Through the Glass: The Story of Descent from a Happy Marriage to Life in the Criminal Justice System
Through the Glass, written by Shannon Moroney, is a touching, thought-provoking, and reflective memoir that shares the tragic story of a woman thrown into the deep end of the Canadian Criminal Justice System (CJS). Shannon Moroney holds a mirror up against the existing structures of this system, leading readers to question their understandings of incarceration and reflect on the system as a whole.
In 2005, while away at a teacher’s conference in Toronto, newly-wed Shannon learns that her husband, Jason Staples, has been arrested. The charge? Sexual assault. Jason had turned himself in to the authorities, after brutally sexually assaulting two women in the home he shared with Shannon in Peterborough, Ontario.
Moroney and Staples initially met in a soup kitchen in the town of Kingston, Ontario - Moroney took her students to volunteer there, and Staples was serving probation as the head cook of the establishment. When the pair first started dating, Staples made it clear that his past - second-degree murder of his female roommate years prior - was a one-off occurrence that precipitated from an uncontrollable rage. He expressed deep regret and remorse for his actions, and his parole officers, psychologists, and those who knew him had nothing but positive things to say about him and how far he has come since the incident. After careful consideration, Shannon decided to move forward with their romantic relationship, and a few years later, the couple was happily married. Throughout the story, though Shannon is a victim to the fallout of Jason’s actions, she is often treated as an accomplice to his crimes by officials in the CJS.
There are several important topics that are eloquently expressed in this memoir. I feel as though, in order to adequately and justifiably discuss this memoir, I have chosen a few points that stood out to me and pertain to intergenerational trauma and the inherent flaws of the CJS.
A major theme across the novel is that prison does not work as an effective deterrent to offending. In fact, oftentimes, incapacitation only exacerbates the chance of recidivism later on in life, as Moroney writes: “if a society wants to make a pickpocketing boy into a killer and his sister into a prostitute, the best way is to put them in jail at an early age, allow them to be physically and sexually assaulted by bigger children or adults, deny them contact with anyone who might care about them, and take away opportunities for education” (Page 278). This highlights the criminogenic effects that incapacitation has on offenders, through the lack of support offered in prisons and attention to root causes of crime.
The Cycle of Crime
Moroney writes, “I knew how my own experience of voicelessness, victimization, and rejection had set a rage in me that made me feel violent and that I might have acted upon had I not chosen a safe outlet to vent my feelings” (Page 276). Shannon’s abundant familial support and middle-class background certainly serve as a buffer between her prior victimization and a violent outburst. For those who come from marginalized communities and demographics that are not as fortunate, and who do not receive support, the reality is that they may likely go on to offend themselves. Since mental health is the second most influential factor associated with the risk of violent victimization, and those who are victimized have high chances of becoming abusers themselves later on in life, the two factors in conjunction are a recipe for disaster.
Getting Down to the Root Cause of Crime
A prison guard once made a comment to Shannon, saying, “You couldn’t swing a cat in here without hitting a guy who was abused as a child” (Page 215). This recurring and devastating issue in the CJS is one that can be addressed through a funnelling of resources and support towards early intervention. Moroney uses the example of Texas, the global epicenter of incarceration. They faced a budget crisis that would not be able to sustain the volume of intake criminals. To try an alternative approach, $300 million dollars were invested in tackling the root cause of 80% of crime: drugs.
This intervention strategy was effective in reducing incarceration and crime rates and was a fraction of the cost. Therefore, a strategy to prevent the rampant dilapidation of childhood abuse victims’ mental health, is to invest substantial resources into early intervention projects. The key here is that Texans funnelled resources into intervention strategies such as drug programs, so, investing in the root problem can be the stepping stone to a reduction in crime and incarceration rates. Shannon volunteered at Peacebuilders International, which was successful since “not one youth who had been in a Peacebuilders program had reoffended” (Page 379). However, such programs lack funding and are not prioritized within the CJS. Rather than having an ‘after-the-fact’ approach to crime, psychological, and social interventions that address the root causes of criminality before the crime is committed are desperately needed.
I laughed, I cried, and most importantly, I learned as I read this memoir. I encourage anyone reading this to learn more about Shannon Moroney and her story, and how she healed and is currently healing from her past experiences. I also encourage people to use resources such as books and media to critically examine our current society and the structures it has in place - how can we, as a society, improve upon these flaws and strive to better ourselves?
To learn more about Shannon Moroney and her story, please visit her website, https://www.shannonmoroney.com/.
Written by: Daphna