At the age of 16 years I found myself in Mt Eden Women’s prison in Auckland, having already been shifted around a number of the country’s maximum security girl’s homes.This was the early stages of what went on to become a 25-year cycle of crime and drug addiction that saw me drift in and out of prison and accumulate over 138 convictions.
While at times my life of crime was punctuated with living the high-life in penthouse apartments, more often than not, I was sleeping rough in the back seat of a stolen car.
There were times when I would have a couple of lucid moments, when I would hate myself and I always felt that I was weak-willed.
Going to prison was part and parcel of the life I had chosen, I once heard someone describe it as: â€œthe government’s way of sending you to your roomâ€.
I can’t recall ever being afraid of going to prison, it was certainly an inconvenience and I hated the fact that I had no freedom, but once there, I accepted it and just wanted to get on with my sentence and look forward to my release.
There were never any thoughts of changing my behaviour because no one ever challenged me and said â€œHey this is not OK!â€ I never even considered that anyone was being hurt by my actions; my victims were just casualties. I treated the justice system with contempt and hated anyone with authority – they didn’t belong in my world.
That has all changed. For the past 12 years I have been involved in the development and practice of restorative justice initiatives in New Zealand — facilitating conferences between victims and offenders, both within the wider community and in the confines of prison.
Currently and for the past 7 years I have been working as Prison Fellowship’s [New Zealand] Manager for Restorative Justice Services in prisons. The primary thrust of this work has been to implement and manage the delivery of the “Sycamore Tree Programme” into 14 prisons and also facilitating victim offender face to face meetings upon request.
Restoartive Justice in prisons has grown to the point where PFNZ now has 4 fully trained RJ facilitators and 2 others in training.
The RJ referral rate is also on the increase with 12 conferences completed in 2008, 7 conferences in 2009, and 18 conferences so far for 2010.
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