Ex-Convict Uses What He Learned Behind Bars To Launch Counseling Service For New Inmates
During his 23 years behind bars, Darin Edwards witnessed multiple murders and assaults.
When he discovered the prison counseling industry in the United States, he saw an opportunity to use his unique insight to create a career while helping those who enter the system stay safe.
A consultant is often someone who has served time in prison and is hired to educate convicts on what to expect as they enter and exit the correctional system.
Edwards and his business partner Amy-Rae Goodman co-founded DeadEyes.NoLies Inc. seven months ago. The company is based in St. Albert, Alberta, a small town on the northeast edge of Edmonton.
The trigger came in 2001 when Edwards, then 19, witnessed a riot at the Drumheller Institution jail, 132 kilometers east of Calgary. This incident resulted in the death of a friend.
Of the violent incidents he saw during his time behind bars, Edwards noted, “It was just one thing that cascaded down and ended up getting them killed.”
DeadEyes.NoLies offers a variety of services such as cleaning up their online image, learning how to advocate for parole and reduced sentences, and following their correctional plan.
For people returning to the community, the company helps connect them to community services, housing and employment planning.
The company charges for its services on a case-by-case basis, depending on the services provided and an individual’s ability to pay. There is a paralegal on staff who can provide additional legal assistance.
While doing research before launching DeadEyes.NoLies, Edwards came across only one other Canadian prison consulting firm: Toronto-based Canadian Prison Consulting Inc., founded in 2010 by Lee Steven Chapelle.
Chapelle, who has spent more than 20 years moving in and out of institutions in Quebec and Ontario, said the idea came to him in 2007 when he was chairman of an inmate committee.
Chapelle said he often interacts with people entering the system for the first time.
“They would like to have that knowledge before they go through court,” he said.
“There was a lot of buyer’s regret…and it really told me there was a void between the defense attorney, whose job is the best outcome in a courtroom…and the correctional system.”
Over the past 12 years, Chapelle has developed connections within the legal world to fill these gaps by offering liability-focused advisory services.
He said he handles an average of 25 clients at any one time. Clients pay around $300 for his services.
“You have to understand and understand what got you to this point, in order to move forward not just to do your time, but to overcome and not go back.”
Booming trade in the United States
The United States, which consistently ranks as having the highest incarceration rate in the world, has a well-established prison counseling industry.
Consultants have been used by the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Martha Stewart, and even some people facing charges related to the 2021 Capitol Riot.
The United States spends more than $80 billion every year to keep around 2.3 million people behind bars, according to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
By comparison, Statistics Canada reported that 37,854 adult offenders were incarcerated in federal and provincial correctional facilities in 2018-2019.
Justin Paperny is co-founder of White Collar Advice, an American crisis management and federal prison consulting firm.
Paperny, who served an 18-month sentence in federal prison when convicted in 2008, formally co-founded the company in 2009 with business partner Michael Santos, who had been in the prison system for 26 years.
“The United States continues to send a lot of people to prison, we are the world leader and investigations into white collar crimes have increased over the years,” he said.
“People are finding more ways to prepare and educate themselves, so there’s a market for that. [consulting].”
Molly Swain is a member of Free Lands Free Peoples, an Indigenous-led anti-colonial penal abolition group. The Edmonton-based group provides support for prisoners while advocating for the abolition of the police and the penal system.
She said the nature of prison counseling highlights the violence that is prevalent in a broken system.
“It’s a service that definitely fills a void.” Swain said about DeadEyes.NoLies Inc.
“We know the Prairies have incredibly high incarceration rates, especially for Indigenous people, but for marginalized people in general,” Swain said.
Swain worries that prison counseling is only provided by private companies, making it out of reach for people who can’t afford it.
“It creates a scenario in which it is more acceptable that prison violence is not addressed on a systemic level.”