Pat Capponi was awarded the Order of Canada in 2015 for her advocacy…


I have followed Pat Capponi’s writings for many years. I have heard her speak several times – all compelling. I continue to follow her advocacy work on Facebook. Her wise thoughts have both validated as well as challenged my thinking of social class and social ‘service’. Her late sister Diana was instrumental in helping me arrange the final practicalities of my doctoral research (despite remaining a skeptic of all matters academic or clinical).

After reading Pat’s post (below), I asked her “what can I do to help?” Pat replied “ stay involved, create better ideas/dreams/talk about what worked for you…”. I reached out to ask more direction…I explained I had written a story meant to underscore the social and traumatic factors that influence mental health and addiction problems but admitted I had not gone as far along the edge as her work does. With her permission, I am re-posting her story of “a different kind of revolving door” to fill in my blanks.

I went back to her seminal piece on poverty (dispatches from the poverty line: Penguin Books, 1997) and re-read the horror of the Harris years and his war on the poor. All salient truths today, as you will see in Pat’s post:

 Pat Capponi (FB Post: April 18, 2017)

a different kind of revolving door:

She is abused at home from an early age, sexually or mentally or physically. Like other kids in trouble, she acts out at school, small acts of rebellion not thought out or deliberate, and is forced out. She runs away to the streets of the big city. To survive, she hooks up with a guy who seems kind, he’s older and more experienced and likely a product of the same circumstances. They have a child together, putting both under stress. He strikes out, and she takes it, until the infant is threatened. She runs again, someone tells her about the shelter.

Its a big old building, crowded, the staff seem angry, they have issues, they feel underappreciated, certainly underpaid and overworked. One or two are nice, others are stern and demanding. She is not assigned the good ones. Still, there is a kind of freedom, she wants to experience life, lights, fun, admiring men, and she goes a little wild, staying out, breaking rules.

Her child is snatched out of her arms, and she is put out on the street. Rules are the lifeblood of the shelters and she violated them. That she was violated almost since birth never comes up.

Drugs make life tolerable, just, even when paying for them requires prostituting herself. Vulnerable to assault, rape, exploitation, still hoping for a man to rescue her, she finds one who promises to care for her, to help get her child back. She needs to believe him, till he starts pimping her out for harder, more addictive drugs. Even then, she makes excuses for him, afraid of being alone.

Stumbles into an agency, staffed with social workers who look to their education to help them deal with clients. Hard years have passed, the face of her child is fading, though she talks about her to anyone who will listen. She is starved for attention, for something, anything better than what she found on the street. They offer her art therapy, and bad coffee, a community of sorts, though it’s as chaotic here as on the streets, sometimes she can get bus tickets, sometimes she gets into fights and is barred for a while. More years pass, shelters and agencies and workers, rooms she has to share with roaches and bedbugs, her face hardens, her teeth keep falling out, her body is twenty years older than her actual age, she is a long way from the child she was, the hopes she’d had, every day is something to get through, tomorrow she has no energy for.

The child that was taken is sent to foster homes. In some, she gets visits late at night from the man in the house, who warns her not to tell. The second or third time she runs to the streets, finds a man she hopes will save her, she gets pregnant, so desperate is she for an anchor, a sanctioned role, someone to love her like she needs to be loved.

He beats her, threatens the child, she runs to a shelter, breaks rules, loses her child who is taken into “protection”.

Drugs help for awhile, till she is jailed for possession, does time, gets out on the streets again, looking for rescue, looking for drugs to still the pain.

She is seen as difficult, dangerous, and ungrateful. Her lethal overdose comes as no surprise, she won’t be missed. There will still be line-ups at the shelters and drop-ins she used. Her last responders wear gloves when they load her into the van.

“There is research in Canada and elsewhere that says a high number of children who have been trafficked have been in care but there’s never been any research that I’ve ever seen…about why that is.” Toronto Star, Jesse Winter, Page 1

Her child, raised in foster homes after being labelled as disruptive, is sent to a group home. She has difficulty at school, hates going because ‘everyone’s mean to her there’. At the home, she is put on medication that balloons her weight, already targeted because of the twenty extra pounds she carries, this adds to her distress and resolve to run away. She meets a man who promises to watch out for her, he and his friends provide her with different drugs, that keep her thin and awake for her customers.

She is a good earner, she knows she is trapped, but its not like she has other places to go, other choices. It can be bad, the man and his friends beat her if she doesn’t produce, but she has a place to sleep, even if that bed frequently has strangers in it.

We have changed the labels, from pimp to trafficker, from prostitute to victim, but not our approaches.

Why aren’t we paying attention to the first signs of distress Instead of punishing a child who doesn’t know how to articulate what they are going through at home. We’re busy, classrooms sizes keep growing, keeping order is paramount, she won’t go on medication, we’re not miracle workers.

Zwicks Bird

Photo credit: David Zwicker



My writing experience comprises, almost exclusively, academic papers and technical/ professional reports. However, I have lost faith in these methods as paths to real change. My doctorate is in Education, specifically transformative education and through my research and my work, I have come to the conclusion that people learn more through stories than journal articles. Therefore, instead of investing in the usual strategies for pedagogy, I am leaning toward fiction as a way to change minds about social issues and dilemmas. I believe stories can un-other social interpretations in a way I feel I have failed to in all my academic and professional writing. I hope to convey some alternate ideas about the work I have done for 35 years, as a mental health nurse, psychometrist, educator and administrator.

8 thoughts on “Pat Capponi was awarded the Order of Canada in 2015 for her advocacy…”

  1. Thank you for sharing…powerful, painful, tragic but so eloquently written. Gets to the heart of what went wrong and the problems with injustice and consequent issues. I’m heartbroken at knowing our history includes such disregard for those in need.


  2. Wow. And to think we always put blame on the person making wrong choices – when the only choices given are bad ones. We take much for granted… Fabulous write. Hope they find more eyes to awaken.


    1. Poverty is like every other attribute – we tend to link it to the person instead of the circumstances. That has been my observation in psychiatry. We link what we see (the symptoms, for lack of a better word) to an ‘illness’ attributed the person, when often what we see are legitimate strategies to survive, get by and be real.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The big question is how? The poor are demonized for doing the things many of us do but don’t admit (purchasing/ selling in a tax-dodging cash economy, for one). After all my years in the field, I am simply and sadly at a loss of what more the small ‘I’ can do

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Agreed. I feel you pain as even raise your voice – people shake their heads, but then walk away. I do wish I did know…


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