Lashlie film essential viewing for our MPs
ON Monday night Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launched the Criminal Justice Summit. Soon after the doors to Parliament’s Banquet Hall opened for those attending the official opening, Civis was en route to the Regent Theatre, like many others, to see Celia, a film about Celia Lashlie, described in the 2018 Film Festival programme as ‘‘an impassioned, charismatic advocate for equality of opportunity in New Zealand . . . compassionate, funny, combative and blunt’’.
She was certainly that, but much more.
She married at 19, then, after her marriage dissolved, was the solo mother of two children, whom she brought up while studying at, and graduating from, university. She became a probation officer, and then New Zealand’s first female prison officer in a men’s prison, later managing Christchurch Women’s Prison for four years.
She was sacked from her job as transition manager for the Nelson Specialist Education Service after a speech about a hypothetical 5yearold boy, ‘‘blond, with the most angelic face . . . he’s coming to prison ... he’s probably going to kill someone on the way’’, but went on to work with, and write about, the Good Man project, in many boys’ schools, and to publish He’ll be OK (her guide to bringing up boys) and Power of Mothers.
She died from cancer two days after filming for this documentary began with an interview at her home, but use was made of previous recordings, including a domestic violence camp in which she’d taken part, to produce an inspiring portrayal of someone often at odds with bureaucracy, but who treated everyone as worthwhile and stood alongside people in the most terrible circumstances.
Not taking over and doing everything for them, but standing with them, encouraging them to make choices for themselves and to take responsibility for their actions.
She told of seeing a queue of schoolboys outside their viceprincipal’s office after morning assembly. ‘‘Why?’’ she asked. To ring their mothers (they’d forgotten to take their Mummade lunch from the kitchen bench and put it into the school bag) so that Mum could bring the lunch in. As she pointed out, strong training in not being responsible for their actions.
She promoted a bottomup approach, finding out from those in trouble what they felt was needed, in contrast to the standard bureaucratic topdown dictatorship by those with the power and the money.
At the opening of the summit, Ms Ardern said: ‘‘If we want to talk about an effective justice system, we shouldn’t start with a discussion about prison but with a discussion about New Zealand.’’
Like Celia, she listed some of the shocking statistics about inmates of New Zealand prisons: high levels of mental ill health, addiction, and illiteracy, 77% having been victims of violence, and 53% of women and 15% of men having been sexually assaulted.
Ms Ardern also said: ‘‘We all realise that prisons are a moral and fiscal failure’’.
That statement needs qualification. Some prison capacity is a must, and some offenders are only safe in prison. And Civis knows some who’ve been helped by prison. But as Celia made plain, New Zealand prisons need a much greater focus on effective rehabilitation, and the necessary attitudes and resourcing to achieve it. The Government has announced some moves in that direction, but much more will be needed.
Civis left the Regent Theatre deeply moved, thinking that Celia should be seen by all New Zealanders: in particular, all MPs, and all those involved in the Criminal Justice Summit.
Thank you, Amanda Millar (who began work as a journalist at
Dunedin’s Evening Star at age 17) for making the film, those who crowdfunded the initial work on it, and Garry Robertson (once a Mosgiel boy), who bankrolled its making. It shows a hero and her vision.
Crossparty agreement on reform of the justice and welfare systems is needed. Reform utilising Celia’s insights would be a fitting memorial for her. Is that too much to hope for?