Ex-prisoners make the most of mentoring to make the most of life

It’s not every day that an organisation triples a programme in size, but PARS Inc (formerly known as the Prisoners’ Aid and Rehabilitation Society of the Auckland District Inc) has managed to do just that with their Community Mentoring Scheme, and are now able to help even more Central Auckland residents.

Based in Auckland, PARS is an organisation that supports released prisoners to reintegrate into society and live independently. They developed a community-mentoring programme after realising that prisoners who had one on one support were less likely to reoffend.

"One of the guys I worked with recently was a Maori man who felt like he wasn't welcome in society. I took him for a cup of tea at a café in Mission Bay, an affluent area, and threw him in the deep end," says Murray Young, one of PARS' most dedicated mentors.

"Because staff were talking to him and treating him like anyone else, it started to open his eyes to the fact that what kept him out of society were his own preconceptions. He told me later that he really appreciated it," describes Murray.

Since its inception last year, the programme has significantly increased. After the organisation received funding from the ASB Community Trust, PARS has expanded their volunteer base from 6 to 29 in only a few short months, with volunteers being fully trained and vetted and ready to be matched with a released prisoner.

Murray, who has been a mentor with PARS since the programme started, says that when working with ex-prisoners, his aim is to show them a normal way of life so they can reintegrate into society and, most importantly, stay out of prison. "If I can contribute to keeping someone out of jail, I've done my job." When asked what is the most important trait for a mentor to have, Murray replied: "An open mind. There's good in everybody, you just have to find it."

Murray, who has now worked with more than five ex-prisoners, sees it as the perfect opportunity for retired men to do something to contribute to the community - although it does take basic knowledge of the internet, as a big part of a mentor's job is to help prisoners learn new skills and get up to date with how society functions. Many long-term prisoners may have never had an email or have never searched for a job on TradeMe, so Murray and the other mentors will often take prisoners to library and teach them how to use both.

PARS has identified that there are a range of released prisoners who require mentoring in order to gain the skills that are required to navigate a pathway in society.  Released prisoners need emotional and practical support as well as the knowledge and skills of others to assist them to reduce the chances of re-offending. Mentors like Murray Young who have the knowledge, skills and time to mentor released prisoners are vital to the success of the programme.

Tui Ah Loo, Executive Director of PARS, explains, "All people benefit if we mentor people coming out and help them stay out of prison. The person re-entering society, the mentor, and the community - all are better off because of this programme."

Although PARS has had a fantastic level of interest from people wanting to become mentors, Ruth Patterson, Volunteer Coordinator for PARS, says they still need to bring in more male mentors. Released prisoners tend to relate to someone of their own gender better, however currently, most of PARS' volunteers are female. Most of those leaving prison are male, and are desperately in need of positive models.

Murray certainly recommends mentoring, saying, "I've found it very, very rewarding. I'm contributing to a person's life that has been taken away from him because of his mistakes. My job is to prevent him from making more mistakes."

To become a mentor, or find out more about the programme, contact Ruth Patterson, Volunteer Co-ordinator for PARS, on 09 947 6185 or ruthp@pars.co.nz.