Maori and prison: Women's refuge helps men turn life around

By Yvonne Tahana

Government should boost spending on services for ex-prisoners, especially short-termers, says advocate.

Zane Wharewaka, left, who counts himself lucky to live at the home, and Roni Albert from Te Whakaruruhau. Photo / Christine Cornege
Zane Wharewaka, left, who counts himself lucky to live at the home, and Roni Albert from Te Whakaruruhau. Photo / Christine Cornege

A Maori women's refuge is working with inmates inside and out.

Roni Albert established Te Whakaruruhau in Hamilton in 1986. She says it's become clearer to her that supporting women only didn't fundamentally change domestic violence. Instead, she decided her organisation needed to be working with men, including inside prisons.

"It is the full circle - without helping the men then how are they going to support their families?"

She struck up a close relationship with Te Ao Marama, the Maori Focus Unit at Waikeria Prison, and over the past six years has used community work parties from the unit to do practical work, such as repairs to refuge clients' homes which have been wrecked by domestic violence.

The refuge is also providing a residential transition programme for up to 10 ex-prisoners to live at a Te Whakaruruhau home. It will be a home for six to 12 months where social and living skills are taught, relationship and personal counselling are provided and advocacy for employment is provided alongside training and accommodation.

There's not a lot of money around for programmes such as Te Whakaruruhau's which so far has been partially government-funded for a year, Ms Albert said.

Zane Wharewaka, 36, was released from Te Ao Marama in February and counts himself lucky he lives at the home. He's setting simple goals for himself - to get a job on his own, settle down, sit on an aeroplane for the first time, complete a computer course.

Te Ao Marama was the beginning of change for him. It "unlocked" a place where he'd shoved his Maori identity away. He'd been in jail three times but the unit taught him skills he'd never had before: How to communicate with a person properly and expect the same in return. Te Whakaruruhau is an extension of Te Ao Marama and it's a haven for him. He volunteers at the refuge. It's a sobering experience cleaning up homes after a woman has been beaten.

"I never had respect for women but now I can see what they go thorough and how hard it really is for them to put up with all the bulls***, looking after the kids when you're gone to jail."

- NZ Herald

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