I just read a “how to” manual recently published by Winnipeg Sun crime reporter James Turner, a virtual template on “how to” do everything humanly possible to land yourself in a 6′ x 8′ jail cell in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary.

It was the story of a twenty-two (22) year old drug addicted offender names Jason Benjamin Woodward.  Woodward’s case, although not entirely unique, is rare enough that it merits a conversation.

Rare because twenty-two (22) year old-young adults, with no previous history with the Police, don’t usually become serial convenience store robbers.  Just like “gateway” drugs for drug addicts, criminal offenders normally start out doing “gateway” crimes.  Where a hard-core drug addict may have started out using soft drugs like cannabis, a hard-core criminal offender would likely be more inclined to start off his career by doing petty thefts, shoplifting or break & enters.

It’s rare for a first time offender to start a career in crime by doing “in your face” hold-ups at convenience stores.

Although no one was injured during Woodward’s string of offences, it’s important to note these were not victimless crimes.  Victims of Robbery can be affected in profound ways as these crimes are often perceived as life-threatening events.  Emotional reactions can vary from anger, intense feelings of sadness, grief, feelings of vulnerability and loss of personal security.  Robbery victims can be afflicted by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and suffer from nightmares and flashbacks.

Woodward was first collared in Nov of 2010 when Police charged him with four (4) counts of Robbery.  As a first time offender, who enjoyed the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, bail was a mere formality and was granted a few days later.

As is the case with many offenders like Woodward, drug addiction was identified as the primary motive driving his criminal behavior.  Now that he was in “the system,” Woodward would be granted every possible opportunity to take control of his life.  He would have access to residential addiction treatment at the Behavioral Health Foundation but would find himself back in custody after a failed drug test.

He would then benefit from another opportunity for freedom after he was accepted into a bail program with the John Howard Society.  This, yet another chance at life, squandered as Woodward continued to allow his drug dependency issues to dictate his behaviour.

On August 20, 2012, Woodward robbed a 7-11 Store in his quest to secure cash to fuel his addiction.  His luck ran out on October 2, 2012 when he was arrested and charged with five (5) additional counts of Robbery.

On Friday, April 26, 2013, Woodward appeared before Judge Don Slough and pled guilty to nine (9) counts of Robbery and several charges regarding Court Order breaches.  The Crown asked for a sentence of twelve (12) years incarceration, a heavy sentence for a first time offender.  The message from the Crown was clear, Woodward had every possible benefit an offender could enjoy in a free and just society.  In total, he’d been charged with some twenty-three (23) offences for violating conditions of his bail.  His refusal to “get in the program,” meant the Crown had to reduce their concern to one simple consideration, protection of the public.

According to Turners report Defence counsel Eric Wach told Judge Slough, “This wasn’t about greed, it was about drug addiction.”  “Mr Woodward made a genuine and authentic goal of it, he did his best.”

After considering the evidence before him, Judge Slough sentenced Woodward to a stiff eight (8) year prison term.  Although it was short of the Crowns recommendation, even I would have to admit it’s a significant “hit” for someone who hasn’t done any holiday time at “Club Fed”.

After serving his sentence Woodward will be given another opportunity at life.  What that life will look like will depend entirely upon his motivation to deal with his serious drug addiction issues.  If doing “his best” means using drugs and robbing convenience stores, then Woodward will undoubtedly find himself getting back on the next train to Stony.

One thing is certain, after setting the bar at the eight (8) year mark, Woodward better think twice before he does another hold up at a 7-11.

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