Former inmates ready for workforce
‘‘The first three months of being out is pretty daunting. The support needs to be there for at least six months to 12.’’
A formerly violent inmate who changed his life working outside of prison is urging employers to give convicts the opportunity to prove themselves.
Chris, who withheld his surname for privacy reasons, was raised in South Auckland and had amassed offences that included violence and dishonesty dating back to 2003.
Last week the former Hawke’s Bay inmate, along with another man who served a community detention service in Waikanae for crimes including arson, spoke at a Corrections Department event aimed to highlight the growing amount of workplace skills held by offenders to employers.
A recent stint in prison led to a major turning point for Chris.
‘‘At 31 years old, I was once again in a prison cell cursing and blaming others for my shortcomings.
‘‘I woke up one morning and as I walked out of my cell to fall into line at our morning parade, I looked both left and right and it dawned on me that... I had seen the same faces since 2003.’’
He did not want to grow old living in and out of prison so drew strength from the church, and the prison’s Maori Focus Unit.
He worked with a case manager to address anger issues, and get some of the skills he would need to get a foot in the door of a working industry for further training, which eventually lead to a job after parole with Hawke’s Bay orchard owner Jerf van Beek.
‘‘I think the main thing is that when the brothers come out of prison ... the first three months of being out is pretty daunting. The support needs to be there for at least six months to 12.’’
Van Beek, who is the Horticulture NZ national co-ordinator of seasonal labour, works with Corrections to help prisoners get into the industry, which he said had ‘‘places to burn’’ for fit, capable men.
Former community detention offender Ben, who also withheld his last name for privacy reasons, had a happy family start to life but years later found himself charged with arson and assault.
The 32-year-old from Plimmerton near Wellington said in his teens he ‘‘found myself following the cool kids ... drinking, smoking pot, and other recreational drugs’’.
He spent years going through the same routine: ‘‘Doing drugs and drinking, but holding down a fulltime job.’’
‘‘I then met my now girlfriend, who had five girls.
‘‘I ... didn’t know how to handle my new life with all these females. I turned to heavy drinking and ... one thing led to another and I was charged with drink-driving, arson, and assault, all in one year.’’
He was sentenced to 500 hours of community work and nine months’ home detention.
‘‘While doing my community work and home detention sentences, Corrections went out of their way to rehabilitate me.‘‘
His probation officer told him about a job at Goodmans Contracting, an earthworks firm in Kapiti.
‘‘Having a job is something I really needed. First to support my family, but the main reason was to give me a daily routine and keep me out of trouble.’’
Chris is a former prisoner now working in the horticulture industry in Hawke’s Bay. Former inmate, Chris