One prisoner couldn't even hold down a job in a teddy bear factory.

But now he's turned his life around after being part of programme that teaches inmates to make frames and trusses for new homes in Auckland.

The prisoner who the Herald has agreed to call David can't be identified as he is still serving time. But former inmate Mark Hughes can after he was released last year. The two men wanted to share how their experience in PlaceMakers employment programme at the Kohuora Auckland South Corrections Facility motivated them to change.

Prisoners receive in-depth training in planning, production, despatch, safety and quality. They can progress from entry-level staff to supervisor and are paid by the Department of Corrections.


Currently 32 prisoners are in the programme and 14 have graduated into employment. Seven are still working for PlaceMakers and three have moved on to other employment.

Former prisoner Mark Hughes catches up with Fletcher Building Distribution chief executive Dean Fradgley. Photo / Greg Bowker
Former prisoner Mark Hughes catches up with Fletcher Building Distribution chief executive Dean Fradgley. Photo / Greg Bowker

A safe place to stay, a job to go to and a supportive family are the three key ingredients to rehabilitation, Serco prison director Mike Inglis​ said. He said the programme encouraged responsibility for the men as they had to write their own CVs, apply for it, be interviewed for the role and turn up on time.

Hughes was one of those who applied when he was serving his sentence of two years for reasons he chose not to share. He said that combined with the love he felt from his partner and four daughters was what got him on the straight and narrow.

"I used to be a lone wolf and usually take off by myself, that's where the trouble was. When I got incarcerated it showed me how much my family love me and how much I love them."

He was employed in November last year but has now moved on to "brighter horizons" doing fibreglass lamination for a company he had previously worked for.

Hughes goal is to stay crime free and tautoko the support for his family. One day he hopes to get into management.

"I hate to think what I would be [without the programme]. I'd probably turn back to crime."

David left school at 14 as "it wasn't working for me and I wasn't working at it". One of his first jobs was at a teddy bear factory where he was tasked with gluing the bow ties on bears. He lasted two months.

"I got fired because of my attitude.

"I didn't like being told what to do. I thought I was my own boss. Now I'm getting used to not needing control all the time."

While struggling with drug and alcohol addiction David, 38, was unemployed for years. He has now been part of the Fletcher's programme for seven months and will apply for a job when he is released from prison next month.

"When I was younger I just gave up when things were too hard ... Where I was sitting five or six years ago my future didn't seem bright, hope just wasn't there.

"[Now] I feel so proud of myself. I like interacting with people who don't have a negative influence on me, which has influenced me in the past."

David, who is now free from drugs and alcohol, is determined to pursue his career with the support of PlaceMakers and his family.

Fletcher Building Distribution Chief Executive Dean Fradgley said it was a win-win for both them and the prisoners. He said the inmates were a talented bunch of people and valuable employees, he urged other employers to consider them.

"There's a skills shortage all over New Zealand and we can't build houses quickly enough.

"One of the most powerful gifts any person can receive is a second chance."

The programme was started in 2015 by Serco and PlaceMakers, part of the Fletcher Building group of companies.

Prisoners eligible for Release to Work are nearing the end of their sentence and have proven they can be trusted. They wear an electronic ankle bracelet while they are outside the prison, their movements are recorded, and there is an immediate alert if the monitor is tampered with or removed.