Retired Kingston prison worker turns life experience into realistic novel

*This article was originally published on Kingstonist.*

Have you ever wondered what it’s really like inside prison walls? Local author Lyn McCauley put her 38 year career inside the Canadian prison system to work to create Early Release, the story of a man who carefully plots his escape from a medium-security prison. This book was provided free of charge to allow me to create this article.

Besides being a prison escape story, Early Release highlights relationships inside the corrections system, which McCauley said is not at all the way it is often portrayed in TV and movies.

“I worked my entire career (38 years) with Correctional Service Canada. One constant has been that perceptions of prisons, prison workers, and inmates are primarily sourced from film and TV — neither of which are even remotely accurate,” she shared in an interview. 

“Questions often asked of prison workers include ‘How can you stand doing that day after day?!’ and ‘Why would anyone (especially staff) think it’s a good idea to help an inmate escape?’ With this book, I set out to answer both questions.”

And she certainly does!

Early Release has a believable cast of characters, both inside and outside the prison. Frank Parsons is a clever con who meticulously plans his escape and uses everyone he can to get himself where he needs to be. On his tour through the system, he meets a kind but mousy prison employee who, both unknowingly and unwittingly, becomes his accomplice.

Outside the prison, a young female cop begins to put two and two together after a series of events unfold at the local correctional institution — loosely based on Joyceville Institution.

McCauley uses her insider knowledge skillfully in this book. Clear descriptions of both the prison buildings and administration, and the way the inmates live their day-to-day lives, keep this story interesting and build that will-he-won’t-he momentum.

She began her career in Ottawa before transferring to Warkworth Penitentiary. Later, she moved to Kingston and worked in every prison in the area except Millhaven.

“Within the prison walls I was a Programs Officer (Substance Abuse Prevention, Family Abuse Prevention, Cognitive Skills),” she shared.

As to how the book came about, McCauley said that, after retirement, she missed “getting into the who, what, where, when of other people’s lives. I put my interviewing and report writing skills to use by running memoir writing groups at the Kingston Seniors Centre. These morphed into general writing groups.”

But these groups still didn’t give McCauley what she craved. “Encouraging others to express themselves and put their work forward rang hollow since I was not doing the same. So I wrote the book.”

Now living in Sunbury, McCauley is also a playwright. Three of her pieces were mounted at the Domino Theatre One Act Play Festival. “Two with some success, the first—pretty much a bomb,” she laughed.

Published in 2022, Early Release centres around a fictitious community called East Gregson. According to McCauley, it is similar to the rural area that houses Warkworth Institution north of Brighton, Ontario.

“Structurally, this prison is more like Joyceville. The community itself is an amalgam of a number of small towns in which I’ve lived/worked,” she noted.

In the story, Parsons begins his incarceration in a maximum security prison, masterfully manipulates the system, and gets transferred to the medium security East Gregson institution, where he plots his escape plan, using everyone he can along the way.

Does Parsons make it to safety after his “early release”? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Early Release is available to purchase at Novel Idea, and McCauley shared that she has begun working on a second novel that plays off a few of the same characters, “but I keep getting distracted by writing plays and running writing groups!”


Jessica Foley is a freelance writer and content editor, the Assistant Editor and Lead Content Writer at Kingstonist, and is a passionate reader. When time allows, she reads books written by local authors and offers readers her own take on a book review, with an overview of the storyline, some insights from the local authors, and her thoughts on what she’s just read. To submit ideas on local books/authors for Jessica to consider, email her at jessica.foley@kingstonist.com.

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