The Trauma-Informed Lawyer

Dan and Nicole: A Story of Hope and Healing in the Criminal Justice System and Beyond

Episode Summary

This episode includes a true story of a cop and a criminal finding healing, possibility, family and a deep relationship which overcomes trauma, bias, racism and privilege in the criminal justice system.

Episode Notes

Dan Jones and Nicole Whiskeyjack share their story of hope and healing in the criminal justice system. Nicole was sent to prison for kidnapping and Dan was the officer who arrested her. Many years later, Dan has become Nicole's father and the two of them educate law makers, law students, police officers and lawyers on the importance of possibility, healing and relationship building in policing. 

Episode Transcription

Dan and Nicole: A Story of Hope and Healing in the Criminal Justice System and Beyond

I'm Myrna McCallum Metis Cree lawyer and passionate promoter of Trauma Informed Lawyering. Welcome back to the Trauma Informed Lawyer Podcast Season two folks. As you know, I believe that law schools and bar courses are missing a critical competency requirement in their curriculum, Trauma Informed Lawyering. Becoming a Trauma Informed Lawyer will among other things, challenge you to critically reflect on your personal behaviors, beliefs and biases, call on you to positively transform the way you approach advocacy, guide your practice to avoid doing further harm to others and ask that you commit to remaining open to learn new and old knowledge you didn't know you needed before beginning your career. Your education starts right here, right now. Transcripts for season two have been generously sponsored by the BC Law Foundation.


Welcome back folks to another episode of the Trauma Informed Lawyer Podcast. Okay, so I've got a treat for you all today. If you are like me and really enjoy and are inspired by stories of hope and healing and love and possibility, you are going to love today's conversation. Today we have Dan Jones, you've heard him here on the podcast before. He is now a former Edmonton Police Services officer and the current director of Stan Daniels Healing Center in Edmonton, Alberta, I believe. And his adopted daughter, Nicole Whiskey Jack.


The two of them tell a story about a cop and a criminal and possibility. And I use those labels intentionally because our society is committed to labels and we need to definitely squash all that. But I think that for police officers who listen to this episode, indigenous people, judges, everybody who makes up the justice system is really going to be interested and inspired by this story. And I hope at the very least it causes all of us to pause a little bit and think about what we think we know about the people that we're dealing with in the legal system and why prioritizing relationships is really, really critical and really the way forward to changing the horrific stats that we're facing now, particularly when it comes to the incarceration of indigenous people in our prisons and more specifically indigenous women. Go for a walk or make some tea but sit back and enjoy this really awesome episode.

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:02:46):

My name is Nicole Whiskey Jack. I am a tribal member in Satellite Cree Nation in Alberta, Canada. I currently live in Pendleton, Oregon. I work at Yale Hook Tribal Health Center for the tribe here. I'm the community coordinator in the [inaudible 00:03:03] which is Indigenous Project Launch and LAUNCH stands for Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children's Health. I work a lot with prenatal mothers and mothers that are expecting babies and mothers that have babies that are age zero through eight. I actually have a lot of training in that field under my belt and I also have a lot of schooling towards the field of funeral directing because that's what I actually want to do eventually. I have three terms left of school to do that.

Myrna McCallum (00:03:38):

Thanks Nicole for introducing yourself. Dan's in a new role. Dan, can you reintroduce yourself to our listeners?

Dan Jones (00:03:47):

You bet. My name's Dan Jones. I spent 28 years in the justice system as a justice actor. I worked in provincial and federal corrections first and then I just spent, finished up a 25 year career in policing within the city of Edmonton and I had an opportunity to take a job that I would say is a passion job for me. I've been given the position of director at The Stan Daniels Healing Center, which is a section 81 Federal Correctional Center that houses up to 73 federally incarcerated individuals in all different capacities, some of them on unconditional races, some of them on parole, some that are still an inmate status on minimum.


And it's really a place of healing where spirituality and culture brings people together and in a way to heal traumas that they experienced. And I'm super honored to be in that position as a settler. I actually made, when I introduced myself to the staff and the residents, I said I was a recovering [inaudible 00:04:52] and so it's really an honor to be put in a position where culture is so heavy and being a white man and in that role is just an unbelievable honor for me.

Myrna McCallum (00:05:06):

Amazing. And so from all of my listeners, because we know now Dan, folks are listening to this podcast all over the world. Moonia is white man, [inaudible 00:05:16] is police. I think it's pretty cool Dan, that you're in this role. I hope we get to talk about it towards the end of our conversation but I want to hear from both you and Nicole about how you both met. And I'm going to start this conversation hearing about how this...How your paths crossed from her perspective. Nicole, can you tell us a little bit about how you came across Dan?

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:05:45):

I was 19 years old, living in Edmonton, got involved with a street gang that was selling lots of drugs. And so when I grew up, I lost my mom when I was 14 and I lost my dad when I was 16. I had three younger siblings and growing up in poverty, the fastest way to make money is to sell drugs. And so you start selling drugs and the money starts coming in really fast and really quick. And so that being said, I got linked up with this street gang and I started supplying them drugs. And then I got involved with, I would say he was probably the leader at the time, I don't know I was really naive, young, scooped up, basically manipulated and I was basically his girlfriend. And so my oldest daughter, that's actually her biological father but she never sees him, never has anything to do with him.


I was pregnant at the same time as he had another girlfriend pregnant. And that being said, lots of bad stuff happened, got involved with drugs. Long story short, ended up in jail. I kidnapped his ex-girlfriend with his two biological sons who were older, ended up in jail, incarcerated in a remand center, went through all this crazy stuff, high risk take down and that's how I met Dan. One day I was in the remand center, because at this point it was like I wasn't getting back out of jail. It wasn't a high risk take down and I was walking out the police station downtown headquarters in Edmonton. It was like that was all my chances ran out because I had no criminal records so they would always release me because I never had a criminal record and I wasn't involved in that stuff throughout my whole life. It was just being involved with that particular gang member, spiraled out control and then I ended up incarcerated in the Edmonton Remand Center at five months pregnant.


And so when I was there I got a visitor and it was Dan and I don't remember, he'd always visit me with somebody else, I never remembered who the other person was. And to me that's significant because I only ever remembered him I never remembered who was there with him. To me they were like John Doe or John Smith. I never knew who they were, they weren't never significant to me. And that's how I met him. And at the beginning in that part of my life, it was like I was in jail and I was manipulated to think they were the worst people ever. And I remember sitting in conversations in the visiting, this is at the old Remand Center of course.


And so I would sit there and visit with him and he would always ask me questions like, "You don't belong here, what are you doing here? How did you get involved with those guys?" Because he had so much experience knowing them and following that particular individual that I was involved with he would always ask me questions like, "You do not belong here, why are you here?" And I would say, "I got involved with the wrong people, clearly." And it's funny because I remember him asking me, "What are you going to do when you grow up?" And I was like, "Well I'm definitely, when this is all over I'm moving the heck out of here." And it's funny because recently we had a conversation about that and I was like, "I remember sitting in there telling you that I'm going to move to the United States when this is all over with." And it's funny now because I actually do live in the United States now. And so that's how our paths crossed was that's where I was at the time in my life. But then after that we always kept in contact and I used to call him when I was in the remand Center, I used to call him.

Myrna McCallum (00:09:53):

I want to stop you there, Nicole, because I want Dan to fill in some of the gaps here because I know that everyone who's listening to this podcast episode right now are going to be thinking we live in this world that's all about labels. How does a cop and a criminal start having a conversation about what are you doing here and what are you going to do with your life and what are you thinking? Dan, can you just share a little bit about your perspective in terms of your first encounter with Nicole and how did it lead to you coming to visit her in remand?

Dan Jones (00:10:26):

Well, a couple things. I had a really interesting glimpse into Nicole's life because we actually ran a wire tap in that during that investigation, and I was able to listen to her talk. And I believe everyone has potential, everybody. I think one of the things we do, and even in the words you said, "How's a cop in a criminal?" Even that word in itself, as soon as we start telling someone that they're a criminal they start to strive to be what we've told them they are and I think our systems do that. I'm really fortunate I've been allowed to be a part of a few people's journeys into healthiness, Nicole being one of them and I consider Nicole a daughter.


I have two daughters, I have two lovely wonderful daughters that are 21 and 28 but I truly consider Nicole a daughter. I tell everyone, she's my adopted daughter. And just going to see her and she was so not anything like you would expect to be in a gang member, to this day I'm shocked that she was. And then we started having conversations. I talked to her in the remand center. When she got out of prison, she got ahold of me. I remember one of the first days that she was out, we went for coffee to Tim Horton's downtown. Then she started coming to law school and doing presentations on the Gladue decision because Nicole never had a Gladue report.

Myrna McCallum (00:11:54):

Let's back up. I want to Oh, talk about Gladue too. But let's back up because I think we're missing something. How do you get to this connection? I'm hearing you say as a police officer you were investigating her and others for some criminal conduct or criminal behavior. Were you an officer who had arrested her or how did it go from... How did Nicole end up in remand and then how did you end up visiting her there?

Dan Jones (00:12:28):

Yeah, we arrested Nicole I was part of that... It was an organized crime and investigation and gang units so I was part of the arrest team. I started just going to visit her because I just saw that there was a person in there that really needed to get permission to be the person that she is now. And I saw that she had so much potential and I really wanted to understand. And one of the things that I've really strived for is in as my whole career is trying to understand people beyond one chapter in their life. And Nicole was... She gave me that opportunity, she told me about her past. She had that moment in time where she was involved in street gangs and now she's given me the honor of being a part of her, the next chapters in her life, which is, it's not a normal story, I can tell you very, very...


It's very funny because my wife will know when I'm talking to Nicole because I say I love you when I get off the phone with her and I truly do. And I don't even sometimes understand how we got to that space where we're that close. But she's given me an opportunity to realize the entire reason that the justice system exists is truly for stories like Nicole, where you see someone rise from the ashes and become this amazing person who does amazing things and is an amazing mom. And we oftentimes focus so much on punishment that we forget to focus on people. And she is, when I look at my career, Nicole and the people that have allowed me to be in that really make me feel good about my career.

Myrna McCallum (00:14:13):

I want to hear from Nicole about what her reaction was to having this cop and we're using these labels intentionally today because this is, I think what a lot of listeners are going to be thinking. How does this cop and then this air quotes "Criminal" forge this relationship that goes into a place of healing and overcoming and I do want to get to that story.


But I'm also thinking about the people who might be listening to this episode who found themselves wrapped up in the law or jail or offending behavior or cops who were thinking, man, how do I connect with people? Because even though I'm arresting this person, I see a lot of potential maybe similar to what you saw in Nicole, Dan. And so I want to get there. How does that happen? How do you see more than just what society tells you to see? How do you create a relationship that extends beyond what society says your relationship should be as a white cop and an indigenous woman who is now committing crime? Is all these stories about what those relationships should look like. And so I would say that the two of you have really blown all that out of the water and said, "Nope, there's a bigger story here, there's a bigger way forward, there's a bigger purpose to this connection." And so Nicole, can you just tell us a little bit about how did that happen for you to open yourself up to Dan, this white male police officer who has an interest in seeing a better future for you? How do you open yourself up to that given your background?

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:16:02):

Let me tell you, it never started out all peachy keen. At the beginning it was like, I was like, "Ah, F what are you doing here? Get out of here I don't want to visit you." But then after a while, it took a few times and then he came visit me more than a few times. And then finally I was like, all right, this guy has come this much times out of his day and he's giving me that time and that space. And to me that's always valuable for people to do that because a lot of times you always, even me as a mom, I'm always like, "I'm running out of time, I'm running out of time." And time is really valuable. And I remember when I was a kid, my grandparents always said, "Don't waste anybody's time because time is valuable."

Myrna McCallum (00:16:47):

Some people could choose the path of bitterness and hatred and a lot of people do. But what was it about this particular conversation or connection that caused you to just pause and think about what it was that you're hearing and the effort, and reflect on the effort he was actually putting in to connect with you?

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:17:10):

To me, what really hit home for me was when he would come to visit me and we would start to talk. And then, so the visits used to be really short then they were really long. And so when he would visit me, he knew more about the individual that I was involved with so I was pregnant with this man's kid. He knew more about that man than I knew about him. And so he filled me in on all this stuff because he had known him for his whole correctional career, his policing career. He knew him and knew everything about him and I knew nothing. And so that perspective was meaningful to me because I was like, "Well I really don't even know this guy." And because I was so manipulated as a young woman and that happens to a lot of us, I was so manipulated by him and because I was so naive to know exactly what was going on around me, he filled in all those gaps.


And then as a smart young woman, I would test his knowledge at times when he would visit me and most of the time it would be accurate. And so he would tell me things that I didn't even know and then I would ask the individual that was supposed to have loved me air quotes, about the situations and the things that he was involved with and he would lie and manipulate me. And so that's when I realized, "Okay, well he's telling me the truth and he's coming here to visit me. He's giving me all his valuable time and filling me in and he's trying to get me out of this path in my life."

Myrna McCallum (00:18:58):

Thanks Nicole. Dan, what was it, was it something about Nicole and her story that compelled you to do that or was this something that you were doing with all these kids that you were arresting and sending to jail? You tell me.

Dan Jones (00:19:12):

Well, I did, I have done that a lot with a lot of people that I have arrested and I've seen successes, I've seen not successes, I've watched people end up dying, overdoses, homicides. And I looked at my role in life and as a police officer to prevent crime and help people. And it's interesting because this individual that Nicole was involved with, I did know, I've longer than I've been a police officer because he was in the system when I was there. And when he came out onto the street in Edmonton I saw him doing ultimate harms to the indigenous people in the community because he was a member of a street gang and was very much heavily involved in indigenous folks. And go back fast forward or rewind all the way beyond Nicole, to the woman that Nicole kidnapped. I remember sitting at the table, the kitchen table of that woman that Nicole kidnapped when she was 10 years old and her brothers were like six and seven and their mom was there and they were involved with this man and I said, He's going to destroy your family.


And eventually the mom got arrested, the kids ended up in care, when she turned 17, she started dating that individual and had a baby with him and that family I watched just be annihilated by street gang involvement. And then I see Nicole and I see this really, really bright young woman who's pregnant, who's going to have a baby while she's incarcerated. And I look at our systems and I look at the contribution that I've made to the system in a negative way. I've incarcerated a lot of indigenous people, I have arrested a lot of indigenous people and I have watched these individuals go to jail and their kids go to care and the cycle continue and continue and continue. And with Nicole, I saw this amazingly bright young lady who was about to have a baby and that baby could end up in care and that cycle could continue.


Chief Cadmus Delorme from the Cowesses First Nation once said, and when he was at a presentation he talked about residential schools and he talked about the colonization and the impact of colonization. Taking the indigenous community from a linear community where your lineage is straight up where we learn from cook thems and we learn from mom and we learn from. And what we've done in colonizations, we flatten that out becomes this horizontal line where people don't get to learn from their loved ones and they don't get to get the teachings that they need.


And we continuously perpetuate that by utilizing the justice system as a punishment and a punitive thing. And I saw Nicole as this woman that didn't belong in those spaces. She was going to go there because we knew that, I knew what the case likely was. And this is a young woman who had no previous criminal record and her sentence was five years and that to me was crazy, I didn't expect that and I just really wanted to be a support for her so that she could get that vertical lineage again and it's beautiful to watch and she's done it.

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:22:27):

I will add to that. Where he says that most of the children are born and then they're taken into care and that was what they thought was going to happen to me. But because of, like he said, I never belonged in that space. And so I had the knowledge and the resources and the support from my family that I knew that when I was going to have my daughter, she was not going to be taken away. And let me tell you, they pressed and pressed and that was their goal was she... Her dad is a high risk, high profile gang member, she's going to foster care. And I set it up so that when she was born that my brother would be right there at the hospital to take her home because I knew that I was not going to be going home with her that day. And it was hard for me to process in my mind that I wasn't going to go home with her that day but eventually I would be there.

Myrna McCallum (00:23:32):

I'm sure you know, Nicole, I know Dan knows in this country right now in Canada I believe about 50% of women in federal custody are indigenous women. It's really, really high. 66% of kids and care are indigenous in this province. Horrific. And my heart is just breaking as I'm thinking about these stats and I'm thinking about these practices and there's so much that I want to comment on and say but I want to hear how it was Nicole that you were able to hang on to hope and know that even though that day you weren't going home with your baby, that you were going to go and be with your baby one day. How did you manage that without giving into all the pain?

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:24:22):

I had a plan set up. My brother actually, and which is funny because my nephew that I keep is actually his son. I'm actually repaying the favor basically. But when my brother was going to take her home from the hospital, I also had my best friend, her name is Amber, and I had her and her husband there and I said, "If my brother takes her home, will you be there to support her and all this and be there for her and support him in any way possible?" And they were like, "Yes, absolutely."


And my goal at the end of that was I did not want my daughter to go to foster care and I did not want her to be taken away from me. And that being said, so I wasn't sentenced yet but I knew that when I would get sentenced that I would fight to stay in Edmonton because I knew there was a women's prison in Edmonton and I would fight to stay in Edmonton so that I could visit with my daughter and be able to schedule those visits with my daughter at the Remand Center. When I got sentenced, I basically looked into all the information and asked lots of questions and basically advocated for myself because I knew there was nobody going to advocate for me.

Myrna McCallum (00:25:46):

Thanks Nicole. I'm listening to you and thinking about something that Dan had said and a practice that's been occurring in this country, which is, I'm sure you've heard and you've probably had family talk about, particularly on the prairies, there's these birth alerts. When indigenous women are giving birth to, in hospitals, people are alerted because as an assumption based of course in racism that we cannot parent or children so many indigenous women are having their children apprehended right after they give birth to them for no valid purpose. They're being denied the opportunity to be mothers and that is perpetuating this trauma experience. And in many ways, I think many people have said it also perpetuates the same legacy of residential school system, taking children from family. Dan, you had mentioned that when Nicole was sentenced to five years, no criminal record, you were shocked.

Dan Jones (00:26:55):

From a individual who had no criminal background up until she started her criminal background at 19, getting sentenced to just about five years in a federal sentence for her... Yeah, there were the offenses, it was kidnapping and obstruct justice and a bunch of other stuff. But I was like, I've watched people get so many different sentences and I know that we can empirically prove that indigenous people get longer sentences than non-indigenous people in this country. And it was just that, again, it was another, you've got this big bad indigenous gang member and we're going to throw her to jail and we're going to make sure she does federal time. And it was shocking for me because I've been involved in a lot of different things and I've seen a lot of different sentences.


And I recently saw individual in Edmonton who was charged for a sexual assault of 13 women and convicted of sexually assaulting six of them. And the judge said he was with promising young man and he was given I think a six year sentence for that, his first criminal offense in his thirties and I think he was convicted for six of 13. To me that's a pretty egregious offense as well and he's a white guy and I look at that and I get very, very frustrated with the system. It has a tendency to over incarcerate indigenous people. You talked about the BC, right now in Alberta we have more kids in care than at the peak of her residential school system. And then I look at Nicole and I look at her young nephew that she has and I watched as she fought a system that seemed to really want to keep him or take him into the system because even when we had, I was able to get his dad and his mom to sign an agreement for Nicole to have custody. The judge was wavering on actually giving Nicole custody because she was going in... She was taking him to the states and he didn't know if he had the power to grant that.


It just seems to me and every moment the system wants to fight to keep indigenous kids in care. And even the way Nicole got treated at the kiosk when she was filling up the papers, the lady behind the kiosk must have asked her seven times if she had the money to pay for that. And that you have to pay for that today and you know have to pay for that. And I remember thinking to myself, I've never... I've been at this kiosk, I've never heard her say that, that lady I've never heard people say that before. And you have this very visibly indigenous woman in front of you filing paperwork and custody and it was just brutal. Again, the constant and real racism that's out there that's not even systemic that's just plain old racism.

Myrna McCallum (00:29:39):

I've had similar experiences many, many times and it makes me feel a little ragy. I won't talk about that right now though. What I want to say is, Dan actually taking an interest in your future and inspiring you to think beyond the life that you knew, how has that transformed the path that you have decided to take?

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:30:05):

It goes back to what he said, he saw potential in me that I didn't see at that time in my life because can you imagine being locked up 23 hours a day, pregnant and be only, like I said, time is very valuable and he would come and visit me so every time he would visit me I would be out of myself for all of that time. I will say when I was in the remand center, I wasn't happy obviously, I was locked up 23 hours a day. And being in the remand center in the circumstances was there, there was other street gang members in there. And I think my second day in the Remand Center, five girls from a different street gang were trying to jump me because by that time they found out exactly who I was and why I was there and I had to defend myself.


They surrounded me right beside the telephones and I stood on the bench and I was like, "All right, let's go." And I'm five months pregnant. But at this point not none of those women knew that I was pregnant and I had two phones on each side of me and so I had to defend myself. And so when he would come it would be like, "Oh yes, I'm off of there." It just took me out of that space and brought me to a space where he really cares about me and he really is here to help me. And every time he visited me he said, "I want to help you, I want to help you." Every single time.

Myrna McCallum (00:31:38):

To be the show on called Man Alive. Indigenous Kids and I took interest and he said, "When I was going into jail it was a white man who locked the door behind me and it was only when I was on the inside that I saw my own people." And I was 15 when I heard that, I never forgot it. And I started to think, and I've always thought Nicole and Dan, about how that says so much to us, particularly as young indigenous people, about where we belong and where we don't. And for whatever reason I just thought I will not ever go to jail, I will never go to jail. In fact, I'm going to become a lawyer or I'm, at the time I think I even considered becoming, I wanted to become a judge. I don't anymore but at the time I was like, "We need our own people in these roles."


And so I think that as we have young indigenous people listening to this podcast episode, I invite them to think about what society has told you about where you belong and where you don't. And I invite white or non-indigenous lawyers and judges and police officers who are listening to this episode to also reflect on how your biases and your behaviors and your beliefs also reinforce these ideas about where indigenous people belong. Do we belong, in your view, do we belong in prison or do we belong on the bench or do we belong at council table or on the police force?


We need to start thinking about what our biases are because as Dan said, they're informing the decisions that we make. Indigenous people are sentenced to worst, worse and longer and harsher sentences than non-indigenous people. Dan just said that, I know that, statistics share that, Ivan Zinger who is this corrections investigator who submits all these reports to the public every year, his stats reflect that. Dan, I'm curious, where do you think, where can meaningful transformation begin? I think it starts with having, building relationships, transforming the relationships we have with each other. And I would say your relationship, you and Nicole is an example of that. But for other police officers or justice participants listening to this conversation, where do they begin?

Dan Jones (00:34:24):

Well I think that it begins at the beginning and I mean that as the beginning of a person's career. I think police training is archaic. I think that we still teach in policing across probably North America, if not the world, that everyone's a threat, you always have to be ready. And I get into arguments around this with people from an officer safety background and officer safety is important. Believe me, I know that I've lost friends who've been killed on this job, on policing. That being said, there's also a ton of evidence that shows if you're compassionate and you are human and you are calm, you will actually have to use less force. Everyone's not a threat. We have to teach justice actors in general, not police, corrections, lawyers, judges that it's okay to be vulnerable with the vulnerable and it's okay to show your vulnerability and be honest and it's okay to have relationships. Because if you really look at the policies of most police agencies, I would have breached policy by my relationship with Nicole because there's policies that say I'm not supposed to interact with people with criminal backgrounds. For when Nicole was freshly out of prison and on stat release and I'm going for coffee with her, I technically was breaching because that wasn't for a work purpose, that was a relationship purpose.


The other thing is we need to give justice actors permission to have those relationships. Because if you think your role is to prevent crime, Nicole's never committed an offense again. Her kids aren't getting commit offenses, they're out of that cycle. Our relationships that people can actually be a crime prevention technique. And it was actually one of your previous podcasts really, really meant something to me when Ian Kegan Smith talked about the judge coming off the bench the 18th time that she had that individual in front of her and gave her a hug and he said, "That's great, but why not come off that bench the first time and give her a hug?" And it meant a lot to me because I thought, you know what, that's how I really tried to do this job, is be, try to be there for people and realizing that everyone's success is different. Nicole is an absolute amazing success story but maybe someone's success story is that they get to have visits with their kids or maybe someone's success story is they get their kids back from care. Maybe someone's success story is that they're no longer committing violent crime, they're just committing property crime and then some people would argue with me that that's not success.


Success is reduction of harm and that's what the whole point of the justice system is. And it's not, the goal shouldn't be to incarcerate. The goal should be to do everything you can to prevent people from going to jail and supporting people when they need support and being open to... And Nicole knows that she can call me at any time and I will do anything I can do to help her and her family up in Canada because she's got a long ways to go, it's a long drive for her from Oregon to here. Being that being there and being there for people and giving them your time and your compassion and leading with compassion is what the justice system needs to do. We need to overhaul the whole thing and turn it into a compassionate system, a trauma informed system and a system that's there for people, not to incarcerate people.

Myrna McCallum (00:37:52):

When we incarcerate people, and I was reflecting on Harold Johnson's words when I interviewed him about Peace and Good Order, The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada. I said incarcerating, particularly indigenous people with this whole history of trauma that has really resulted from colonization is like putting a bandaid over a bullet wound, you're really not, you're fixing anything. And colonial values of denunciation and deterrence do nothing to heal whatever is wounded that is contributing to that offending behavior and we have to get to that. But that's my perspective as someone who's never been incarcerated except for once when I was a teenager, I was in cells overnight for a stupid thing I did. But I'm curious, Nicole, did prison help you in any way? Did it transform you, did it set you on the right path?

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:38:57):

People that know me today, some people don't even know that I've been to prison. I don't think it really set me on the right path but I think point in my life because I didn't have my wisest part of my mind going at the time when I got involved in all that. And I was probably at the most vulnerable place in my life because I had lost my parents and I never really healed. My grandma was the last one to go when I was 18, which then that was when it was like, "Okay, what do I got to do to take care of my siblings?" Because, we had nobody left.


And when I was in prison I used to get visits and I used to get private family visits with my daughter. And when I was there I had a lot of time to think and I always told myself, "I'm never going to come back to this place." And my auntie, she used to visit me when I was in prison and then a few months before I got released from prison, my brothers, my auntie and uncle actually brought my brothers to visit me. And when I went to jail and then when I seen them at that visit, it was like they had grown up and I was like, "All right, so they really need me and I'm basically the only mother figure that they've had and I have to be a role model and set an example for them so that all of this stuff doesn't happen to them."


And then I also knew that I had my daughter who's now 15, so I knew that I had to change everything about my life when I was released. And that being said, it wasn't hard to get established when I was released from prison. For me what was really hard was getting rid of her father out of my life because he was really manipulating, really stalkerish. He knew where I was all the time and that was really hard for me was getting rid of him. And it was hard for me to just cut those ties because he was so manipulating. And even a two minute phone call, it was like I was doing stuff for him and it was like "Why am I doing this?" Like I said, it was really hard to get rid of the gang member in my life.

Dan Jones (00:41:38):

I watched again, Nicole fight and I ended up getting to go to court with her when she got a sole custody of her daughter and I was able to actually go into court and talk about what the type of person the father was and what he was involved in. And it was really great to see again, Nicole, fight, fight, fight for all of those things and just show that success in being an amazing mom who is relentless in making sure her kids are in a good space.

Myrna McCallum (00:42:15):

Quite the experience. I could also see Nicole, how leaving might have been an essential element of that planned forward, to just leave because I often have heard people say similar things and I'd say I'm one of those people that sometimes you just have to remove yourself geographically, go far away from certain environments in order to escape those environments.

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:42:39):

And I will add to what my dad was saying earlier about the justice system and how indigenous people are sent to jail for far much longer than white people. It's crazy because when we used to do presentations at law school to all the law students and the lawyers and all the people who were there, when I came in and shared my story with some of them, it was them looking at me. It was like, "Wow, she did a five year prison sentence." Even just them looking at me was unbelievable for them. And so to me that speaks volumes in itself and their reaction and because those are the people that are going to be sending somebody who could be like me or is like me or have the bump in the road all down the hole and then who knows years later they'll be just like me. Those are the people who are going to be giving the fate to somebody who could be like me, right?

Myrna McCallum (00:43:42):

I'm really glad that you've raised that Nicole, because as a lawyer what I've seen some people do who I think have some really deep unconscious biases, really informing a lot of how they do what they do and think how they think and decide how they decide is sometimes they will look at you and go, "Oh, but you are the exception, you're special, you're different, that's how you got here." And I could see some people might hear your story and think, oh well Nicole is very exceptional or Myrna, becoming a lawyer, very exceptional. And I always say I rail against it every time I hear that. And I say, "We are not the exception, we are the rule." And if I think what you and I have in common is I had somebody also who came early into my life to say, "You could be more than the world that you live in."


All the limitation that you see because of poverty and all this other stuff, you're more than that, you can be more than that. And I think just that messaging that I would say Dan also offered you, that can change lives. And I think that if you have the power and the influence or the opportunity to ever communicate that to someone, a younger person or any person in your life who is telling themselves a story about where they belong and how their life is written for them, that could be incredibly transformational to actually challenge them with another story about who they can be.


And I think non-indigenous people who are in positions of power and authority listening to this conversation need to understand that. And I think Nicole would agree, we are not the exception, we are not exceptional, we are not special. Every indigenous person who comes into these spaces just maybe didn't have someone who took the time to see them, to hear them, to visit them, sit with them and tell them a different story about what their future could hold for them.

Dan Jones (00:45:44):

Nicole used to obviously come to law school with me and present and it was a very powerful presentation because we were talking about her experience, her life, lack of Gladue, what sentencing looks like. I was asked to come and do a presentation at the Crown's Conference and I asked if I could bring Nicole. The crown prosecutor said no because the word that I was told was when she gets arrested again then we'd have bias in her case. And it really, really hit me and I was really, really angry because it's the expectation of the system that people are going to fail. We tell them that they're going to fail and we don't give an opportunity for all of the crowns in the province of Alberta in whatever year that was, probably 2009, 2010 to listen to a person. And I can tell you right now, looking across and looking out at that audience, it was a pretty white audience. And I think that the settlers and the calling as a settler in this person, I also know I am a treaty person too because I'm on treaty six land, were all treaty people. And having that opportunity for someone like Nicole to come and speak to them would've been an amazing opportunity for them to get a glimpse into something different and they refuse out of an idea that she would re offend.

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:47:02):

To me, that's the powerful part of everybody's story, is having a lived experience and telling those people who are going to be making those decisions and having lived experience is what they need to hear.

Myrna McCallum (00:47:16):

This system, but lots of systems, lots of professions, we don't provide enough emphasis on lived experience. And I really think that folks who are committed to challenging their biases need to put... If they're recruiting, they need a line that says lived experience, let's talk about it. And in some cases I will say lived experience can replace any academic achievement or the school you went to or whatever it might be and we need to start. That's one of the reasons why I talked to folks about cultural humility because that positions people as an expert in their own lived experience and their lived experience can help inform and challenge us and what we think we know about somebody's lived experience and about what they're capable of within not capable of.


And I hear you talking, Dan and it's disheartening when I hear that because it's reinforces all these biases that keep the system inequitable and unjust for indigenous people. Ragy, makes me ragy. I want to ask the two of you, you already referenced a little bit going into law schools and sharing your story and talking about your relationship and how it's blossomed into this healing good positive thing. What has come in terms of the relationship? How has it helped challenge justice actors? What have the two of you done together? What are you committed to doing and what motivates you to share this story?

Nicole Whiskeyjack (00:49:01):

He gives me lots of opportunity to share my lived experience story. Recently I did attend a parliamentary committee meeting with Marlene Moore from Native Counseling Services of Alberta. It was really... They wanted to know after when I started presenting my story, everybody wanted to hear more and they only a lot a certain amount of time for you to hear your story and present. And let me tell you, just presenting to that parliamentary committee and those are all the decision makers of Canada, of Alberta, of everywhere. As soon as they heard me being in and sharing my story, they were sitting up straight in their chairs, they were listening. It really caught them off guard to hear somebody like me share my lived experience and how I had my first daughter while I was incarcerated and stuff like that.


And Marlene was like, Yeah, I want to connect with you about other things you can do. And I said, Yeah, sure that I'm not opposed to that. And then one of the ladies asked me during that parliamentary meeting, she asked me about my daughter and I told her, I said, "You know what?" I said, "It's really funny that you asked that because my daughter, she's now 15, she's a sophomore, she's the sophomore class secretary of her whole school, she's a honor student, she's an all honors classes, she is on track to honors diploma and an associate's degree. But if any of her teachers, if she was to ever tell anybody, "I was born while my mom was incarcerated, nobody would probably ever believe her."

Myrna McCallum (00:51:00):

Wow. Congratulations Nicole. Because her achievements are your achievements and what an incredible testament to you as a mother. Gosh, imagine who she's going to be in 10 years, that's pretty exciting. Okay, Dan, I want to ask you're... I want to talk about of course transformation and motivation for sharing these stories and you and Nicole, and I'm thinking, I can't help but think about Harold Johnson's story when he talked on the episode I had with him and he talked about the emphasis on redemption, how we need to allow people to redeem themselves and earn their way back into community. And he talked about how he and this fellow named Hillary. Hillary was a community member who was getting drunk one night, killed his brother, killed Harold's younger brother drinking and driving, woke up in cells the next day, had no recollection that he had killed anybody. And what ended up happening after Hillary got out of prison and Harold had said prison did nothing for Hillary to earn his way back into the community to help with healing.


But what did help was after he got out, both Harold and Hillary were going into schools and they were talking about, Hillary was talking about what it was like to wake up in cells after a drunk, hearing that he killed somebody. And Harold talked about what it felt like to lose a brother to drinking and driving and he says this is how Hillary earned his way back into the community. And this is redemption and this is why redemption is so important. We need to allow people this opportunity to redeem themselves. And I don't know if that feeds into any of this healing or redemption but I'm curious, Dan, from your perspective, what's a key motivator for you and Nicole to go into these spaces and introduce this story to people?

Dan Jones (00:53:09):

Nicole also recently participated in trauma training as a participant and actually presented her story and was really valuable to a bunch of police officers as well and a bunch of our social navigators in the help team. And the motivation is pretty, it's about getting people to understand that people are much more than their offense and we need to start to do that in order to help people heal. Interestingly enough, which is a really... We've already talked about next time Nicole comes to Edmonton, they'd like her to go speak at Buffalo Sage Wellness House, which is the Sister Healing Lodge to the Stan Daniels Healing Center where I'm currently the director. And it just an interesting point, talk about motivation and talk about amazing lease, small world things. One of the people that was involved in delivering Nicole's baby was a correctional officer at the remand center named Tiffany.


Tiffany is now the director at the Boston Buffalo Sage Wellness House. And Tiffany had a recent opportunity, we Face Timed Nicole from Tiffany's office because Tiffany had not seen Nicole since she left Remand Center and had no idea of Nicole's story. And that right there is also the motivator, is we get cynical in law in any of the legal practices because we see people in that one moment and then we incarcerate them and then we don't see anything else. And we probably perpetuate the story that they're going to maintain their criminality and their badness for the rest of their lives because we don't let ourselves see that. And the motivation is to change how justice actors interact with people so that we can be more human centered, more compassionate and really build on that legitimacy piece. As we know right now, specifically to policing, policing is in a legitimacy crisis based on a bunch of things. And it's not just George Floyd, it's a bunch of other things as well. And that legitimacy crisis can only be solved by what I would say is called, be inside out marketing because it's not going to be solved by the media. Because the media, there's research that shows you need one... For every one negative story about the police, you need 14 positives to increase that legitimacy. Well that's not going to happen.


Let's get people and communities talking about justice system differently. Let's get people and communities talking about, "I had a really great experience when I got arrested and the person who arrested me checked on me and checked on my family." And there's nothing wrong with that. And that's how we're going to make change. And that's the motivation for me. And that's motivation for when I get opportunities for Nicole to speak because listening to another white guy who's got some academic credibility and stuff talk isn't going to change in anything. Having Nicole and some other folks that come and speak for me that have lived experience actually hopefully might make a difference.

Myrna McCallum (00:55:56):

That's really important because things need to change. You referenced earlier year, Dan, that Nicole didn't get a Gladue report done when she was sentenced. What impact do you think that might have had on the severity of her sentence, if any? And then you could just explain for our listeners who don't know a little bit about why these Gladue reports, where that comes from, why they ought to be used, why this supposed to be used by judges in Canada?

Dan Jones (00:56:26):

The [inaudible 00:56:27] Report is, provides basically a social history of the individual that also links back to trauma and the experiences the individuals had. And in I get into arguments with people because people think they're an excuse report, I've heard that turn in justice before. They're not. It's understanding the root cause of symptomatic criminality and is what it really is, gets right down to. And what it should do is it mitigate sentencing where you start to look at the life of the individual and what has it they've experienced. And then you start to realize that their criminality is actually a symptom of the trauma that they've experienced or their drug use is the symptom of the trauma they experienced. And all of those things then should result in a lower sentence and more community contacts and more bringing things into culture.


And that's why there are healing lodges in this country like Stan Daniels and Buffalo Sage, so that people can come into a space, specifically indigenous people, and they can replace and repair their trauma and then replace criminality with culture, replace addictions and addictive behavior with culture because culture is so powerful. And it's the reason I say we, the colonizer colonizing folks tried to take it away because we knew it was powerful. We also knew that there was a lot of, when it comes to indigenous women, that a lot of indigenous communities were very matriarchal. And we also knew that from a European perspective, women with power was a dangerous thing. All of those things have to come into that the historical trauma, residential schools, Vicurious, all of those things come into play and have to be part of Gladue reports. And I think there would've been a very good possibility Nicole wouldn't have done federal time if she had a Gladue report.

Myrna McCallum (00:58:13):

Thanks for sharing that. I can say all kinds of things about when I was a crown. Oftentimes I heard there weren't rarely if... I don't think I had ever a Gladue report in any of my sentencings. We just didn't have writers, we didn't have anywhere to request them because why the government didn't prioritize them, didn't create resources so that people can get trained to offer these things. And I would often hear judges saying, "I take notice, I'm taking judicial notice that this is an Aboriginal offender." Whatever the hell that meant. And then go on to sentence them to whatever harsh, oftentimes harsh or ridiculous sentences.


And so I think I've just had the honor, privilege of delivering a training session to a bunch of group of Gladue writers in Toronto at Aboriginal Legal Services. From their perspective, they talked a little bit about how sometimes writing these Gladue reports not only kicks up a lot of trauma in the offender but also creates trauma for them. And then don't, there's not enough time or space or consideration. And sometimes lawyers and judges are really reckless in communicating the contents of the Gladue report in open court, which ends up feeling humiliating and demoralizing and disrespectful and creates even more harm.


And I think I'm probably going to start delving a little bit more into how we can help Gladue writers do what they do and how we can help individuals who are contributing their lived experience to a Gladue report be protected by the ways in which the courts traumatize indigenous people by protecting a little bit of their history and their story. I want to ask, before we close this, I want to know, Dan, why'd you go over to Stan Daniel's Healing Center? Why do you leave policing to go into corrections? Which I think some listeners would think, "Oh, like you're going to try to bring trauma informed practice to corrections? Good luck, buddy." Because a lot of people know corrections for being probably one of the most traumatizing environments that exists within the sphere of justice. Tell us, what was the draw?

Dan Jones (01:00:48):

The draw is returning to passion. I had a great career as a police officer, the last seven of which I was a senior leader or senior officer. It was great for a bunch of things but it took me away from people. I really wanted to go back into that space because I wanted to help people and I wanted to bring that trauma-informed lens into that space and Stan Daniel Healing Center has a trauma-informed lens because it's a healing center, it's not a correctional facility, it's not a prison. There's no locking doors, there's no weapons in there, there's no handcuffs. There's ceremony, there's pipe ceremonies every week, there's sweats every week. I walk in and every morning, the first thing I smell at about seven o'clock is the smudge that one of the residents takes around and smudges the whole building and it gives me the opportunity to smudge every morning.


And to me, I will be honest and I've said this, I do have some guilt from 28 years in policing and or 25 years in policing and three years in corrections.


I have some guilt in working in the system for so long that I don't agree with a lot of it. And I've seen harms come from the system I've seen if you just take one decision away in Nicole's story and all of a sudden she isn't as relentless in fighting for her little one to not go to care and that little one goes into care and what this story could look like if that happened. And for me that's that... And I know and maybe guilt is, maybe it's not fair of myself to put that on me but I see this as an opportunity to go into a space, work with the community, work specifically, and the vast majority of the residents there are indigenous, come into that space and use, if I can, use my privilege to advance things in different ways because I do have privilege. I'm white, I'm a male, I'm educated and hopefully I can work with our indigenous brothers and sisters and the native counseling services as a whole as well as Stand Daniel Healing Center to try to make some actual change when it comes to trauma informed practices. And understanding that even with Gladue we have a 56% increase in incarceration of indigenous people in the last 10 years.


What do we need to do differently? And that's also, those things also lead to... Being in this position, I was able to have, find an opportunity where Nicole got to speak to a parliamentary committee. How many people who've done federal prison sentences get to speak to parliamentary committees? And she got to do that and it's awesome. Yeah, that's where I'm at. It's really great and I love interacting with the residents at Stan Daniels. We've got some talented people in there, Artists, bead workers, star blanket makers, rappers, some really dope rappers in there. It's just great again to come back to seeing that. And it's very interesting because when I talk to people in policing, they can't believe that I'm working in a place they can have up to 73 people who are incarcerated federally, that we don't have any weapon systems. And it goes to me and it shows to me, maybe we need to rely less on weapon systems and more on relationships.

Myrna McCallum (01:04:09):

All right. That's my show for today folks. Thank you to Nicole for joining us from Pendleton, Oregon. I want to also say congrats Nicole, because I'm aware that you got married on April 22nd in Hawaii, and Dan, your dad was there to walk you down the aisle. Listeners, if you love this episode and you love this podcast, please leave me a rating and review on Apple or a Spotify. And if you have any feedback, were to reach me on social media at The Trauma Informed Lawyer on Instagram, LinkedIn. Use my name and at the TIL podcast on Twitter. Thanks everyone. Take care of yourselves. This episode was recorded on the traditional ancestral and unceded territory of the Squamish, Tslei-Waututh and Musqueam people.