Mentoring helps ex-prisoner re-enter society and make the most of life

Few people consider the challenges that people face when they emerge from prison. Luckily PARS Inc (based in Mt Eden, Auckland) and some fantastic mentors are on hand to help prisoners adjust to life in the real world.

PARS facilitates a mentoring programme in which people who have come out of long stints in prison are paired with a helpful citizen who can aid them in getting their life back on track, and staying on the right side of the law.

Murray Young and Hare* are one such pair. Murray is a former member of the NZ Fire Service Commission, an ex-Queen's bailiff with the Ministry of Justice who has also worked in real estate, giving him a huge range of skills and great knowledge of people and their body language. Hare spent several years in prison, and earlier this year was sent back into society without the skills to deal with changes within his life. That's where Murray came in.

Tasks as simple as catching a bus, using an eftpos card or navigating a computer were difficult for Hare when he came out of prison, with many of these activities using fairly new technologies. Murray's role was to teach him the skills to take on these tasks, and equip him with the confidence he needed to get back into society.

Says Murray, "he had a fear of being reintroduced to society and felt extremely out of place." To get over this anxiety, Murray's solution was to take him to a shopping centre where he was unfamiliar with everyone, and, in Hare's words, "chuck me in the deep end of the pool." These days, Hare is "much more comfortable," and has no issues being around other people.

On release, many prisoners face isolation, stigma, restrictions and barriers to the community. "I didn't want to be released," says Hare. "I was afraid of being scared, lonely, depressed." Having a mentor helps them stay out of prison. Says Hare, "I had plans of going back inside - it was more comfortable, there were things to do and people always around." For many, this is a more appealing prospect than being alone, ostracised from society. What PARS and their mentors do is demonstrate that there is life after prison, and that reoffending is not the only choice.

PARS assisted Hare through their Supported Accommodation Service, with food, and dealing with WINZ. Murray has had a huge impact on Hare's life, helping him to find jobs, working on his interview skills, teaching him to cook, and even helping him try to mend his relationship with his children's mother. "The best advice he's given me is to stay calm, be relaxed, love life, and take things one step at a time," says Hare.

Mentoring with PARS hasn't been a one way street either - Murrays says "to date, 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." The aim, for Murray, is to show Hare a normal way of life so that he can integrate back into society - and most importantly, stay out of prison. "If I can contribute to keeping someone out of jail, I've done my job," says Murray. The most important thing for a mentor to have, according to Murray? "An open mind. There's good in everybody, you just have to find it."

Tui Ah Loo, Executive Director of PARS, explains "all people benefit if we mentor people coming out of prison and help them stay out of prison. The person re-entering society, the mentor, and society - all are better off because of this programme." For Hare, PARS and Murray have been and are still instrumental in keeping him positive and ensuring that he doesn't go back to prison. "When I have problems, I tell PARS and they get me back on track."

 

Want to make a difference like Murray?

Community mentors make a huge difference in the lives of prisoners by:

  • Assisting dislocated released prisoners in the (re)establishment of networks to successfully reintegrate back into the community
  • Helping released prisoners navigate their lives independently
  • Being a positive role model to released prisoners, helping enhance pro-social skills
  • Supporting released prisoners with healthy decision-making.

 

Become a mentor with PARS to positively transform the lives of ex-prisoners and make a real difference in the community. Email Volunteer Coordinator Ruth at ruthp@pars.co.nz or call 09 947 6185 (direct dial) or 09 630 0862 (office) to begin changing lives today.

 *Name has been changed for privacy reasons