Kiwi designer Annah Stretton helping convicts regain their feet

Kiwi fashion designer Annah Stretton is helping convicts turn their lives around and ensure they don't end up back in prison.

Through her sideline company RAW she has helped 30 convicts get their lives back on track.

It helped men and women find jobs and put them into homes so that they could properly be integrated back into society.

Stretton said they connected with women while they were in prison and worked with them for at least six months before they were released to ascertain whether it was the right fit.

"When we work with women who have been incarcerated and are displaying a recidivist pattern of offending and it's here were start to navigate whether that be employment, education, living a legal life, all those sorts of things that get you to be a functional part of society."

Myra is one of the women Stretton has helped through the programme.

"I was in prison for 13 years and I had a long time to reflect on what I had done and to think about how to lead a better life."

Myra is now helping to get other women's lives back on track.

"It's about being good role models for them," she said. "At the moment I'm working at Annah Stretton's clothing factory in Morrinsville two days a week and I'm also utilising my tickets that I got in prison, my laundry dry-cleaning service ticket, and I work at Novotel Hotel.

"I really regret what I had done to go to prison so I had to think of getting my life back on track. RAW has been the best thing to ever happen to me. RAW has helped me stay off the drugs and alcohol."

Stretton's aim was to help 25 people each year.

Among those she had already helped were Darren and Norfell who were working as gardeners in Hamilton.

"When you get out of jail it all seems to be like doors are closing, not opening," Darren said. "Now I've got the chance of having doors open. People respect you and having to show respect because of that as well."

Norfell said she was studying full time towards a commercial music and media arts degree and was "loving it".

But working with convicts, especially Maori, was not something Stretton had ever imagined.

"I often say I was possibly NZ's biggest bigot around Maori, I really was. I felt that they were too advantaged, they had too much, we mollycoddled them, we were always giving in, we were always creating a scenario that was actually not furthering them. I had no understanding, I had never taken time out to embrace the culture. Now I'm fully immersed and see how ignorant a lot of my opinion was," she said.

"They've been delightful surprises as I've brought them back into a space where they are highly functional."

- NZ Herald

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