Halifax’s 7th Step program offers repeat offenders a new path

Spending time with people on the wrong side of the law is Mark Knox’s job­: he’s a criminal defence lawyer in Halifax. But he also devotes a lot of time to ex-offenders.

He revived the Nova Scotia chapter of an international organization called the 7th Step Society. The organization aims to help repeat offenders change their behaviour and attitudes to become productive members of the community. It started in the United States and there are also chapters in British Columbia, Alberta, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Knox recalls first hearing about the 7th Step Society in 1989. He was just starting to practice law and representing a client named Joe. “He was alcoholic,” Knox recalls. “I’m sure he was a chronic drug addict. He’d been in jail a lot.”

Photo by CTV

Photo by CTV

Joe kept telling Knox to call his parole officer Jerry. Knox brushed it off; he couldn’t imagine how talking to a parole officer would help him defend his client. He assumed that Jerry would want to keep Joe in jail and wasn’t trying to help him, but it turns out, it was the opposite.

“Jerry, I found out, had been a serious criminal who turned his life around and got a pardon and became a parole officer, which doesn’t happen,” says Knox.

Jerry, it turns out, cared a great deal about Joe and about helping other offenders to change their ways. Jerry introduced Knox to the 7th Step Society. “We used to go to Carlton Centre, the halfway house, and we used to have meetings with guys, just like we do now,” says Knox.

The local group fell apart shortly after and it didn’t revive until Knox decided to get in touch with the national organization in 2013. “December 4 of 2013, we had our very first meeting right here,” says Knox tapping the glass desk in his cozy office in Central Halifax.

Read more at: http://halifaxmag.com/cover/learning-from-the-past/

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