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Transition group begins for Indigenous men incarcerated in Prince George

The first Dudes Club formed on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2010.
Since then, Dudes Clubs have sprung up throughout the province, giving Indigenous men in B.C. a space where they can engage with a community that prioritizes supportive relationships, health care and shared world views.
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Earlier this year, Richard Singleton, Correctional Health Services' regional director for Vancouver Island, the Interior and Northern B.C. suggested that two members of the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre team look into the feasibility of starting a Dudes Club at the centre.

"Given the high number of Indigenous clients at the centre—anywhere from 60 to 80 per cent of our population—I recognized that we had a chance as a new health care provider to meet a unique need," said Singleton. "I was aware of the Dudes Club from my work with people on the Downtown Eastside, and felt that it might be an ideal fit. The Correctional Health Services team agreed with the vision, and we managed to get this brotherhood gathering up and running."      

No subject off limits

Today, Richard Berger, a nurse, and Rodger Travale, a health services manager, and an Indigenous Elder, Kyle Sam facilitate the only Dudes Club in a B.C. correctional centre. Each week, the they facilitate a meeting with clients from one of the units to discuss things that ordinarily wouldn't come up in daily life.

"There's no subject that's off the table," Travale says. "We talk about whatever they want to talk about, including subjects that they're sometimes afraid to talk about, or they don't see a health-care provider for." A recent session, he notes, included topics such as prostate exams, post-release counselling, aggression and testosterone. 

"What you see is people opening up and talking about their health sometimes for the first time in a non-judgmental way," he says. "You don't normally see that with clients. They're very guarded, and they don't interact with health care on that level. After the first 20 or 30 minutes, though, you see them change how they interact with each other. It's a very safe space to have conversations."

Travale and Berger are finding this new approach beneficial to clients. "We don't usually have the opportunity to sit with 10 or more other people and just talk about whatever they want to talk about for health," Travale says.

Integrating spirituality

Since the founding of the first Dudes Club in the Downtown Eastside nearly a decade ago, certain guidelines have been adopted. These include a spiritual component and participation from community elders.

"There's definitely a very strong presence of spirituality through the First Nations belief system," Travale said. "There's singing, drumming, smudging." Sam, one of the group's co-facilitators, is also a pipe carrier, or an Indigenous person who has been recognized as a healer with spiritual gifts. Sam also facilitates a Prince George community Dudes Club outside the correctional centre.

"All men matter," says Sam, and that's what motivates him to be part of the club. "We should take our health seriously, as well as not take life so seriously to have fun and take our armour off once in a while."

Though its roots are as an Indigenous men's support group, all men at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre are welcome to attend the meetings, says Travale. The ultimate goal of the clubs is to create a sense of brotherhood where health and wellness are at the forefront. But it's also up to each club to respond to the specific needs of their communities. Going forward, the group leaders see the correctional centre's Dudes Club as a model for use in other correctional centres.

Correctional Health Services has been providing health care in B.C.'s correctional centres since October 2017, when responsibility for health services in correctional facilities was transferred to the Ministry of Health via the Provincial Health Services Authority. Their mandate includes offering increasing access to and improving health services to clients, both when they are incarcerated and as they transition back to life outside of a correctional centre.

"It's still in the preliminary stage," says Berger of the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre Dudes Club. "But the idea is that, as these support groups expand across the province in different communities, someone who has been in Corrections and taken part in this kind of group can more easily transition into their home community by again taking part in a group with like-minded people."

"People getting released from corrections didn't necessarily have a support group anywhere if they weren't in NA or AA," Travale adds. "So how about having a support group just for men's issues or men's health outside of corrections? This is now really well connected with community resources and the correctional centre."

BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services; correctional health; Correctional Health Services; mental health
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