An interview with our newest staff member, Karen Ridd

Matt: Welcome to CFSC, Karen! What’s surprised you about your work here so far?

Karen: Thanks! I’m delighted to have joined CFSC! One great surprise actually happened during my interview for this position. I’d come prepared to suggest a name change away from talking about “criminal justice” work towards something that doesn’t stigmatize people who are currently incarcerated. But when I arrived at the job interview I found out that the change had already happened. Now CFSC is talking about its work in this area as “transformative justice” work. Much better!

Matt: You have some longstanding connections to Quakerism, don’t you? Tell us about them.

Karen: I’m an Attender at Winnipeg Monthly Meeting, and have been on the fringes of Quakerism since I wrote a university paper on George Fox 40 years ago.

That’s a long time now! In my orientation package to CFSC (okay—that’s another surprise—what a mountain of information! Y’all are thorough!) I’ve been doing a lot of study and reflection about Quakerism and I’m delighted by how much really resonates in my spirit.

I’ve also had some great Quaker mentors over the years: Alaine Hawkins was a dear Friend and coordinator with Peace Brigades International (PBI) when I worked with PBI in Central America. George Lakey’s mentoring has made me the teacher that I am. Mark Burch set me up to teach his Voluntary Simplicity course at the University of Winnipeg. And WMM is filled with role models! Moreover, when I came back from Central America in 1989, I had the opportunity to travel across Canada doing peace education work, and met so many amazing Quakers during that time. I’m enjoying reconnecting!

Matt: You already have a great job teaching Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies at Canadian Mennonite University. What drew you to take on the CFSC job as well?

Karen: Penal abolition has been close to my heart for many years, really catalyzed by visiting people in prisons when I worked with PBI in El Salvador. As you can imagine, those were truly horrific institutions, and the experience sealed my belief that no one should be caged.

When I returned to Canada, I tried to keep up the work: I volunteered with Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) and Prison Book Clubs, did some prison visitation, helped start Circles of Support and Accountability in Winnipeg, taught with Walls to Bridges, and worked in restorative justice. In one memorable week I was involved in an AVP workshop and then a few days later taught a conflict resolution training to correctional officers at the same prison.

That experience made it so obvious to me that our carceral systems are dehumanizing for everyone. So, I’m glad to get to do more direct work on these important issues. But I’ll be continuing the teaching too (at a reduced load), so really, I’m getting the best of both worlds!

Matt: How’s the transition going so far?

Karen: CFSC really has great staff and they and my Committee have been hugely helpful at getting me oriented; I’m grateful for that. Now if I could only get used to the time changes!

Matt: What initiatives are you currently working on?

Karen: I’ll make sure to write about this in an upcoming Quaker Concern, so I won’t say a lot here, but I’m excited by work that CFSC is getting involved in regarding the Federal Framework for Reduction of Recidivism (FFRR). The FFRR is a solid, multi-party initiative, but there is work to be done to guarantee that it is implemented as fully as possible. On a different front, as a Manitoban, I’m perhaps particularly interested in exploring ways that CFSC can be supportive of the burgeoning Indigenous justice-making movements that are happening. Lastly, I’m glad that CFSC is starting to think about the possibilities of a Guaranteed Liveable Basic Income.

Matt: What are you reading these days?

Karen: I’m not sure if people are aware of this, but CFSC staff have a weekly book club. I missed out on the staff discussion of your book Are We Done Fighting?, so I’m busily trying to catch up. It really dovetails well with work that I’ve been exploring on what makes social change happen, so I’m enjoying it!

Matt: Haha, dear readers, I assure you that was a totally unsolicited plug. What do you do in your non-CFSC time?

Karen: Oooo… lots of things! I’ve got two young adult kids that I love spending time with. I’m the butler to two cats (sometimes four: the neighbour cats like to visit!), I used my bike as my primary mode of transportation all winter this year (may spring come to Winnipeg soon!). I volunteer for lots of theatre companies in Winnipeg. And whenever possible, I’m in a canoe!

Matt: If you could ask people reading this article to take action on something today, what would that be?

Karen: Can I give them two things? Watch the newest CFSC video, Monica’s Story. Then help us get it to people who might not normally see things like this. Share it with extended family, neighbours, put a link to it at the bottom of your emails for a while: I’m sure Quakers will have creative ideas about how to help extend our reach on this! Secondly, check out the links in my article on the Guaranteed Liveable Basic Income and take one of the actions highlighted there! Thank you in advance, Friends, for your work on these issues!

Matt Legge is CFSC’s Communications Coordinator.