14 May 2019

'I was one of those kids': Young offenders see change in themselves

3:57 pm on 14 May 2019

A group of 10 young offenders at Christchurch men's prison are celebrating, having gained their Duke of Edinburgh awards.

Young men participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

Young men participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. Photo: Supplied.

The bronze, silver and gold awards encourage young people in more than 130 countries to get active, learn skills, and support the community.

To get the award the young people completed outdoor pursuits, volunteered in the prison gardens, built push-bikes and raised money for Women's Refuge.

As the young men received the awards, stories about their exploits and excuses for getting out of the 6am runs were shared.

But behind the jokes there appeared to be a great sense of pride.

For one award-winner, James*, achieving gold meant getting well out of his comfort zone.

"Working with people that I did it with, that I didn't really get on with, but doing the programme ... made me talk."

James and the others also had to complete an outdoor adventure for up to three days, which they did on the surrounding farm.

It was a challenge getting permission to let them out of the secure unit but the green light was eventually given - and they thrived.

They lugged backpacks weighing up to 40kg, fell into muddy creeks, sat around a campfire, and slept under the stars.

James said the various team building activities helped him develop a skill he did not know he had.

"That I was a good leader, that I had good leadership skills ... everyone was sort of just listening to me and you know, I'd just say things clearly and that, and you know, I just got on with everyone else."

Another inmate, John*, said he struggled with the physical tasks - especially the marathon he ran alongside his principal corrections officer.

But he said it was worth it, and he was grateful for the skills he developed, like strategic thinking.

One of his favourite experiences was learning about bike mechanics.

"I can now take a bike apart and put it completely back together, and basically fix anything on a normal push bike.

"I'm pretty stoked. It's a career I want to look into when I get out so, yeah, I'm pretty happy with it."

For John, the graduation ceremony was a double whammy because he also received his NCEA Level 2 certificate.

He hoped to combine the skills he had picked up inside to create a life on the outside.

"I want to start my own bike business, mobile bike business.

"I'm studying accounting so I can learn how to manage my own business."

Chris Allan, Joshua Foundation.

Chris Allan Photo: Supplied.

Chris Allan from the Joshua Foundation supervised many of the activities and said he was proud of the boys.

"I know every single boy; I know their face; I know their name. I know their back story and I was one of those kids when I was young, and for me now, when I come in and see them, my heart goes out."

Principal youth unit officer Gary Smallridge said some of the young men in the unit had gone through life without someone in their corner.

He said that was why seeing them achieve their goals made him so proud.

"We've got a volunteer tutor that takes them back to ABC's, and she started off with one young man and now he's reading, you know, thick novels.

"You just see these kids getting that support and probably a little bit of love as well, and you just see them improve and mature."