Sheena is a bright, bubbly woman who you think would try her hand at anything for Morrinsville-based Stretton Group. Aged in her 40s, she has two children. She has also spent Christmas in 7 out of 10 years in prison.
Sheena, not her real name, is the first resident of RAW’s ( Reclaim Another Woman) pilot ‘‘incubator home’’ in the Waikato, pioneered by fashion designer and publisher Annah Stretton.
The home, which will house up to five women who are either on probation or at the end of their sentences, aims to transform their lives by equipping them with essential life skills and in turn breaking the alarming cycle of violence, repeat offending, poverty and disadvantage.
Supported by the Corrections Department, Stretton has been working inside Wiri Prison as part of the RAW programme for several months.
‘‘New Zealand has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the world,’’ said Stretton. ‘‘ The prospect of a newly released woman finding her way, other than in the life of drugs, crime and violence that she came from, is nothing short of a miracle and we all know these cases are extremely rare.
‘‘Often when a woman leaves prison she will have no fixed abode, no money, no prospect of a job and absolutely no engaged or long term support. She is used to confinement and rules and is often clean from the influences and disruptions that initially got her jailed, but will soon return to the old ways she knows out of necessity and boredom.
‘‘ There is nothing to assist these women with the change they often want to effect, nothing to give them a choice they so desperately want.’’
Inside the RAW incubator home women will be taught to cook, grow food and plants, housekeep and budget, along with learning the importance of personal hygiene, fitness and health, parenting and collaborative behaviour.
Sheena said her story is typical of many women in prison. On release from her first sentence, she had no money, no job and little support.
Linking up with her old associates, she ultimately ended up back behind bars.
She heard about RAW last year, became motivated, and prepared for the programme for eight months before her release in March.
While getting the incubator home functional, Sheena has also worked in the cafe at Stretton Group.
She visited Wiri Prison as part of RAW. ‘‘It felt good. There’s not a lot of hope in there.’’
Encouraging women to join RAW, she is also a pivotal part of the selection process for future tenants.
Sheena said she was buzzing at her new path in life.
‘‘I wanted the change and now I’ve got it,’’ she said. ‘‘I’m not in fear any more.’’
Annah Stretton said women accepted for the incubator home, where they will stay for 12 months, must have a mindset of wanting change.
Ex-prisoners are a ‘‘socially excluded’’ part of the population, she said.
RAW representatives attend parole hearings, with about 50 women prisoners signed up at various stages of their sentences.
Stretton envisages 3-4 homes in the Waikato, then spread across the country. She is covering all costs at present. At the end of their year in the incubator home, Stretton said RAW will assist the women into their own housing, connect them back with their families and continue their education or seek employment (where qualified).
‘‘As a community we need to work together and embrace this issue,’’ she said.
Pikao Post – 1 April 2015