by ROWENA OREJANA
AUCKLAND — People leaving prison need great support from the community during the period of their transition
back to the community.
Auckland Regional Womens Correctional Facility chaplain Mary Thorne
said she has become aware of this huge need of the people she works with.
“They have had the time to reflect on their mistakes and they want to live a new life, but if there is no support it is hard for them to fulfil their own dreams and goals,” she said.
Josie (not her real name) is a 65-year-old transgender person, who
has been imprisoned for 21 years.
She suffered through abuses while in men’s prisons. For the past four years, though, she has been at the women’s prison in Wiri, and expressed her longing to live an ordinary life.
St Mary’s parish in Papakura offered her the position of gardener, as part of a transition programme out of prison. A carver in her former life, Josie became quite enthusiastic about her job.
“I’ve a vegetable garden at the back of the church. Here I have the
herbs growing. I just love to see things grow,” she said.
Her pride and joy is the little garden at the corner outside the
church where a statue of Mary is displayed. “They want to put her
on a pedestal, which means I have to move some of these plants
around,” she said.
Mrs Thorne said Josie had been widely accepted by the community
because of the role she took, and she hopes to continue living there
when she gets paroled.
“People have been able to see what she has done. It was not a matter of us helping poor broken her, but her contributing to the community,” she said.
Mrs Thorne said just as Josie was able to forge strong ties with the community, she hopes other communities will be able to offer support to those who will be released from prison.
Senior prison chaplain Sr Veronica Casey, PBVM, said those people are our neighbours.
“They are actually people of God. We’ve got a very judgmental
society and it’s very difficult for these people when they are trying to rebuild their lives,” she said.
“It’s a very very fine line it seems between punishment and
revenge. The punishment that these people receive is going to
prison. The revenge is when the punishment doesn’t stop there,
when people hold it against them for the rest of their lives.”
Mrs Thorne said the role of the chaplains is to treat the prisoners
as children of God, when Corrections see them as potentially dangerous and a threat to the safety of society.
“If we are identified by the worst things that we did, none of us would look flash, would we? We are all more than the offences we’ve committed,” she said.