Course adapted from school holiday programme to teach important skills many inmates missed out on

He's 28 and a former mechanic - but had to go to jail to learn that it's useful to save some of your money.

"I have learned a lot about how to save and why it's important, and about budgeting. They were things that no one ever taught us about," he said in a classroom at the Paremoremo prison.

Another prisoner, at 23 already a father of three boys, said: "I'm a compulsive spender. I just see something and if I've got the money I'll buy it on the spot, I won't ask anyone."

He left school two weeks into Year 10. Asked what he has learned in a three-day course in jail, he said: "I've learned everything! I've learned things I should have learned in school if I'd stayed."

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The two men are among about 60 prisoners so far to go through a simple course called "Life 101" that was originally designed for school-leavers. It teaches practical things like budgeting and cooking which are not part of mainstream schooling.

"I was living from hotel to hotel, buying takeaways every day," said the former mechanic. "I will cook now."

The young dad now wants to train as a plumber so he can provide for his family - and make his own lunch.

"I've got to start living like a Johnny Lunchbox, I can't spend $50 on takeaways every lunchtime," he said.

Both men were particularly keen on what they learned about property investment. "If we invest in property we can own a house and have it paying us to own it [by renting it out]," said the first man.

The second one said: "I learned how to invest in properties, which is good ... Money works for you, you don't work for money."

Tutor Phil Moon, 33, a former real estate agent and tour guide who co-founded Life 101 as a school holiday programme in April, said that when he was asked to take the course into Paremoremo he was surprised at both how smart the prisoners are, and by the gaps in their knowledge.

"They're not stupid at all," he said.

"It's amazing what they don't know, but likewise it always surprises me what they do know. Some know all about insurance but have never heard of a CV. Some know all about setting up a business but don't know what IRD is. It's always different."

He has adapted the course to fit jail life.

Internet access is banned, so he teaches job-search techniques with photocopied screenshots from Seek and Google. A health lesson includes techniques to stop smoking and remove tattoos.

But prison students are just like any other when it comes to teaching.

"They don't get much praise, so I'm constantly saying, 'That's awesome! Great idea!'" he said. "They lighten up, you see them grow a foot. Most of the time they're told how bad they are and what they're doing wrong.

"We talk about who has kids. They all have kids. I tell them: 'You are going to be the person who is going to change your sons' and daughters' lives.' My message is to pass on this knowledge to their kids."

Nine lessons

Life 101's components

1.

Personality profiling: who am I?

2.

Producing a CV.

3.

Preparing for a job interview.

4.

Basics of business.

5.

Basics of the sharemarket.

6.

Basics of property.

7.

Health, fitness and wellbeing (includes cooking).

8.

Saving money.

9.

Personal budgeting.