Adam*, an inmate, thought he was ready for life on the outside when he left jail.
But without support from whānau and the community upon his release, he returned to his old ways and eventually back to the prison.
He says a new $98 million Government prison programme "by Māori, for Māori", announced on Friday, would have helped to keep him out.
"As soon as we got back into the community we have to put those barriers back up," he told Hawke's Bay Today from Hawke's Bay Regional Prison on Friday.
Since starting in the Government's new Māori Pathways programme, he's been able to reconnect with his Māori heritage - something he's never had a chance to do before - and share his learnings with his whānau.
Learning the basics of Māori tikanga, including different types of karakia and waiata, Adam has found the wairua (spirituality) element especially valuable.
"It helps to lift the spirits."
Adam said the programme showed the Government "cared" and was trying.
The four-year initiative is part of a new plan to reduce rates of Māori reoffending and improve outcomes upon release, a top priority for Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis.
Davis says he doesn't see the men as prisoners - they remind him of cousins, nephews and friends from school.
"It's very important to me that we make a difference.
"If I can't help my whānau then what am I doing in politics?"
Māori Pathways was born from a visit to the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison three years ago during which Davis met with a group of high-security inmates.
While many spoke of the benefits of Māori-focused programmes, he said many complained the programmes only ran for 13 weeks.
"In prison you can be a Māori for 13 weeks but if your sentence is for four years or five years, the rest of the time you aren't?
"We have to be able to support people as Māori from the moment they enter the justice system and their families as well."
The Māori Pathways programme aims to do just that with help from Ngāti Kahungunu, who will now lead and co-ordinate the delivery of several new services.
It includes working with the men's whānau, a new trauma-informed care and rehabilitation programme, new probation officer and social worker roles with a Māori lens, and 39 new programmes at the prison.
Initially, it will be offered to 45 Māori men in high security, with priority for those who are under 30 years old because they have among the highest recidivism rates.
Pathways will inform new ways of working with iwi at prisons in other regions, Davis said.
"It can't be a generic Māori pathway.
"It's got to be bespoke, working with each iwi in the area that they are in.
"There will be differences, but also similarities."
Inmates were also given an opportunity to share their views with the minister.
One inmate, who said he'd been in and out of prison since his teens, said they needed a "space to heal".
Another, reading from a "wishlist" on behalf of his fellow inmates, who he referred to as his "brothers", spoke of more life-skills training and opportunities to get into trades.
He also asked for more compassionate leave to attend tangi and said he'd like to see more Māori psychiatrists.
Davis said there needed to be more avenues for whānau to be involved in the men's rehabilitation.
"The changes that are happening here for the men aren't being seen by the whānau outside."
He spoke of one inmate who tried to initiate a karakia to bless the family meal upon his release, but was embarrassed when his whānau laughed at him.
It's something Adam said he had struggled with upon being released but which Pathways had helped address.
"When we graduate the families come see what we are doing.
"It's a good environment especially for whānau."
Adam's current goal was to find work in the prison to start earning and saving some money for his release.
* Adam's name has been changed to protect his identity