Friends Logo V2Christmas 2009 Edition
The Newsletter of The Friends of Dismas
A Hard Name
Director Alan Zweig

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A Hard Name

World premiere
on TVO's
The View from Here

Wednesday Jan. 20th at 10 pm ET

Please mark your calendar for the TV premiere of Director Alan Zweig's film a Hard Name.

A "Top Ten Audience Pick" at Hot Docs 2009, A Hard Name is an intimate look at the lives of eight middle-aged ex-cons trying to stay out of jail.

Director Alan Zweig (Vinyl, I Curmudgeon) talks to men and women who have spent most of their adult lives - 30 to 40 years - in prison. The ex-cons open up and tell their stories, reflecting on their pasts and sharing harsh painful personal viewpoints on what led them to where they are now.

They all have a harshness of spirit that helped them to get by in prison. It's a little tougher on the outside, where the rules are different


Volunteer Orientation Training this January
In January we will offer new volunteers an orientation to community ministry with ex-prisoners.

This four-session orientation of approximately 4 hours each, deals with your questions about volunteering with ex-prisoners and allows you to discern if this is an area of ministry appropriate for

The dates are:

Jan: 23/30
Feb: 6/14

To Find out more about this training please visit our website: 


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Help us build the Friends of Dismas
To donate please send a cheque to the following:
Friends of Dismas
PO Box 117, Markham Station
Markham, ON L3P 3J5
or to donate on-line with a credit card, visit the link below which will take you to CanadaHelps.
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Toronto Dismas Fellowship
2010 Dates
The Toronto Dismas Fellowship meetings are held on Friday evenings at Walmer Baptist Church. The dates for 2010 are as follows:
Jan: 8/22
Feb: 5/19
Mar : 5/19
August: 20
Sept: 3/17
For information on Walmer Baptist please click below:

Going Home for Christmas? AllardBy Rev. Harry Nigh
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
and presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

We hadn't even opened our gifts yet when she called that Christmas morning. "I called my father to ask if I could come home for Christmas", she cried, "and you know what he told me? 'I don't have a daughter, and you're not welcome here'".

"You know something Harry", she sobbed, "if the liquor stores were open I'd get drunk and I'd take a bus to Peterborough and kill him!"
What could I say to her ... this awful cry of anguish on this day?
She had known so much of rejection. Even her mother, a victim of the abuse in   our native boarding schools, had walked out of the hospital after the delivery  and left her there. Her father came two days later to take her home. She was raised in foster homes, abusive foster homes, and eventually adopted into our prison  system.

I could hear my son stirring upstairs. We would soon have our cozy ritual of gift-giving. Even our cats, Dave and Betsy, would have gifts laced with catnip.

I told her that I loved her, and how sorry I was that she had experienced this rejection again. I told her that I would have been proud to have had her as my daughter. I prayed with her over the phone that she would sense God holding her today like an infinitely mothering-father. I invited her to come to our home for Christmas dinner, to get away from her single room on Spadina and join us   around the table.

"No thanks, she said, "I'm going to stay here and take my blankets and make a space like the hole in prison and crawl in there until Christmas is over".

I wonder what Jesus would make of all the demands and expectations we have created to celebrate his birth? He didn't seem to place a high premium on chestnuts roasting on an open fire and gifts for all - even the cats. But I think he is deeply grieved over a young woman crawling into a makeshift hole on his birthday.
It's why you, our volunteers, pour so much energy into creating communities of hope: Dismas Fellowship, Circles of Support & Accountability and one-to- one partnering. Although we can't remove the scars inflicted from early times we can offer friendship and support, and if you can believe it, over time it begins to feel a lot like family. 
Thank you for caring!
Harry Nigh   

          Rev. Harry Nigh
May 8th  
8:36am: Well, I'm sitting in the train station waiting for the ride to Brampton that leaves at 9:15am from here in Kitchener. Thank-you God.   (I feel lighter).
Well it's 9:27am and I'm on the Via Rail, on my way to Brampton. I've always loved the sound of a train in the distance. You know, the whistle.
It's really cool to hear the whistle on the train I'm on. Present, no longer off in the distance.  I used to wonder where the train was going.
Now, I'm on the train that is whistling, no longer in the distance, and I know where I am going.

Chris Long
Remembering Chris 
By Eusebia da Silva
The prose poem above was written by Christine Long (Chris to all who knew her) in her journal just moments after leaving Grand Valley Institution on May 8th, 2007. They were read at Chris' memorial service on November 27th to a group of friends who Chris had come to speak of as her "family". We gathered in the basement of Walmer Baptist Church, in the same place where Chris had shared many a meal and sat in many a circle with her 'Dismas family' over the past two years. Together we remembered and honoured the life of our friend Chris who we had come to know and grown to love over the last two and some years.
Recently, a friend shared with me this wonderful Jewish saying: "What is truer than truth? Answer, "the story."  What follows is some of Chris' story, yet her story is part of a bigger story...  which is God's story.  Now that she has left this world, Chris is "no longer in the distance" no matter how far off that train whistle sounded at first, no matter how far from God she felt at any point in her life.  The train that Chris was waiting for didn't leave her behind... she was going home for Christmas no matter how long it took her to get there... we can listen for and love the train whistle as Chris did... wherever Christmas will take place for us. 

Please take a moment to read Chris' story on our website by clicking on the link below:


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On Friday and Saturday November 20-21 at Trinity-St. Paul's United Church in Toronto over 150 people gathered to learn about the work of Restorative Justice.

The keynote speaker this year was Rev. Dale Lang who shared the story of his 17 year old son, Jason, who was shot and killed in Tabor, Alberta by a young man at his high school. It was a compelling evening, as the participants listened to Rev. Lang tell how he moved from grief to forgiveness and was, through prayer and faith, able to lead the memorial service in a prayer of forgiveness towards the young shooter. 
Please take a moment to visit the link below to listen to an interview Rev. Lang gave prior to the conference where he tells his story.
Dismas Fellowship Logo dec08Dismas Fellowship Christmas Celebration

On Friday December 18th the Dismas Fellowship held its annual Christmas celebration. The Anglican Diocese of Toronto Working Group on Justice and Corrections was the primary sponsor of the event and Deacon Bruce Williams, who acts as an advisor to the Board of the Friends of Dismas, has written the following reflection on the importance of community and friendship.

The Friends of Dismas and the Dismas Fellowship participants would like to thank the Anglican Diocese of Toronto Working Group on Justice and Corrections for their support of our ongoing efforts.

Dismas Dinner
Coming Home: Dismas Fellowship Christmas
By Deacon Bruce Williams

John, now 28, fled home in his teens to escape an abusive relationship with his stepfather and has been homeless for much of the past eight or nine years. He has often been in and out of jail for petty crimes such as mischief, possession of drugs or shoplifting. Each time he ends up in jail he loses his accommodation and any source of income he has had.  Each time he was knocked down in this way it became increasingly hard to pick himself up. John became ever more mired in despondency and drugs.  But then John discovered, or perhaps God led him, first to Evergreen Ministry Centre for Street Youth and then to Friends of Dismas, a Christian support group for ex-offenders and their families supported by the Anglican Diocese of Toronto Working Group on Justice and Corrections. For the first time in his life John has found some stability. He now has safe accommodation and has returned to school to complete his high school equivalency.
Dismas CircleWe all want to come home for Christmas but John, like so many in his situation, has no home to go to. His family has long since disowned him and often our churches do not know how to make ex-offenders welcome. 

Fortunately, Friends of Dismas is there to help John and other ex-offenders and to provide vital community support. However, John still faces a very lonely Christmas and the risk of falling back into drugs. Friends of Dismas , through a generous donation from the  Working Group on Justice and Corrections, was able to put on a Christmas dinner and party which went at least some of the way to filling this hole in John's life. This party, hosted at Walmer Road Baptist Church, was attended by close to 125 ex-offenders, friends, and volunteers. A fabulous Christmas dinner was prepared by the volunteers with a time of song and fellowship following.
Young men and women, such as John, are part of our future and it is vital that we foster and nurture them in order to build healthy and safe communities. As Christians we need to remember that some of Jesus' first words in his ministry were about prisoners:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because ... He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and... to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. (Luke 4:18-19)

The Diocesan Working Group is committed to Jesus' vision and building safe and healthy communities of faith.

Thank You for 'doing the humble work.'
In closing a thank you from all of us and may the blessings of the Christmas season be with all of you.  Below is a quotation from Mother Teresa that captures the work you do - thank you for caring and for not being afraid to do the humble work:
 "Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work."