Pasifika programme helps ex-prisoners reconnect
For many people who have been in prison, inadequate support networks make successfully re-entering society extremely difficult. Old habits, stigmatisation and a lack of positive, supportive social connections mean many ex-prisoners reoffend. Luckily, PARS (People At Risk Solutions, formerly known as the Prisoner Aid and Rehabilitation Society) supports prisoners before and after release, helping them to become contributing members of their communities, and avoid reoffending.
Connection, community and
An important factor to building a healthy life outside of
prison is connection with one's cultural values and a sense of
place. Coordinated by Amen International Networx, Aucklanders from
a diverse range of Pasifika backgrounds act as mentors in Toe
Feso'ota'I, PARS' Pasifika mentoring programme. Meaning "to
reconnect" in Samoan, Toe Feso'ota'I gives released prisoners a
chance to talk, socialise, plan for their futures and set goals in
a culturally-specific setting.
"Toe Feso'ota'I gives these men a chance to speak and share
personal things about their lives - it's a safe place for them,"
says Lepua Amelia Nuualiitia, CEO of Amen International Networx.
"We value and respect everyone here, and are a family."
A member of the inaugural Toe Feso'ota'I programme, Mark* joined
PARS in 2012 after his release. He spent time living in PARS'
supported accommodation, but when the time came for him to move to
his own house, he knew he needed further support to help keep him
on-track with improving his life.
Originally from Niue, Mark's parents immigrated to New Zealand,
leaving him behind at the age of five. A childhood spent being
shifted around various family members and fragmented by domestic
violence left Mark feeling disconnected and angry. "I had no
balance, no stability, and not much sense of family," he says. "I
didn't even know I had a mum until I was ten." At age 15, Mark
moved to New Zealand to live with his parents, but found adjusting
to family life in New Zealand incredibly difficult. "I didn't feel
like I belonged," he says. "I couldn't call my parents Mum and Dad,
I had difficulty communicating, because of language barriers and a
lack of confidence, and I had no interest in going to school."
Mark describes his life as "going from one extreme to another."
He lost touch with his three children, finding it hard to
communicate and connect with his partner. "I didn't have the
confidence to seek any help, even though I knew I needed it," he
says. "So I ended up in prison. When my mum died, and I couldn't
leave to attend her funeral, I knew I needed to change."
Culture offers a vehicle to
Knowing his lack of education could be a barrier to bettering
his life, Mark took part in workshops and therapy sessions while in
prison, which helped him build skills that he didn't learn at
school and address his anger issues. The knowledge and
self-restraint he learnt during therapy proved very useful after
his release. "One thing that I loved about Toe Feso'ota'I was that
I got the chance to help someone else," says Mark. "Therapy inside
meant I could pass on some of what I know to the other guys, I'd
made an effort to sort my life out and the programme helped me to
help them sort theirs out too."
Through the programme, released prisoners meet with Pasifka
community members for two hours each week. They discuss responsible
and non-violent ways to deal with aggravating situations, improve
their communication skills, set goals and eat together, a great way
to connect. "It's about improving our lives in ways that reflect
Pasifika culture and beliefs," says Mark. "I'm the only one from
Niue, but there's a Niuean woman, who cooks us dinner."
Mark says that through Toe Feso'ota'I, his most significant
change has been his improved communication skills. "It was really
hard for me to communicate before, but Toe Feso'ota'I has given me
confidence and helped me to network," he says. "I can talk to
anyone now. I talk to people on the bus and on the street. I like
to hear their stories and connect with them."
Toe Feso'ota'I has also helped Mark establish goals to further
his life. He's looking for work, with a view to providing financial
security for his children, and hopes to reconnect with their
mother. He's interested in hospitality, but is currently working
with a family member, helping to renovate a home. "I think building
is a good way to learn some more useful skills," he says. "You
never know what opportunities might arise from it."
The programme has also encouraged him to reconnect with the
Christian community, and he enjoys attending church weekly with his
father, with whom his relationship has improved significantly.
"It's helped me stay true to myself, and given me the strength to
do what's right," he says. "It's difficult, you know, connecting
with your community and your roots after prison. I'm really
grateful for what's been made available to me. Toe Feso'ota'I has a
real family feel, and I'm encouraging other Pasifika guys I know to
*Name has been changed for