Nothing great is ever accomplished alone.
We are currently researching and developing a mentorship programme to connect people who have completed life skills programmes while in prison with volunteer community mentors. The key premise is that mentors will help prepare people in prison to return to their community of choice, encourage them to make positive change and provide them with tools, support and opportunities they need to continue on their journey.
We’ve heard from past prison-leavers that leaving prison can be a stressful and overwhelming time, especially in the first few weeks and months. And we’ve heard from our life skills course graduates in prison that they feel inspired and motivated to make changes, but they’re nervous about what will happen once they’re outside the wire.
Picture for a moment what life in prison is like – up to 23 hours a day in your cell, and the only people you have to interact with are those in your unit or prison officers. The transition from this environment through the prison gate means prison-leavers often enter a world they are unfamiliar with and are not prepared for. They might need help engaging with probation, organising accommodation, doing an initial food or clothing shop, finding training or job opportunities, applying for Work and Income subsidies, and accessing counselling or treatment. These tasks can feel overwhelming without support or guidance from someone who knows how the world works.
A mentor can help out with even the simple things that many of us take for granted, like setting up a bank account or getting a bus card.
The importance of the mentor-mentee relationship
Through one-size-fits-one mentoring sessions – both inside prison and through the gate and into the community – our mentors can offer an ‘outside’ connection, someone who doesn’t tell mentees what to do or judge their behaviour. Instead, our mentors can help mentees see a different path, inspiring them to ‘make good’ on commitments to change their trajectory and find ways to positively impact their communities.
The programme draws from the learnings, strategies and tools within the life skills courses our participants take in prison. Mentors then bring this material to life by creating goals, action plans and achieving milestones with their mentee. Its mana is in the quality of the relationship between mentor and participant – like a tuakana-teina relationship.
Research shows that relationships that are voluntarily entered into, and are mutually beneficial, get the best results. In this way the tuakana mentor guides and supports with knowledge and experience, and the teina offers new learnings and insights for the tuakana too.
We pair people with mentors who are everyday people – teachers, artists, students, professionals – who are prepared to treat participants like human beings worthy of dignity and respect, rather than “offenders” or “statistics.” Mentors are handpicked to walk alongside people who have long been overseen by the Department of Corrections, back into the care of the community.
Our mentors join a network of other likeminded, competent and altruistic people and are trained and supported by the Momentum team.
Currently 6 out of 10 of people released into the community will reoffend in two years.
Clearly, more can be done to support our most vulnerable communities, which includes those where people go on to reoffend.
By meeting the individual support needs of each person in prison at a pivotal time and supporting their desire to change and lead a crime-free life, we can build a one-way bridge between life in prison and life on the outside. Our desire is that prison is no longer a revolving door where hope is lost.
We have big goals to reduce offending rates in Aotearoa. And we have big goals to shift perceptions too. By bringing the community inside the wire and into the realities of the conversation, we hope to initiate a radical shift towards reducing stigma and misconceptions about people in prison.
Instead of focusing on what’s been done by any one person to end up in prison, we take the view of ‘what happened to you’ and ‘what social conditions lead to this outcome’ to then draw on a strengths-based approach – seeing ‘what’s right with you’ to support change.
We’ve all had instances where a mentor has shaped the way we show up in the world. A mentor is like your go-to person who guides and motivates. They don’t try to fix or see what’s ‘wrong’ but instead shine a light on what’s right, tika, and what’s working, pono.
Our common humanity unites us in our struggles and in our achievements.
This belief is at the core of our structure and impetus for the mentorship programme.
Get in touch with us today if you would like to get involved or know more – firstname.lastname@example.org