For 30 years Meredith Egan has heard countless traumatizing stories from inmates about why they’re in prison.
She’s worked predominantly in restorative justice and corrections systems with people convicted of causing serious harm, as well as victims of violent crime.
Now she has taken her experience with those people, altered their stories and turned them into novels about the aftermath of crime.
“It may not be their story, but it’s certainly one of their buddy’s stories,” the Chilliwack author said of her newest book.
Her novel, Tide’s End, came out in January and it’s the second in her series. The first book, Just Living, was released in 2016.
The issue is very complex, she said, adding that some people may not realize that the perpetrators are often victims themselves.
Egan’s catchphrase is “no more victims.”
“If we want the least opportunity possible for victimization, we need to be working on both helping the victims rehabilitate, but also those who have victimized to not repeat.”
In addition to using the hashtag #MeToo, she also uses #ChildrenToo and #BoysToo.
“In no way do I want to detract from the #MeToo movement,” she emphasized. “As we start to value those people, one of the things that is happening is men who’ve also been sexually assaulted are starting to speak up. These are stories I’ve been hearing for 30 years in prison.”
Because of the way the programs work in the correctional institutions, the men are allowed to work on their own issues around violence but they’re not encouraged to bring up their own victimization, she said.
Egan said in order for criminals to heal so that they’re less likely to reoffend, they need to be surrounded with support and compassion both while in prison and when they’re released.
With her novels, she’s been doing just that.
For years, Egan has taught creative writing courses to the inmates. It’s because of them and their stories that her two novels came about.
“They encourage me to write these stories.”
Tide’s End is the story of 19-year-old Taylor who wants to gain custody of his little sister Jenny. His social worker tells him he needs to focus on his own healing first if he’s going to qualify for custody. In the meantime 12-year-old Jenny has been placed into a horrible foster home. Taylor carries a huge amount of guilt for having left Jenny to save himself.
The first half of the book takes place at a retreat for victims of sexual assault, called Tide’s End, and then it branches out to the victims’ personal stories and how they deal with life after leaving the program.
The book is aimed toward those who maybe haven’t had a reason to think about the legal or correctional system or what it’s like to work with inmates or victims, Egan said.
So far, the feedback from those who’ve read Tide’s End has been rewarding.
“The comments that make my heart stop are… ‘now I understand homelessness differently, now I understand the impacts of residential school, or what poverty can do to people, or how much brain injury there is.”
Egan’s friend, Heidi Epp, said Tide’s End is like “unpeeling an onion,” where you get though one layer of someone’s mask to reveal another layer, and each one is inter-wrapped with the other.
“I think Meredith has done an amazing job of creating this transparent onion skin, this vulnerability we can see through. It’s very poetically written,” Epp said. “The trauma is there but the humanity is there as well.”
Egan’s experience with criminals and victims has given her insight into the impact of what helps heal the wounds and reduce ongoing trauma and victimization.
“It’s not that I’m saying we have to treat convicts with kids’ gloves or we have to be kinder or nicer to them,” Egan said. “I think we need to find ways of holding them accountable that help them understand the impact of what they do. And understanding them helps us to do that more effectively.”
Fewer than one per cent of people die in prison which means more than 99 per cent of inmates will end up being our neighbours, she pointed out.
Egan is hoping those who read Tide’s End will ask the question: “How do we both keep others safe from people who may do harm, but also how do we keep them safe when they’re at their most vulnerable?”
Tide’s End by Meredith Egan is available on Amazon for $24.66. In celebration of her 60th birthday on May 1, she’s offering some specials this week. On Monday, May 4 for $20 people can buy her Daring Imagination cards (a deck of inspirational cards that provoke ideas, thoughts and writing). On Wednesday, May 6, in preparation for Mother’s Day, if you buy two copies of Tide’s End, you get a third copy free (signed).
Additionally, Queen’s University recently gifted her an honourarium so she’s paying it forward and is offering local front-line workers a free copy of her book to the first 20 people.
To buy a copy, go to meredithegan.ca.