J-Source: The Canadian Journalism Project asked me about the work and motivation behind my piece on the overincarceration of Indigenous women in Canada.
How Kelly Geraldine Malone told the story of Canada’s fastest-growing prison population
By Kendall P. Latimer
On Feb.2, Kelly Geraldine Malone’s 4,000-word article “Why Indigenous Women Are Canada’s Fastest Growing Prison Population” was published on Vice, sparking a national dialogue about incarceration rates of Indigenous women.
The Saskatoon-based journalist still considers herself green—despite an extensive resume, a journalism degree from University of Regina and national and prairie RTDNA Adrienne Clarkson Awards in 2014. Currently, Malone freelances for multiple publications and is also employed with CBC. She spoke with J-Source about how her story for Vice came together. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
J-Source: What interested you in the story?
Kelly Geraldine Malone: I’ve been reporting in Saskatchewan on the aboriginal issues beat for quite a few years and through that had made a connection with a lot of different women who were outspoken advocates in regards to a [MMIW] inquiry. I had talked to them a lot about just some of the issues that surround the inquiry and the pre-determinants of health that are leading to the missing and murdered Indigenous women. I also do a lot of reading because it’s fun, and so I stumbled upon the mass incarceration rate of Indigenous women and a lot of the things that I talked to advocates for [MMIW] literally paralleled the incarceration rates of Indigenous people. It was pretty shocking.
J-Source: How long was the process from start to publication?
KGM: Around six or seven months. The research—there was a lot and I was really trying to get the most recent statistics—was difficult. And then just building relationships with women was really hard. I’ve got family members who’ve been into prison, and I did a story about incarceration of Indigenous men a couple of years ago, and they didn’t want to talk to me. I was like, “You’re my family, help me out.” But it’s not something a lot of people, especially if they’ve turned their life around, want to delve back into. You have to build the relationship and build trust and then talk with people and research.
J-Source: Do you have advice when it comes to building relationships with people? How did you gain their trust?
KGM: Time, I think. Empathy. It was a lot of initially just texting a lot. A lot of times they added me to Facebook and we’d message, you know checking in with them once a week, things like, Hey, where’re you at, do you want to chat and being really forthright about it. When I used their interviews I told them I’m looking for people who will use their name. I was straight forward with them and when it came time to publishing I let them know that because, “I couldn’t use your name, I ended up not using your story.” I did about four or five recorded interviews with women and ended up only using the two in the story.
After some time they know they’ve gifted you with their story and you have to respect that, so as much as it takes time it’s your responsibility to do it right. It’s laying out that groundwork ahead of time, moving forward and always asking the tough questions but at the same time doing it respectfully.
J-Source: On Twitter you said you never thought this story would end up so extreme—what did you mean by that?
KGM: If you’ve done court coverage or read the newspaper in Saskatchewan you’re well aware on the Prairies there’s an issue with over incarceration rates of Indigenous people. If you are Indigenous you know the relationship between Indigenous people, police and the justice system is very different then if you’re not Indigenous. I’m non-Indigenous, but my nieces and nephews are Métis. People are always like, “Why are you interested in this?” It affects the people that I love. I recognized that this was an issue and when I started doing the research, seeing over 10 years the incarceration rates had risen by over 100 per cent. There were a couple of news stories where it was in the headlines and then everyone would forget about it.
J-Source: What was the public reaction?
KGM: I actually got really positive feedback and a lot of people commenting. It was shared over multiple days on Vice’s national Facebook page. There was a few of the ignorant comments where they clearly only read the first paragraph or sentence but the majority of people really read through the article and were having discussions around why is this happening. That’s the feedback I want, rather than the “criminals deserve to be behind bars, no questions asked.”
J-Source: Looking back, would you have done anything differently with this story?
KGM: I would have liked to use some of the other women I spoke with, but I had to make that editorial decision to either go with all names or no names and I made the decision to go with all names and I do believe that Donna and Tammy were strong enough to carry the article.
J-Source: How do you stay balanced when you have multiple freelance contracts, jobs and side projects?
KGM: I’m really lucky. I’ve been with my partner for like eight years or something—he’d be so much better to answer that question. He’s really good at keeping me stable. This week was a real mess. On Monday, I worked 14 hours at CBC and I also had some freelance things due. Three people died [in a car crash] outside of Langham. I drove through it a minute after it happened. CBC had all these photos from right up on the scene because I nearly died driving through. Right after, I had to go to Meadow Lake to cover the court for the youth involved with the shooting in La Loche. I had another vehicle picking me up and I had to drive back in a vehicle with a donut because I blew the tire trying to avoid getting hit by a truck. I got home that night and was writing this article that I had to for another magazine. My partner said, “Hey close your computer, breathe, think about today. Deal with what happened today.”
And God, I love wine. Sitting down, having wine with friends and talking is something that I hold very close to my heart.
J-Source: Do you find it hard to turn off the need to always be tuned in to what’s happening?
KGM: One hundred per cent, yes. Where I’m at in my career, it’s 99 per cent of what I think about. Also, my blog has picked up quite a few random people so I’m realizing the power of that and I need to blog more and so it’s just suddenly you realize its 3:30 a.m. and I’m like Oh I have to be up tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. to drive my partner to work.
I recently went three weeks with no groceries, eating toast every day and looking in the mirror. I’m like, “You’re getting a little jaundiced, go get some vegetables.” So I’m very not great at turning it off, but it’s really important to do.
J-Source: I’m sure you’re ready to down your second or third cup of coffee right now. Is there anything you’d like to add about your piece?
KGM: I’ve been reporting on Indigenous issues for a few years now and the question you asked about the response was a really important one. Three years ago I had to change my Facebook name and I had to prepare to press delete continuously in my emails because of the crazy stuff I got.
I found working on this piece, as a journalist and someone who’s been covering these issues, utterly refreshing. Either society has changed or I’m hitting a crowd that really wanted to learn and was receptive to this. But I’ve never had a negative response, never in 100 years would I have expected positive feedback, and so I think that’s a really good sign that people are finally open to talking about intergenerational trauma and what that means in a society.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada