A group of five men walked in a classroom inside the secured section of the Cape Breton Correctional Facility and huddled around the first table.
Dressed in orange suits, the inmates were speaking to representatives from Nova Scotia Works and the Adult Learning Association of Cape Breton County, who were participating in a resource fair organized by the provincial Department of Justice.
Karen Blair, executive director of the learning association, spoke animatedly with them, passionate about the education and services offered.
"A lot of people who are incarcerated don't have their Grade 12. And it's an added obstacle to them getting employment when they are released ... and having a better life for them and their families," said Blair. "This (resource fair) is a chance for us to let them know we are here and what we offer."
Twelve organizations took part in the fair on Wednesday, the second one held at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility since the program was launched last year. Director of Correctional Services John Scoville said the top areas of interest with inmates who participate in the fairs are housing, employment/education and addiction services.
"Some of the inmates don't know where to go for services once up on release. Lots of time up on release, if they don't have a plan or don't know where to get resources they sometimes go back to their old ways ... This (fair) gives them a leg up," he said noting attendance is around 90 per cent.
"One of the highest risk periods for people coming out of jails is that first 24-48 hours. That's when, if they have nowhere to live, if they have no connection to treatment, if they have no support services, they're typically going back to the same thing that they left when they came in. Ideally, if we can have those supports around them (before release) they don't go back to that."
Representatives from the Mi'kmaw Healing Lodge Treatment Centre and Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselling Association of Nova Scotia were at the fair, offering inmates information about their services in addiction and mental health treatment, in both English and Mi'kmaq.
"These inmates are very smart, they speak two languages ... but some of them need that extra support (from organizations like ours) ... Sometimes when your culture is beaten out of you, you sometimes try to hide it (with drugs and alcohol)," said Inkin Young.
"The boys have been coming in here (during the fair) and they're all telling me ... Can I go to the sweat lodge? They are really happy to speak Mi'kmaq to me."
Although each provincial facility can only host one resource fair a year, Scoville said on-site case workers help inmates navigate their plans after release and help direct them to the right organizations for support.