Toymakers help inmates get back on track


Spirit of Christmas alive at Alberta correctional centres

FSCC chief toymaker Lee Kinzel in his workshop.

FSCC chief toymaker Lee Kinzel in his workshop.

As Christmas draws ever closer, toymakers in Santa’s workshop in the North Pole are busy making all the right presents for all the right children. At Alberta’s Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre (FSCC) and Calgary Correctional Centre, we have our very own chief toymakers who help inmates create magical gifts all year round.

At FSCC, our chief toymaker who has the responsibility for ensuring perfect quality is Lee Kinzel, shop foreman and journeyman carpenter for the centre’s industries program. Lee oversees teams of inmates who create intricate wooden toys with movable parts like combines, graders, fire trucks and jewelry boxes. The toys are then given to organizations like the Edmonton Christmas Bureau, Children’s Wish Foundation and the Salvation Army.

And over at Calgary Correctional Centre (CCC), a similar program has been benefitting Alberta charities like The Honour Ride for 20 years.

“Lee and the inmates at FSCC provide these wooden toys for fundraising throughout the year, but they go above and beyond at Christmas to help charities support those in need,” said Wayne Reddon, centre director at FSCC. “The quality craftsmanship demonstrated in the construction of the toys is remarkable, and they often raise top dollar at charity auctions.”

The industries woodworking program at FSCC was established in 1988. At that time, its priority was creating bookcases, desks and filing cabinets for correctional centres across Alberta. Then Lee began to think about what could be done with all the bits of wood left behind when the projects were finished. It wasn’t long until he came up with the idea to use the scrap to build toys. From those small beginnings, the program evolved into the incredible workshop we are so proud of today.

Some of the toys made by inmates at FSCC.

Some of the toys made by inmates at FSCC.

Over at CCC, the well-stocked 4,500 square foot carpentry workshop is run by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Two instructors, one full time and the other part time, teach inmates how to build furniture for correctional facilities and items like picnic tables and planters for non-profit organizations. Some inmates make beautiful wood carvings.

“The offenders need successes and moments to be proud of in their lives,” said CCC consortium coordinator Lorell Thoms. “Finishing a project can give them that pride. They also learn skills that will help them when they return to the community, gain teamworking know-how and develop their self-esteem. Ultimately, they gain perspective on how they can contribute to society.”

At FSCC, the well-equipped 2,400 square foot workshop is also fitted out with all the necessary woodworking machines, tools and supplies. The program relies on donated materials like recycled furniture, scrap wood and glue. Donations are received from individuals, communities, and from some of the charity groups that benefit from the program.

“The success of the initiative is much more than providing these hand crafted toys to our community charity organizations,” said Reddon. “Lee supervises, guides and trains the offenders in woodwork and cabinet making under an apprenticeship program. The program not only teaches offenders high level wood working skills and a strong work ethic, but hands them the opportunity to give back to the community.”

From left to right are centre director at FSCC Wayne Reddon, executive director of the Christmas Bureau Wendy Batty, deputy director of programs at FSCC Wendy Vanderbleek, and foreman of the industries program Lee Kinzel.

From left to right are centre director at FSCC Wayne Reddon, executive director of the Christmas Bureau Wendy Batty, deputy director of programs at FSCC Wendy Vanderbleek, and foreman of the industries program Lee Kinzel.

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4 Responses to Toymakers help inmates get back on track

  1. Pingback: Nominate an Alberta community safety superhero | Alberta Justice & Solicitor General

  2. Pamela Young says:

    As an educator, I am thrilled to see this program in operation. It is not only giving inmates a marketable skill, but much needed self-esteem and the ability to support people in need. Fantastic.

  3. Scott says:

    This is very encouraging. What a great initiative, clearly delivering value to our community. Thank you Lee!

  4. Mac says:

    Lee you provide a great program, these offenders can actually see what they can accomplish with the right guidance. GREAT job Lee.

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