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Former Waikeria Prison inmate credits Te Ao Marama unit for turning his life around

A riot at Waikeria Prison has put the spotlight on conditions at the Waikato facility, but a former inmate says one of its programmes turned his life around.

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Karl Goldsbury was serving a 10-year sentence for meth manufacturing when he says he was given another chance. Source: Breakfast

The six-day-long stand-off at the jail saw fires lit and protestors shot with sponge rounds, before the prisoners surrendered.

They were protesting what they called poor living conditions at the prison.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis denied their claims, but admitted the prison was not fit for purpose and was in the process of being replaced. 

When it comes to their rehabilitation programmes, former Waikeria inmate Karl Goldsbury says it turned his life around.

Rehabilitation work, including job training and drug and alcohol treatment, improves the chance of reducing reoffending when inmates return to the community.

Goldsbury was serving a decade for manufacturing methamphetamine when he joined the Te Whare o te Ao Marama (Māori Focus Unit) programme.

"That place enabled me to get back in contact with who I really am as a New Zealander, as a Māori, all sorts," he told Breakfast.

It wasn't his first time in prison.

"I think before the prison needs to make you do something, you have to do something to your own self," he says.

"You have to personally want to change, because otherwise... It took me a few times, I've been to jail a few times, I wasn't ready to change the first two or even this last time."

Goldsbury says it helped him reconnect with "who I really am", as well as his heritage.

He praises the staff at the unit for the difference they helped make.

"The staff there, they care, they call you by your first names," he says.

"Normally in prison you get called by your last name, so it's a little bit different... Straight away, that makes you want to be a good person. When you're being talked to nicely, you talk back nicely."

Goldsbury was released early by the Parole Board and now spends his days working to make a difference for the kind of at-risk young people he once was.

He does this with Tommy Wilson, who runs the Te Tuinga Whanau Trust in Tauranga.

Wilson says the work never stops and "it's never well enough, but I think we're making a "good start".

Around 22,000 New Zealand children have a parent in prison, he says.

"It's always about the kids. We went into Te Ao Marama to find someone we could work with who could champion a pathway out through the prisons back to their kids," Wilson says. 

"We know that every one of those 22,000 kids wants to see their daddy. We also know by talking to many prisons inside is that the one thing they want to do when they come out, is to be with their families."

As part of Te Ao Marama, Goldsbury says he was given the opportunity to directly connect with his whānau.

"I got to go back out with my wife and my son and cook her lunch one time there, not long before my parole," he says.

He wants to see more programmes in prison like the unit.

"You need to have people that care in there," Goldsbury says, admitting that initially the staff "didn't even want me in that unit".

"[The principal Corrections officer] took a bit of a leap... That's all you need, you just need a chance. When people see you trying, they'll keep coming and they'll keep helping you."

Data released in Correction's annual report last year found around a quarter of all prisoners were re-imprisoned within a given period

Māori are more likely to end up back in jail, with 29.2 per cent of Māori prisoners re-imprisoned.