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Fr. Bill Mudge and the Laren House Society Perhaps one of the least talked about, but one of the most active, volunteer-based organizations is Laren House Society/Bill Mudge Residence. Victoria, B.C. is the home of the Laren Society, an organization dedicated to the support of parolees and ex-offenders. The society began in 1974 when the late Father Bill Mudge became the Catholic chaplain at William Head Institution, a federal medium security prison located in Victoria. Father Bill recognized the need to provide a safe, home-like environment, one able to assist those on day parole to achieve functional integration into the community. Together with friends, Father Bill formed a chaplaincy support group inside the prison and they began helping those individuals referred by the Correctional Services of Canada. "The name Laren House Society came from the street where the first residence was located," a board member said. "Today, the Bill Mudge Residence is the operational centre and is located on Dallas Road." The house is unique — a gracious Georgian Colonial heritage home that is situated in a quiet residential area, close to the ocean. "When the men first come to the house they're puzzled. They have existed within a strongly routine lifestyle and all of a sudden they are expected to enter society. They have freedom, now. They are individuals ... they don't know how to react. "They are expected to find work and most of them do. The ones that don't, keep up the house and gardens. Any money they earn is theirs, and a small allowance is given to the men who work at the house. It's not much but it does help restore a sense of pride. "'Even the men who are working are expected to help around the place. Everyone is responsible for their own rooms and for the washrooms and laundry. "A typical day sees everyone getting his own breakfast and lunch, too, if they're in. We have a cook who prepares the evening meals and she's exceptional. The food is really wonderful — she's part of the attraction." The six bedrooms are shared, two men per room. There are two full bathrooms, one water closet, and laundry facilities are available. Once a week, the residents meet to discuss allocation of duties, and any problems that have arisen. "The problems we have with men are between themselves, not with the staff. When they were in prison there was a code of behavior and everyone knew where they fitted in. All of a sudden they are expected to live at a different level and they do not know how to tolerate each other's attitudes. "There is latitude in Mudge House. They have freedom with restrictions. These restrictions are not only placed by the house but by the men themselves. They start to live all over again. "Almost without exception, the men have to learn to trust and to interact with each other. Prison life dehumanizes them and it takes some of them a long time to adjust to being in the community. Some never do. "Our public image is very important to us. That is one of the reasons why we welcome family and friends in to share meals, and we have a Community Night once a month. "When the residence was opened in 1988, at the current location, we were met with some suspicion but it didn't last long. Now, the neighborhood kids play in our yard. We exist closely within the community. There are no hard and fast rules about the category of offender. The only exclusion is sex offenders and those on a methadone treatment program. "We've had very good luck with our men. We try to treat them as equals — the more responsibility we give them, the more responsible they become. It's an excellent place for individuals that don't have a family support system. "Occasionally, we have someone who makes a mistake and goes back to prison. We never send them back but their parole office might. Sometimes we give them a second chance … but they never get a third. "I think of the B and E (breaking and entering) offender. He was living successfully in society, had been for a couple of years, but every once in a while he would say 'I'm so bored... I really need to rob a store.' As far as I know he never did." Laren House Society is made up of eight permanent staff, including relief personnel. Chaplaincy volunteers visit William Head Institution two Sundays per month. There is a continuing need for volunteers. Funding is through the Correctional Services of Canada, the ministry of the Attorney General, B.C. Corrections Branch, the Bill Mudge Endowment Fund and private donations. Fr. Bill Mudge Father Bill Mudge is still remembered by the many people whose lives he touched. Laren Society and Bill Mudge Residence stand in lasting memorial to a man with a vision. His dedication and courage is reflected throughout the community. He brought gentleness and understanding with him wherever he went. He died of cancer in 1981. He met that challenge as he met all others. I spoke with the priest who was with him through those last terrible months. He told me that Father Bill refused all medication, saying he wanted to experience all that God had given him. He kept working when the pain was more than most could bear. Few knew he was ill. He gave to those who needed him when there was nothing left to give. He stayed at home until a few days before his death and he died knowing he 'experienced all of God's Gift.' The acronym above the door at Bill Mudge Residence echoes his thoughts ... Love, Appreciation, Respect, Empathy, New Beginnings. " All of us are able to turn our lives around." - Father Bill Mudge ………………………. Laren House Society is unique to the area but is a worthy model for anyone interested in forming a similar support system. Look around. Listen to your heart. There is a place for you celebrating the will and love of God. 0F Joyce White writes from Saanichton, BC.
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