Bar None connecting to 'huge need' in the city, says co-founder
“It's a small act that takes a few hours and you're really helping people out, says Owen Toews. “People are very grateful to get these rides. I feel like, when I give a ride, I'm doing… a small thing to counteract the sort of havoc that imprisonment can cause in our city.”
Toews, a founder of Bar None Winnipeg, is hoping to get more volunteers back on board to expand their volunteer service, which he says, helps to keep families and loved ones who are imprisoned, better connected and supported.
Founded in 2015 by a group of prison abolitionists, the group, before the pandemic, had been able to offer regular van rides to provincial prisons in Milner Ridge, Brandon, and Headingly, as well as Manitoba’s only federal prison at Stoney Mountain through the rideshare to anyone who had no other way of visiting their loved one in prison. They even created an online visitors’ guide to Stonewall when the regular cafe visitors would stop at in Stoney Mountain closed down, highlighting some of the attractions and shops people can visit on the way.
Visiting was shut down through most of the pandemic, but Toews says that as those restrictions have ended, they are reconnecting to a “huge need” in the community.
“We try to counteract the way that imprisonment divides families, communities, friends and loved ones and is a force for weakening relationships that people need to live good lives,” Toews said. “We try to meet the needs of both people who are imprisoned and people whose friends and loved ones are imprisoned. We also try at the same time to bring attention to the violence of imprisonment.”
The organization posts information about legal cases, inquests and general news about Canadian prisons, and shares information about organizations who are working towards alternatives.
The vast majority of incarcerated Manitobans are Indigenous and/or live under the poverty line. Bar None’s belief is that alternate ways of restoring justice within the offender’s community and holding them accountable in those circles will bring about more positive change than removal and isolation of the individual.
Toews knows that Bar None is simply a small plug in a boat full of holes when it comes to fixing Manitoba’s imprisonment systems. But that doesn’t stop the group from plugging away at the problem while also keeping their main goal in mind.
“We know coming into this that we'll never be able to meet the need that exists [of all incarcerated folks] because of the sheer scale of imprisonment in this province, and because we're a small group,” Toews said. “That's actually never been our goal. Our goal has been to have the rideshare be a small political project that contributes to prison abolition as a political movement.” Volunteer drivers are asked to commit to driving once every two months, but the organization is also looking for volunteer coordinators who connect ride requests with drivers and other tasks.
Bar None is offering Coordinator Training on March 21 at Sunshine House. If you’re interested in volunteering or learning more about Bar None, visit their website at barnonewpg.org or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel McIntyre-Ridd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf