Chances for change

At age 28, Destinee Stranger has spent
almost half of her young life incarcerated

"From the time I was 14 until I was 27, I was in and out of the justice system," Stranger said.

On Monday, the parolee, who has a knack for carpentry and some training under her belt, starts her first job that's legit.

I’m excited, but at the same time I’m nervous,” said Stranger. “It’s an actual job.”

She’s going to work for a social enterprise called Manitoba Green Retrofit at a PCL Construction project that’s building Manitoba Housing units on Austin Street. It pays $13.50 an hour to start and is a step toward the aboriginal woman’s goal of earning her red seal in carpentry and getting a share of Manitoba’s economic prosperity.

A report called Creating Pride through Decent Work: Social Enterprises in Manitoba, released Wednesday, says social enterprises are giving people like Stranger an opportunity to earn a decent living. Manitoba has the largest number of aboriginal children in poverty in the country, said the report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Manitoba office. In Winnipeg, areas such as Central Park and William Whyte have poverty rates in excess of 50 per cent — some of the highest poverty levels in the country, it said. Racism and colonization have led to barriers to employment, it said. For many growing up in poverty, the lack of economic success stories among peers and relatives has dulled their own hopes for their future, the report said. Children are poor because families are poor, said the report. Families are poor because parents don’t have a decent job that pays properly and has good working conditions.

Social enterprises were set up to create a path into the workforce for people such as Stranger who face barriers such as a lack of education and work experience, racism and histories of involvement with gangs or the justice system.

When Stranger was 12, her mom moved the family from Winnipeg to her First Nation in Saskatchewan for two years. When the family returned to Winnipeg, 14-year-old Stranger became rebellious. "I spent much of my youth in the Manitoba Youth Centre."

As an adult, she battled addiction and was sentenced to three years for armed robbery. She got an early release and was accepted by the BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Development) Inc. program at the Social Enterprise Centre on Main Street. There she learned carpentry, cabinetry, painting and life skills and developed a work ethic.

Without it, to be honest, I think I would be back in the pen,” said Stranger who is staying at a halfway house. “I've seen women come and go — they have nothing to do with their time,” she said.

It’s hard for any parolee or any person involved with the justice system to get a job,” she said.

Few employers are willing to give them a chance. “People do change their lives,” said Stranger, who believes she didn’t really “grow up” until she was 27.

Personally, for me, I’ve learned responsibility,” she said. “I’ve learned a good work ethic and how to be living a normal life as an a adult,” she said. In the past, “I didn’t have to be up at 6 a.m. for work to pay my bills and to own up to my stuff and be an adult.”

Training someone to get a good job and stay out of the prison system is a good investment for society, said Molly McCracken, one of the Creating Pride report’s authors. It looked at seven social enterprises with 194 participants and interviewed 51 of them for the the first qualitative study of social enterprises in Manitoba.

We have a tremendously underutilized pool of young workers,” said McCracken. Social enterprises are a “springboard” that can help grow the Manitoba economy, she said.

The above article by Carol Sanders first published on in May, 2016.