Billy says a lot of the prisoners on the yard ask about how they can get into this outside the wire programme as it’s seen as quite a privilege. The men that have got into the programme have earned the right to be here. Dave explains that you must comply with all prison rules, do the rehabilitation and show the corrections officers that you will do the mahi to get into the outside the wire programme. Billy says a lot of the guys like to work with their hands and do something constructive. He also says there’s a real whanaungatanga between the blokes inside the programme. Billy feels that, “If I can fix a bike, maybe I can fix myself,” a sentiment he passes onto the other prisoners in the programme.
I ask Billy about some of the inmates he’s taught and whether he stays in contact with them. Most of them want to forget about their time inside so he loses contact. However, he’s heard of a few inmates that have gone into mechanical jobs after the programme. Alta tells me about one long-term inmate who saved up some money by working in the programme, then bought a bike as soon as he was released. Many of the inmates that reoffend do so with driving offences, such as not having a valid license. So, the bike helps connect the released inmates with their community and work. Billy states that one of the big reasons they donate to XXX is because they give ex-prisoners the freedom to get around and the chance to reintegrate into society.
Some of the other inmates talked to us whilst we walked around the workshops and yard. One thing that became especially clear was that all of the inmates had very different stories. One has been inside the prison for so long he hadn’t ever seen the Sky Tower, while another we’ll call “Jay” (also not his real name), told us he wasn’t locked up until years after committing his crime. He had turned his life around, picking up a stable job and making a family before he was sentenced and sent to prison. “I felt like I got off lightly for my crime and never had to face the consequences,” Jay says. “Coming to prison helped close that chapter of my life and now when I’m out I can fully focus on my new life.” He also mentioned that being a part of the bike programme helped him give back to the community he damaged when he committed his crime. The other message that became increasingly clear as we spoke to inmates is that prison is what you make of it. If you desire rehabilitation there are many opportunities—such as the bike workshop—to better yourself and set yourself up for success after your release.
The programme has been running for over two years now, and in that time they have refurbished over 500 bikes. It’s amazing to believe that these bikes are seen as junk by some people, but when given to the inmates in this programme they are given another lease on life.
There’s a strong work ethic amongst these inmates—to date, 40 have gone through the bike rehabilitation project. They work five days a week; and it’s like a regular job to them. All the men we spoke to look forward to coming in each day. They like working with their hands and doing something good. As some of them are close to release, projects like these can help them integrate back into society. The Department of Corrections have other projects that cover gardening, construction and engineering; overall, they have helped over 1,400 inmates into full-time employment upon release. It’s less about what they’ve done in the past, and more about how to rehabilitate them for the future. These “outside the wire” programmes give those incarcerated the tools to become part of our law-abiding society.
Words/Images: Liam Friary & Cameron Mackenzie
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