Experiences with Corrections
Our guests last week were Robert (Robbie) Risdon and Cheyne Turahui from Corrections.
Robbie started by noting that his passion is for rehabilitation.  In earlier days his experiences included working in the bush until one of his mates asked whether he would like to work in the prison system as in his life at that time he had met a lot of “colourful” characters which gave him a wealth of life skills that he could bring to that type of work.
He then proceeded to tell us about the often quite harrowing experiences those who appear in Court and are remanded in custody go through.  This includes starting by being put in a holding cell with a wide variety of others regardless of their reasons for being in the same boat. 
They are then searched for any hidden articles on their body which is a real wake-up call for especially those who have never experienced this process before and placed in intervention Support units with no water or facilities where they stay there until staff are happy they have nothing on their person in order to ensure their safety.
Next they are put through a metal detector and after that undergo an assessment of the risk with respect to their state of mind.  If they are seen as being at risk of self-harm they then go into a special unit that conducts a more in depth assessment which then recommends where the best location in the prison would be best for them at this stage.
After that their typical day includes only 2 hours yard time and, when called up, they go back to Court.  If convicted they then return to a unit for further assessment and are assigned a Case Manager who interviews them and starts building their Development Plan for moving forward.
The overall goal is to targeting what the best result can be in preparation for eventual release which is decided by a meeting with the Parole Board.  “”The real issue is that many of problems the people I work with started early in life” shared Robbie. 
Looking at how he got into Corrections, Robbie noted that he started at the Women’s Prison which gave him an insight in how to support women who, as a result of abuse, often had little trust in others.  After getting to know him many of then realised he was straight up and could really help them.
Next he worked with young men at Rolleston which included training them in outdoor education activities which led to camping and climbing trips.  The programme, called “Challenge by Choice”, included consequences for not playing ball.
It culminated in a serious tramp in dangerous mountain areas which helped them develop strong bonds and the feeling that they were part of a team.
“Rather than have prisoners pay for what they did, our approach now is to help them change their lives as people, not programmes, change lives” continued Robbie.  An approach called “Motivational Interviewing” was introduced with a key question being: “Where do you really want to be in five years?”
In response to this, the leader of high profile gang responded: “I have to be here for the boys” which got in the way of him moving forward as his entire family was in the gang so he could not see how he could possibly leave.
He next shared, as an example, a prisoner who was prone to being violent who was sent to him.  He was tall, big, and covered in tattoos.  15 guards dropped him off and he came out swinging. 
“I went to see him and shook his hand which was his first experience of being treated humanely.  He told me that he didn’t think I would like what he had done to which I replied that I cared more about what you do here going forward” said Robbie.
As a result he started moving forward, is now keen to leave his gang family and get his life in order.  “If you help someone along the way it can make a real difference and one particular person I helped will now tell you his story!” concluded Robbie. 
We next heard from Cheyne who Robbie was referring to. 
Cheyne began by saying he wasn’t sure where to start.  “At fifteen I made a big mistake as my family was heavily involved in negative stuff which strongly affected how I saw the world” he began.  
After being kicked out of school he thought he was a man and chased the gang environment which he found attractive.  Before long he was arrested and went through a range of programmes which didn’t really work as they were designed for men rather than the situation he came from. 
Eventually he ended up in the Youth Unit with Robbie. 
He eventually realised he had to come to a place himself which included finding God and making a decision to live a more straight life.  He committed himself to trying hard and, despite setbacks, completed various high intensity programmes over seven years. 
“Risso (Robbie’s nickname) stuck by me throughout” shared Cheyne “and I also met my lovely wife and we have 2 beautiful daughters” continued Cheyne.  He felt that both Risso and his wife were the key to changing despite being scared by how big a challenge this was. 
He decided he needed a trade and chose studying towards work as an electrician and was very appreciative of finding work with someone who gave him a chance.   Sports wise he has also done well which includes playing league for Canterbury plus also he made the New Zealand fight team where he especially loved the training.
He also decided he wanted to learn more about being Maori.  He took his gang colours off and searched for his Maori roots.  He currently performs Kapa Haka with a local team which includes overseas travel with the group. 
“It took time to get to a place where I had to change my thinking from ‘how do I get out’ to ‘how do I need to change to move on with my life’ but I feel things have worked out well and I am especially grateful for Risso’s help with this process.” 
Stuart thanked Robbie and Cheyne for sharing their interesting journeys into, within and through the Corrections environment.