Fellowship House provides support for newly released

HALF WAY:  Fellowship House resident Stevie chats to Ron Love and Audrey White from the Manawatu Just Released Accommodation Trust.
FAITH SUTHERLAND/FAIRFAX NZ
HALF WAY: Fellowship House resident Stevie chats to Ron Love and Audrey White from the Manawatu Just Released Accommodation Trust.

Life isn't like the movies - just ask a released prisoner.

Sure, they are ‘free' when the prison gate shuts behind them, but where are they going to sleep that night? And the next?

Manawatu Just Released Accommodation Trust has been answering that question for 21 years.

It owns and operates Fellowship House in Palmerston North, which provides accommodation and support for five men at a time.

"It's a good place, eh," resident Stevie (not his real name) said.

"It's better than anywhere else, it's all right."

He appreciates the space and that he has his own room.

Stevie said without Fellowship House he would probably be living in a men's hostel.

"It's just the next step out to freedom and the support from here . . . is awesome."

He does not mind the house's rules, which include no smoking and drinking inside.

"The rules are not tight at all. I think the rules are not tough enough."

He had not had much sleep the morning he spoke to The Tribune as he did not finish work until 7am.

While doing traffic control in the middle of winter does not sound appealing, Stevie does not mind.

"It's fun, you get paid for it."

Stevie was in prison for five years, 11 months and has been out for 10 months.

"I think it was a good place for me, I learnt my lesson in there."

When he was released he had to adapt to new faces, children who had grown up, family members who had died.

"Everybody was changed, everything had gone up in price."

He could not wait to find out where he was going to stay and to look for a job.

"The attitude was to come out here and find a job and go on living."

Some employers were put off by his criminal record.

"Me, I wanted to work so I went out there and looked for a job."

Management committee member Audrey White said the committee took a hands-off approach.

"We keep an eye on them but in a non-evasive way."

Often a telephone call from a resident to a committee member about a small problem stopped it from becoming a bigger problem, she said.

"We believe that if people have got support and people that they can refer to when things start getting rough that the chances of sorting it out are so much better."

Before men are accepted into the house they have to have started making positive changes in their lives.

"We don't just take anyone who applies. We turn down far more than we accept for that reason. [We take] someone we can see potential in."

Recommendations are sought from Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society (Pars) or the prison chaplain.

Two people interview potential residents while they are still in prison and their recommendations are put to a committee meeting.

When a man is accepted into the house, volunteers will start visiting him in prison to provide support.

While the trust would like to help all prisoners when they were released, its first allegiance was to the men already in the house, Mrs White said. They do not want to take on men who could potentially lead the existing residents astray.

The management committee has a meal with the men every two months. "‘That is a real positive time," Mrs White, who managed Pars for nearly 11 years, said.

"We sit round and eat fish ‘n chips and we talk."

Conversation ranges from tap washers that need changing to what is happening in the men's lives.

Manawatu Standard