Geary is a community correspondent for St. Vital and was once the community journalist for The Headliner.