Serving a prison sentence should not exclude people from rejoining their communities, retired Whanganui builder Lyn Jones says.

The 92-year-old recently received a Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Local Hero Award but says he does not want this story to be about him.

"It's not about me, it's about chaps who didn't get a fair start in life and end up in prison because no-one ever showed them kindness or how to tell right from wrong."

Jones has been visiting inmates at Whanganui's Kaitoke Prison for 16 years, providing support and encouragement for their rehabilitation.


When asked why he says it is because he had "lovely parents".

"I was fortunate to have a good start in life and my mother and my wife were the two people who have influenced me the most.

"The chaps I meet at the prison have not been fortunate enough to have that in their lives so I show them as much kindness as I can."

His goodwill continues when men leave prison and he has opened his own home to a number of them.

"I have been let down a couple of times but I don't concern myself with those.

"All the others have become my friends and I have no regrets about giving them support."

He says prisoners are released with very little money and if they don't have family or friends to support them, their options are few.

"There is a lot of publicity about reoffending rates and it is hardly surprising when people don't want to give ex-prisoners jobs or have them living in their neighbourhoods."

Whanganui Prison director Reti Pearse wrote a letter of support for Jones' award nomination and praised his work with prisoners.

"The commitment and dedication shown by Lyn extend well beyond the prison itself," he said.

"Upon a prisoner's release, Lyn not only sometimes takes them into his own home but continues with hospitality and mentoring."

Some released prisoners and men on parole attend St Chad's Anglican Church in Whanganui where they find fellowship and encouragement.

"This congregation is the only one where these men are permitted as parolees and that can be attributed solely to Lyn Jones."

Allan Anderson, who nominated Jones for the award, said the man was not one to blow his own trumpet but he was happy to blow it for him.

"Lyn Jones may not have flown in outer space or discovered a cure for cancer (very few people ever will) but his profound Christian faith, his stubborn determination coupled with his shunning of the limelight combine to underpin a deep concern for his fellow citizens and a genuine resolve to turn that into meaningful action," Anderson said.

Jones says his Welsh grandfather, also a builder, came to New Zealand where he met his German-born wife and settled in Whanganui.

"My grandfather chose the name Emlyn for me.

"It is an ancient part of Wales where his family were from but the name sounded a bit 'highfalutin' and I've always preferred to be called Lyn."

Educated at Wanganui Collegiate, young Jones studied preliminary engineering and joined his father in the building trade.

He married Maisie Watson in 1950 and the couple had four sons who have all pursued building careers and there are now grandsons in the trade.

Jones has volunteered his building skills to the community and worked as a volunteer ranger for the Department of Conservation at the John Coull Hut on the Whanganui River.

Before Maisie died from cancer in 2000, Jones says they travelled overseas together often and he took solo cycling tours of France and Mongolia in his 70s.

"My wife never wanted to visit Russia but I always had a desire to go there and travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway."

He also achieved that ambition in his 70s.

He insists the award nomination story is not about him and wants to talk about a man he met at Whanganui Prison.

"He has done well since his release and has become a good friend.

"It's a bit hard for him to talk on the phone because his hearing was damaged when he was badly beaten by his fa ther.

"He was only about 10 at the time and was trying to protect his mother who was pregnant."

It is one of many shocking stories Jones has heard and he says if only people would try to be less judgemental and more compassionate, we could have a better society.

Jones said he was disappointed to read a recent Chronicle story about opposition to a proposed halfway house in Shakespeare Rd.

"We need places like this so these chaps can get a new and fair start in life," he said.