OCOP: Her community now

OCOP: Her community now

Mo Korchinski operates a 72-hour program for inmates leaving ACCW.

The next in a series of profiles that appear in Our Community, Our People, a special publication by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.

Mo Korchinski would never pull back her hand.

It is her job, her purpose to extend one to women in need, those living on the street, working it, but mainly those exiting prison, as she did, more than once.

The last time was Oct. 4, 2006. It was sunny that day as she walked out of Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in east Maple Ridge. A friend picked her up and drove her straight to Hannah House, a 12-step drug and alcohol treatment centre for women.

She stayed there for 60 days, then moved to second stage housing.

She’s never looked back.

She got her children back, her grandchildren. She got her life back.

Others can, too.

Who knows what they can accomplish, Korchinski said.

She has written and published one book, Arresting Hope, and has another, Releasing Hope, almost ready to go. She had created two short stories and four documentaries about her life struggles, which are on Youtube. She went to school for four years at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, for Aboriginal public post-secondary students, and graduated with a degree in social work.

She now operates the Unlocking the Gates Peer Health Mentoring Program, a 72-hour program for inmates leaving ACCW. It started in 2012 as part of a project with the University of British Columbia.

Korchinski is also an advocate for the prison’s mothers with babies program, as well as chair of the board of directors for Alouette Addictions.

“It’s an amazing organization.”

As well, she recently purchased a business, The Create Shop, in downtown Maple Ridge.

Before, she ran three crack houses in Nanaimo, at once. She was addicted to drugs and sold them. She went to prison, on three occasions, for trafficking, the last stint for 15 months.

She doesn’t hide from her past. She wrote about it, documented it. She uses it to show others that there is hope.

Once she had none.

Korchinski grew up in a small town called Cedar, on Vancouver Island.

She had a twin brother, but was told she wasn’t wanted, and treated that way.

She started drinking vodka at age 11, then smoking marijuana, mostly to numb the pain she felt from being rejected, from being physically and sexually assaulted by family members.

“Drugs saved my life,” she said.

“I was a total blackout drunk. I don’t remember 20 years of my life.”

At 34, she first tried crack cocaine.

She went to prison three times, all for drug trafficking. She was in and out of the prison system for seven years.

She was 40 when she last left prison.

Inside those walls, she felt safe, like she belonged. The other inmates were like family to her. She had a job, a purpose.

“It was familiar.”

Many struggle with losing that sense of community upon their release.

She didn’t. She was lucky. She had help, support from a female elder named ‘Holy Cow,’ and the warden at the time, Brenda Tole.

They didn’t judge her. They didn’t look down on her. They fought for her, helped her get into treatment.

Now Korchinski tries to help women leaving prison, getting them set up, whether that be registering for social assistance or opening a bank account, finding a place to live, food and clothes.

“I remember when I got out, I didn’t know how to use a phone.”

The area code 604 was introduced while she was incarcerated.

Many inmates are drug users when entering prison, and are easily tempted to resume doing so upon release.

Weeks beforehand, Korchinski said, they start doing the “Hastings shuffle.”

She knows how they feel. But, again, she had support, and didn’t want to let down those helping her.

“Nobody chooses to be a drug addict,” Korchinski said.

And it’s scarier than ever, with the opioid crisis.

“It’s pretty sad that someone feels that bad about themselves, knowing it could be the last time they use, that they could die …”

She wants to help reconnect the community, rid it of the hate and judgement that marginalize the vulnerable population, like those at the Anita Place homeless camp, a source of much resentment, in particular on social media.

“We have to stop hating and start caring about other humans,” Korchinski said.

“People don’t realize how hurtful those words are.”

She has helped some of the women from the tent city get into treatment, mostly through Petals, a group that meets weekly at Maple Ridge Baptist Church.

That was her, she said, 13 years ago.

She isn’t from Maple Ridge. But she cleaned up here. It’s her community now.

And she wants to make it better, helping one woman at a time.

Through the peer support program, she’s helped hundreds of women.

The program – the only one of its kind in Canada – is funded by the First Nations Health Authority. Its three-year funding runs out at the end of the year, but Korchinski expects more will be found, to keep it going.

She is evidence such support helps.

She is a former inmate and drug addict and trafficker, a mother and grandmother, an author, filmmaker, college graduate and business owner, and above all, an advocate for woman.

She is, to others like her, a symbol of hope.

And her hand is outstretched, for others to grab.

“Never give up on somebody who’s down.”