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I am writing on behalf of Aidan Cromwell.

I met Aidan in June, 2013 when


he wrote to me after reading an article in the Chronicle Herald where I spoke ab
out working with incarcerated people as a priority during my term as Poet Laurea
te of the Halifax Regional Municipality. Aidan contacted me seeking advice on h
is poetry. I was struck by the courage and agency he had in reaching out to rec
eive criticism and help with his writing. We built a strong relationship throug
h Aidan sharing his poetry, and communicating about his experiences and feelings
. In addition to mentoring Aidan in poetry, part of the advice I gave him as a p
oet was to increase his vocabulary, to read the dictionary, and to pay attention
to news and to read anything available. Aidan has taken this advice seriously,
and has engaged in a directed reading program through contact with faculty at D
alhousie University. Having taught in universities (Dalhousie, University of Ki
ngs College and Acadia University) since 2007, I can attest that Aidan is engaged
in reading and critical work at a university level, including reading many diff
icult works of political and social science. He is committed once in federal pr
ison to taking educational programming, and with the correct supports I believe
he shows great academic potential. Despite suffering from ADHD, Aidan has been
able make progress with his studies under difficult circumstances, and I believe
the focus he has shown, particularly in his writing, demonstrates a young man d
etermined to overcome challenges. I have grown to know and care for Aidan not on
ly through his poetry, but through letters and visits, and I have seen his deter
mination to change his life positively and to take accountability.
Since 2010, I have been a faculty member in the African Canadian Transitio
n Option (formerly the African Canadian Transition Program) at the Nova Scotia C
ommunity College. The mandate of this program is to support African Nova Scotia
n learners in achieving their high school diploma. We frequently work with lear
ners who have come to us through contact with the justice system or who have bee
n previously incarcerated. We partner with the Association of Black Social Work
ers to provide education in the context of recognizing the particular barriers a
nd challenges that face racialized learners in the education system. As an Afri
centric educator, I recognize the trauma Aidan has experienced due in particular
to the suicide of his brother when he was 13, and the various challenges his fa
mily encountered in receiving help and support for this trauma. At the same tim
e as Aidan has encountered many of the systematic and social obstacles historic
to the African Nova Scotian community, he has taken significant steps to empower
himself through education, writing, and building strong support networks. He h
as a strong and supportive family, and through his poetry he has engaged artists
, academics and the wider African Nova Scotian community. With these loving and
supportive foundations in place, Aidan has the tools for reintegration and reha
bilitation.
As a result of his initial contact with me, Aidan became connected to prog
ramming that I am active in as a mentor through In My Own Voice (IMOV,) a progra
m for at-risk youth that uses arts programming and telling your story to build hea
lthy identities, teach youth to communicate in constructive ways, and to provide
support and programming to youth from high-risk communities to help prevent con
tact with the justice system and rehabilitate those within institutions. IMOV i
s partnered with numerous community and justice organizations, including the Hal
ifax Regional Police. I have mentored with IMOV since 2009, and have worked both
through IMOV and through various community, literacy and advocacy organizations
to present programming in Nova Institution, Springhill and Waterville, as well
as collaborating with Inside/Out to work with women in Grand Valley Institute. A
idan took responsibility for writing to the program director, Sobaz Benjamin abo
ut taking part in whatever ways possible in our programming.
I cannot speak strongly enough about the impact Aidan has had on the youth
involved in our program. As part of our programming, we run a radio show calle
d Youth Now! Radio on CKDU where we give young people from high-violence, racial
ized, and marginalized communities an opportunity to speak about the experiences
and circumstances that affect their lives. Aidan has participated in this prog
ramming by sharing his poetry, as well as speaking about his experiences as an i
ncarcerated person. His willingness to speak honestly about his own choices and
behavior, as well as his openness in sharing his feelings through his poetry ha
s made a serious difference in the lives of the youth who participate and listen
. While we as mentors can send young people messages about making healthy choic
es, avoiding violence, completing education and building positive relationships,
to hear these messages from someone who has been there, and is paying the conse
quences for his choices has immeasurable impact on youth. The young people high
ly respect Aidan due to his honesty about the mistakes he has made and his accou
ntability for his actions, and he has been able to actively shift their narrativ
es about violence and imprisonment. These youth are surrounded by media messages
that frequently glorify violence, incarceration and gangster life, so to hear fro
m a young man their own age who shares their background, challenges and life exp
eriences about the reality of these choices and to have the positive choices the
y are making reinforced has made a huge impression upon them. We value Aidans co
ntributions to the program highly because he has been able to speak to the youth
in real ways and to intervene with them to change their ideas about manhood, viol
ence and gangster/prison culture.
As well as impacting the youth in the program, Aidans involvement in the radio sh
ow has had a tremendous effect on the other inmates. This remarkable feature of
the show has been commented upon by many in the community, as well as by the st
aff at CKDU. Through Aidans influence, many of the inmates have been motivated t
o write their own poetry. One experience that particularly affected those of us
involved in the program was an inmate who goes by the name of Casper, who read a
poem talking about how much he respects Aidan, how Aidans commitment to writing h
as influenced him, and how Aidans focus on positive change has affected his own w
riting and ways of communicating. Aidan has encouraged these inmates not only t
o write, but specifically to share honestly about their experiences rather than
following the trends of gangster rap. Inmates have written about their regret for
life choices, their desire to change their lives for siblings, their changed att
itudes to women, as well as writing sincerely about the social circumstances suc
h as fatherlessness, addiction and poverty that impacted their lives. Many of t
he callers from the jail have shouted out Aidan and testified to his encouragement
and inspiration, including inmates from other ranges who have been affected by
hearing this work. Seeing him take part in positive activity is making a differ
ence for them as well and has given them positive goals to focus on. I also wan
t to emphasize that while in itself writing and sharing poetry is a constructive
goal, perhaps more significantly, in encouraging poetry that speaks honestly ab
out feelings and assesses life decisions, this work is helping inmates communica
te, channel their anger and frustrations in positive ways, and hold themselves r
esponsible for their choices and decisions while encouraging transformation.
In Aidans own poetry, he speaks about his feelings of remorse, his desire for for
giveness and his determination for change. His poems make clear that he takes f
ull responsibility for his actions, and that he is willing to do whatever it tak
es to make reparation. His work has been recognized for its quality, honesty, a
nd significance, and was featured in Fulbright Scholar Quanda Johnsons recent sho
w Beyond the Veil of the Sorrow Songs. This is a testament to the quality of his
work, as well as the impact it is having on the community and beyond. His poetry
has also been submitted to The 4th Wall, a program through the Michaelle Jean Fou
ndation that seeks to address incarceration and justice for African Canadian and
Indigenous youth. By telling his story through art, Aidan is helping members o
f these communities engage in difficult conversations around our youth and how w
e can support, help and intervene with them in the justice system.
Throughout the time I have known Aidan, I have been impressed by his determinati
on to seek positive change and transformation in his life. He has consistently
reached out for help and support, taking responsibility to build connections and
support networks that can assist him in making change in his life. He has told
us that his short term goals include completing his education, getting a job in
the prison, and taking part in programming. His long term goal is to change hi
s life and to make a positive impact on youth. I believe that these goals show
his commitment to rehabilitation, and his understanding of the hard work that go
es into making these changes. He is still very young, and I believe his actions
while awaiting trial and sentencing show that he takes his circumstances very s
eriously and that he is highly determined to be a positive and productive force.
I believe his actions show that he is willing and able to make change, and it
is my hope that his sentence recognizes this commitment.
Thank you for your time and attention,
El Jones
Poet Laureate, Halifax Regional Municipality
Professor, Departments of Womens and Gender Studies and English, Acadia Universit
y
Professor, Creative Writing and English, Dalhousie University.