May 01, 2017
Linda Fumano has a degree in criminology. But, more important than that, she has a bounty of empathy.
As the program manager for the Corrections Services Canada Program at Phoenix, Linda is responsible for overseeing two floors and five transitional suites for 20 male parolees.
Some people might see the job as frightening. But not Linda. “I know a lot of the prison population, so I’m pretty much the most protected female in the Lower Mainland,” she says with a laugh. But her friendly, casual style belies the importance of her job. And it downplays the passion she brings to advocating for people who struggle with their role in society.
Linda started with Phoenix back in 2004 in a practicum related to her degree. From there, she became a regular support staff member and then a supervisor. Later, Linda took over as manager of Ambro House — a specialized mental health and high needs centre. When the society moved to its current location, she began overseeing the program for parolees.
“We help keep the community safe by really working with the offenders,” she says. “When I meet these clients, I don’t read their files at the beginning; I get to know them first. You get to know the human side of somebody, and if there’s humanity, there’s hope. These are people who have slipped through society’s cracks.”
But a lot of the parolees are more scared of regular people than everyone else imagines, Linda says. “They’ve been tough and violent to hide their fear,” she says, “it’s a defence mechanism.” Linda believes that many of the men need to “learn” how to take part in community life because they never had the chance for that lesson as children. They might have faced poverty or abusive parenting or early exposure to drugs or alcohol.
“Typically, a lot of it happened when they were children,” she says. “I remember sitting with a man who cried, and all I could do was listen. I’m not justifying the things he did, but I don’t know that I would have turned out any differently if I had faced the same circumstances…. Unless you walk in the person’s shoes, you really don’t know.”
For this reason, Linda believes one of her most important jobs is to help the parolees feel safe.
“If they’re feeling safe then we’re safe,” she says.
Linda’s attitude has earned her some lifelong friends. People who have finished their sentence still keep in touch and communicate with her at work. “At the end of the day, a lot of them have thanked me for being there. They knew I wasn’t there just to get my pay cheque and that I actually care.
“To me, it’s never been just a job.”