Welcome to BRAVE: The Mary Steinhauser Legacy
A Story of Compassion By Jeremy Deutsch
The Tri-Cities NOW newspaper front page, June 12, 2013"
For many living in the Tri-Cities and beyond, the story of Mary Steinhauser has either been forgotten or never heard.
But nearly 38 years to the day after her death during a botched hostage taking at the old B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster, her younger sister is hoping to bring Mary's story
of compassion and social justice to a younger generation.
"Her story deserves to be told," Margaret Franz, Mary's sister, told the Tri-Cities NOW.
"Because it was so long ago, people need to be reminded."
The Port Coquitlam resident is working on a book that will be a collection of memories of her sister as well as a fundraiser next year that will go toward an SFU bursary set up in Mary's name.
The way she died has literally brought her name into the forefront, but that's only one piece of her life," Franz said.
The day Mary died was June 11, 1975.
Mary was one of fifteen classification officers, or parole officers as they are called now, being held hostage in an old vault at the pen by three men, Claire Wilson, Dwight Lucas and Andy Bruce.
In an act of selfless bravery, the social worker, who was well liked amongst the inmates, offered herself up as the principal hostage.
Forty-one hours into the ordeal, a small group of hostages tried to take out one of their captors and escape, but as Franz described it, all hell broke loose following the failed attempt.
The guards rushed in during the ensuing melee with guns drawn, while Bruce grabbed Mary as a human shield.
The guards started firing, hitting her twice - one bullet through the shoulder and one through the heart.
Bruce was also hit by a bullet, but survived.
When the standoff was over, Mary was the only one to lose her life that day.
A pair of inquiries later concluded the shooting was accidental.
Though the details of the incident were well-documented back in the day, Mary's work and life leading up to her death are a little less known.
It was that belief that Mary took with her to the next stage of her career.
Franz said Mary showed leadership and bravery years before the Pen incident, recalling the time her sister jumped in a lake in the small town of Burton, B.C., where they were raised, to save a friend from drowning.
In 1960, she trained as a nurse for two years at Essondale hospital, or Riverview as it later became known, before continuing her studies and completing her master's degree in social work at UBC.
She had stops in several institutions along the way, including Woodlands and the Tranquille School in Kamloops.
Franz said her sister always valued education and its ability to transform lives.
By the early 1970s, Mary was working in the federal prison system, first in Matsqui and then at the B.C. Pen.
It was around that time that the ideas around inmates' rights and how the system dealt with prisoners were starting to change.
Mary believed the men behind the bars needed an opportunity to be rehabilitated.
She would often liaise with the community and help the inmates build contacts to help them ease back into society when they got out.
"Mary was very much at the forefront of that," Franz said, noting her ideas were forward thinking for the time. "She was very conscious of her role there."
When Mary moved on to the B.C. Penitentiary, she didn't drop any of her ideals.
Franz said her sister became acutely aware of the disproportionate number of Aboriginals in the prison system.
Just a few weeks before the hostage incident, she came up with the idea of organizing a community day in which friends and relatives of the Aboriginal inmates were invited into the prison.
In recognition of her tireless advocacy on behalf of First Nations inmates, Franz helped establish the Mary Steinhauser Memorial Bursary in 2011, which is awarded to SFU Aboriginal undergrads studying the humanities.
Mary was also opposed to the practice of solitary confinement, which was a common form of punishment in the prison system back then, and had been on a federal committee examining the issue before she died.
"She was just very compassionate," Franz said.
Prior to the hostage taking, Bruce was reportedly threatened with being put back into solitary confinement.
While Mary was part of a new breed of social worker who wanted to lead with compassion, her ideas irked the guards, who were in favour of a tougher stance against the inmates.
Despite the subsequent commissions and inquests that found the shooting to be an accident, Franz still questions how her sister was killed.
Mary Steinhauser would have turned 70 this year.
Franz can only wonder what would have become of her sister's life if not for the tragic events 38 years ago.
"She would have achieved amazing things," she said.
Franz, a teacher herself, explained her only sibling's death blew a hole in her life.
"It's been a shadow over my life that I'm trying to lift now, basically because I want something good to come out of this very sad story," she said.
Franz is now in the process of choosing a publisher for the book about her sister.
Her ultimate goal is to keep the bursary running in perpetuity and to recognize her sister's character.
"It will mean a kind of closure. Closing one chapter of this story and opening another, which is acknowledging the bravery of her actions but also providing a legacy that she represented, which was the value of education and transforming lives."
To complete the book, Franz is looking for submissions from any former classmates, coworkers at the schools or institutions that Mary attended or worked at.
She can be reached by e-mail at Mfranz01@ telus.net.
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