By Lyonel Doherty
Like many inmates, Shawn Grant feels like just a number in the BC Corrections system.
But he’s not a number, he’s a human being trying to change his luck and turn his life around.
“I’m almost 10 months clean and sober, and life is great. Given a second chance, I’m not going to waste it.”
That was the last line in his letter to the Oliver Chronicle recently.
Grant admits he fell prey to drug addiction like many inmates in the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC), noting it can “creep up on you when you least expect it.”
Grant tells a familiar story about growing up in an abusive family. He says both of his parents were addicts, and his father abandoned the family when he was 12.
“I ran away from home growing up on the streets and trying every drug I could think of.”
This led to a life in and out of jail for petty thefts and driving offences.
It wasn’t until his 30s that he made the decision (with the help of counselling) that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life incarcerated.
Grant started building a wall against his addiction with a structured plan upon release. He met a girl, fell in love and she got pregnant. Marriage soon followed and he was now the breadwinner of the family.
With hardhat and work boots in hand, he walked onto a jobsite looking for work, landing a position as a labourer.
“I stayed clean and sober for over five years, climbing the ladder to being the boss of my own company.”
Grant remembers saying to himself that he couldn’t believe he wasted all those years on drugs and in jail. His child was now five years old and he couldn’t be happier.
But his job was taking a toll; he was working 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes six days a week with immense pressure to meet deadlines. That’s when his marriage began to fall apart.
“I didn’t realize that my home life was as bad as it was.”
Grant’s wife wanted to move in with her parents and ended up taking their son with her. He subsequently rented a little place not far from them.
At that time, Grant’s younger brother Wayne was “broken” with crystal meth and was diagnosed with cancer and AIDS.
“The doctors gave him a couple of months to live.”
Grant decided to step away from his job and try to get his family back, while also spend what little time he had left with his brother.
“It was so bad that I prayed for him to die even though I loved him with all my heart.”
Grant was left alone to grieve and struggle with his loss, but he still managed to stay sober.
One day after visiting his wife and son, he returned home to a house in flames
“I jumped off my motorcycle and kicked down the door, crawling around the floor and calling my four animals’ names.”
He recalls feeling dizzy and almost losing consciousness. But then he thought about his son, seeing a vision of him banging on a plastic car window at McDonalds. “Dad! Dad!”
That gave him the strength to find his way out of the house despite suffering numerous burns.
He noted that his bulldog, two cats and parrot died in the fire.
“I stood there as my house roof caved in and I lost everything.”
He then made the bad choice of picking up a bottle of booze, which led to a blur of couch surfing and drug abuse.
“I consumed everything I could to block out the pain.”
After several months he began picking up the pieces of his life by landing some honest work here and there.
Finishing one job in Vancouver and driving to the next, he fell asleep at the wheel and collided with another vehicle head-on. He broke both of his legs, one arm and all of his ribs on one side. He later woke up in a hospital, learning that the woman he hit suffered several injuries as well.
“I prayed for her every day,” he said.
After his surgery he was transferred to the Oliver correctional centre where he was placed in a wheelchair, segregated from the other inmates.
“I can’t begin to tell you what it was like to be locked up in that cell, but I thanked God for being alive.”
Grant said he was spared for some reason and still has a chance to be a father to his son.
He made the decision to help others make the right choices by writing a book called “Addictions Prisoner.” After finishing it, he wrote another one for his brother titled “Biography of a Dead Man.” It’s a story about Wayne Grant and his struggles with mental health.
Shawn says he has now inspired other inmates to write their own stories.
Grant says life in the OCC isn’t bad, but he has observed the same people getting released and coming right back in.
“It’s sad because of the lack of release plans for individuals kicked out with no money or place to live; back to the streets only to re-offend and be brought back here.”
Grant said most of the guards are good people who are doing their job but are seeing the same thing he is observing.
“All I know is that more has to be done for the people who suffer from addiction and more has to be done about structuring release plans.”
Grant is working on his third book in hopes to bring awareness to the situation that inmates find themselves in.