Many people who volunteer in prison and in the community have gone out of their way to ensure people on sentence can still participate in activities, particularly during COVID-19 when sites have been closed to visitors. National Volunteer Week (19-25 June 2022) honours the collective energies and mana of volunteers in Aotearoa. This year’s theme is ‘Time to Shine- He wā whakawhiti.’ It’s a time to recognise and celebrate volunteers, a time for them to shine – whakawhiti.
Kaiwhakamana bring Te Ao Māori to the heart of prison
Kaiwhakamana have been visiting prisons as volunteers since 2002. They are specified visitors with approved access to visit prisons for the purpose of providing Māori cultural support.
There is a strong consensus among prison staff and Kaiwhakamana that the initiative 'is gold'. Kaiwhakamana bring Te Ao Māori to the heart of the prison and connect with people in prison in unique and meaningful ways.
Kaiwhakamana Henare O’Keefe grew up in a large family in Ruatoria and strong family values lead him to a commitment to uplift and inspire his community, his people and his country. He has a thirst to reverse negative social statistics and is dedicated to combating family violence, mentoring youth and assisting in the reintegration of prisoners. For over 20 years Henare has volunteered his time to visiting prisons and reintegrating people released from prison into the community, by sourcing permanent jobs, and accommodation for people. A humble and caring man, he has a hands-on approach and uses his energy to drive practical initiatives to build community, especially in disadvantaged areas.
Chaplains in prison provide religious and spiritual services to anyone in need of pastoral care. Although chaplains are paid, their work is supported by a number of volunteers who help out with running group services at each prison site. Some volunteers also provide individual pastoral care to men and women in prison.
From time-to-time chaplains also provide pastoral care to staff. This may include supporting staff dealing with stress due to COVID-19, the sudden death of a prisoner or maybe an incident they have had to deal with relating to someone in prison, another staff member, close family or friend. Chaplains also attend to the wairua of the site through helping nurture a healthy site culture and supporting staff morale and wellbeing.
Baking programme - add kindness and stir
A baking programme led by volunteers works with people in prison and in the community to teach them to bake and then deliver these goods to people in need. More than 3,000 people have joined the baking team which has made and delivered home-cooked baking to over 1 million people. While they bake, they chat and show that they really care about poeple, who in turn learn how rewarding it can be to give back to someone in the community who may be at a low point in their life.
An eight-week programme, Prison Bake is managed by Charlotte te Riet Scholten-Phillips. She says the idea behind it is to create a kindness cycle. "We give people in prison the opportunity to be kind, and the recipients get a moment of sweetness and relief when things are tough. People in prison learn the impact of their kindness, and that they can be kind - all while learning valuable skills they can use outside of prison."
If you want to find out more about this programme contact Charlotte by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Appreciating Auckland Prison volunteers
There’s always time, and a way around COVID-19 restrictions, to have an appreciation knees-up for one of Ara Poutama Aotearoa’s most invaluable resources: our amazing volunteer tutors and supporters.
“Even though our Auckland Prison volunteers have not been able to enter the prison for many months now, I felt strongly that we still had to organise something special to acknowledge and thank these fantastic humans for their time and life-changing contributions to the men at the prison,” says Auckland Prison Regional Volunteer Co-ordinator Lesley Weavers.
“All of us could also do with a proper catch-up and a cuppa. So, at a morning tea at Paremoremo Cultural Centre we hosted some of our incredible volunteers to thank these dedicated people from the heart and give each one a small gift.”
The Auckland Prison volunteers come with a wide range of skills and expertise, and some of the numerous programmes on offer to the men in prison include literacy and numeracy, basic te reo Māori classes, art, chess, beekeeping, Muslim cultural support and mental wellbeing, Fautua Pasefika support, Kaiwhakamana support, Word for Work CV writing and interview skills, problem gambling, and one-to-one budgeting advice.
Volunteer Gwen Taylor, who delivers an art programme to the men, has been a teacher for more than 30 years and has been volunteering at Auckland Prison since 2018.
“I see myself as a facilitator rather than a teacher. I give the men some ideas and they take off with these and create amazing artwork,” says Gwen.
“Creating art is a form of self-expression that affirms the participants as artists and can reinforce their cultural identity. My class is a safe place where they can let their guard down and relax. The men sometimes tell me it’s meditative and their concentration is such that often you can hear a pin drop.”
Knit and stitch
Knit and Stitch volunteers Irene and Julie have become well-loved visitors at Christchurch Men’s and Christchurch Women’s prisons, acting as grandmother figures for the people they teach. They’ve been doing this aroha mahi (volunteer work) for almost four years.
Over the years, they estimate they’ve helped people in prison create more than 2,000 handknitted items, donated to whānau and a range of charitable organisations.
Beyond giving back to the community, the women have seen first-hand how learning these skills can have lifechanging benefits for people in prison.
The pair have found that knitting and crocheting gives people a sense of purpose, calm, and a place where they can regain a sense of normality behind the wire.
People typically start by learning on a round loom, before moving onto knitting needles, where they make peggy squares and beanies. When they’ve got the knack of that, Irene and Julie provide them with photocopied patterns to create layettes (baby clothing sets), socks and toys.
The duo can’t wait to get back into the prison space when COVID-19 restrictions ease, but are also planning classes at Rāwhiti, with Regional Volunteer Coordinator Jen Hardy keen to grow volunteer opportunities in the Community Corrections’ space. This would see Irene and Julie teaching people on community sentences skills like sewing on buttons and mending clothing, as part of the Work and Living Skills programme.
Their partnership has kicked off with the donation of more than 650 knitted and crochet items made by prisoners at Christchurch Men’s Prison and Christchurch Women’s Prison, which Rāwhiti staff will be sorting into care packages for whānau and people in need who visit their site.
Interested in volunteering?
If you would like to apply to become a volunteer see our website. Howwever, please note at this time most prison sites are still not open to volunteers due to the COVID-19 environment.