École Mother Teresa School Grade 8 and 9 students last week sat quietly and gave their undivided attention to a man who once lived a life of crime and spent nearly 15 years behind bars.
Dan Whalen, a public legal education speaker for the Alberta Seventh Step Society, shared with students his life story of spending time in various detention facilities, ranging from juvenile to maximum security — with the goal of dissuading students from pursuing the same life of crime.
Whalen told students of his troubled upbringing in which he was physically abused by his father, but said he makes no excuses for the crimes he once committed.
By the time he was 13 years old, he was living on the street, with stealing the only way to survive. He explained that the only emotions he knew at that time were fear, hate and anger; he never knew what love, compassion and empathy were.
Whalen told students of his serving time in prison, and showed them some of the physical scars it left on him — mainly as a result of violent fights, in which he was often involved.
Now, many years later, he remains on parole and works to teach kids that they’re responsible for their own behaviour — and the potential consequences of that behaviour.
He knows there are many children who are currently going through some of the same things he once did, and hopes that by telling his story they’ll learn how unglamorous criminal life truly is.
“I think it’s good for them to hear that there is hope,” he said. “They can make a difference and a change in their life. I spent most of my life hurting people and I want to do something different.”
Whalen took time to answer students’ questions, with some eager to know if he would show them his back tattoo, what the hardest drug he did was and what he wanted in the future.
He said he couldn’t show his tattoo to the class, but shared how he had once been a heroin user. That, he said, was the most difficult drug to quit.
“Quitting heroin was the hardest and most painful drug I have ever quit, but quitting is my proudest accomplishment.”
He said he hopes to have a family in the future, and looks forward to having kids of his own someday. He also plans on furthering his education in social work, and going on a trip to Mexico once he completes his parole time.