TWU professor behind bars

Langley, B.C.—This summer, while most university professors are focusing on research, writing books, or heading off for a well-deserved vacation, TWU professor Doug Hampson, MDiv., MA, will be behind bars, in BC’s maximum security prison—but not in the way you may think. For the past 10 years, he’s been bringing hope to hardened inmates and their stories to his psychology students at TWU.

As a psychologist at Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C., Hampson works to rehabilitate the most dysfunctional within the “max system”—men who have committed crimes some of which are considered heinous even by other prisoners and thus are housed in a special block known as “the alternative to segregation unit.”

Hampson meets with the men individually in a small room, and carries an alarm to sound if his safety is threatened (he’s never needed it). “My goal is to position myself as an advocate and help these guys to move to either a treatment centre a medium-security institution, a more program-oriented place where they can start addressing some of their root issues.”

Hampson’s approach is a rare blend of compassion and cognizance. “Society looks at these people in disdain—and while I don’t excuse their victimization of others, I think God sees them as individuals,” Hampson says. “There’s a cycle. They’ve been victimized, and they’ve continued the pattern. Unless the past is addressed, and they see someone willing to help them learn a new way of life, a lot of these guys will be released and they’ll just victimize again.”

“Working in the prisons can get pretty discouraging,” he admits. “There are more bleak stories than success stories. Yet in the midst of that, my faith gives me hope.”

The scope of Hampson’s work is much broader than simply helping his clients move out of Kent. He follows the inmates to whichever lower security facility they are moved to and monitors their progress.

“The heart of the issue, particularly in psychology, is combining the theoretical side and the pragmatic side,” says Hampson. “So it’s ideal to have a foot in each. And, now and again, I try to bring my two worlds together. They’re quite separate but, in fact, they complement each other.”

The theoretical side he’s referring to is Trinity Western University. For the past 10 years, Hampson has balanced out his career in the prison system by bringing that experience back to the classroom. Students notice the diversity of his approach right away.

Jennifer Lawrie, a recent graduate of TWU benefited greatly from Hampson’s approach. Because of Hampson’s influence, Lawrie now works in Correctional Service of Canada as a Psychology Testing Assistant. “I’d always wanted to work in the psychology field, but it wasn’t till taking Doug’s class that my interest in prison work was piqued. His example challenged me to consider working in an environment that deals with populations that are on the peripheral of society.”

Inviting several ex-offenders to class each semester has been a staple of Hampson’s curriculum since he started working in the correctional system 10 years ago. “I think it’s mutually beneficial,” Hampson explains. “In the prisons, I see these guys in a highly controlled environment. And on the other hand I see students in a secure campus community. I thought the students could benefit from hearing the stories of some of the people inside the prisons, and the ex-offenders could definitely benefit from seeing what happens in a university.”

Hampson knows how fortunate he is to be at the front of the lecture hall guiding the conversation—he could have easily slipped into the same hopeless lifestyle as his speaker’s guest. He spent most of his youth in Young, Saskatchewan, a farming community with a population of 350. Moving west to Vancouver after he graduated high school was a rocky transition for him. “I drifted toward a negative crowd,” he recalls. “I worked at a warehouse with a lot of young guys who were into the drug culture, so I got caught up in that scene for a while.”

But Hampson didn’t see himself following that path forever. “During those years, at the very bottom of my soul, I wanted to be a psychologist when I came out of that lifestyle.” An opportunity to break out of the dead-end pattern came when he met some Trinity Western alumni at a local church. “They recognized that I needed some support, so they drove me out to see the campus in ’77.”

Just over a decade later, Hampson had not only graduated from TWU with a psych degree he had completed an M. Div. at Regent College, and a MA in counselling psychology at UBC. Then he hit the frontlines of rehabilitation work through positions with the local Salvation Army and the Wagner Hills Society.

Through it all Hampson maintains a perspective of humility. “This position has taught me to listen more, to hear other people’s stories, and dialogue with them. Even if someone is a violent sex offender, there is something in the way they’ve experienced life I can learn from.”

To see lives transformed is a plus, but not Hampson’s sole motivation. “I’m thankful that God has me where I’m at, considering where I’ve come from,” he reflects. “In a sense, I just work with individuals who not many people want to work with. At the end of the day I think that’s a worthy calling.”

Last Updated: 2015-07-13
Author: Keela Keeping