Beth Hill knew the arts mentors she helped train through the Tuakana Teina peer mentoring programme at Northland Region Corrections Facility had the skills to keep some of the arts activities going through the COVID-19 lockdown.
But she was blown away by just how much they achieved during the seven weeks of Level 4 and 3 lockdown when she was unable to work at the prison. While she spent that time reading, keeping in touch with family overseas, taking long walks, doing her own artwork and generally recharging her batteries after seven full-on years managing the prison’s arts programme, it was a different story for the mentors.
They kept themselves busy during the lockdown period running art classes for fellow prisoners, working on creative projects with younger men, organising a special ANZAC Day event, composing music, devising new haka, writing poetry and starting to get ready for an art exhibition that will be held in Whangarei in July.
“They were incredible at making stuff happen, having integrity, caring for the materials and ensuring things were going correctly,” says Beth whose achievements were recognised at the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2018 when she received the Arts Access Corrections Māui Tikitiki a Taranga Award.
Mentors run arts programme
In fact, the mentors rose to the occasion so well she jokes that she may have to look for a new job.
“I was worried about what would happen when I wasn’t there but I found I could go away for two months and come back and there’s all this incredible work that has been done. Everything ticked along really well without me.
“It helped me realise that I don’t have to do so much. The mentors can take on more and I don’t have to be quite so busy all the time.”
What impressed Beth the most was that the men did it all with very little input from her and their only of communicating through this period was by email.
“As soon as we went into lockdown I got straight on to the person who runs the programme department and suggested a couple of project ideas. I also emailed a list of supplies I was happy for the different units at the prison to have access to, such as paints and pencils and paper.”
Among the programmes Beth is responsible for is the Tuakana Teina peer mentoring programme. Mentors do a six-week training course after which they provide both group and one-to-one mentoring in a range of areas such as work skills, numeracy and literacy, tikanga Māori and the area closest to Beth’s heart – art, performance and music.
Site-wide art project called Manaaki
One of the projects she suggested the mentors run during the lockdown was a site-wide art project called Manaaki. It involved painting on A4 canvases, which will be sewn together to form a single artwork to hang in the external visitors area to welcome whānau when they arrive. More than 30 completed canvases are now ready to be assembled into the final work.
One mentor spent a lot of time working in the young adult unit. “He was going there daily doing painting and drawing and poetry with the young fellows, and just generally hanging out.”
Mentors in another unit organised a special ANZAC day performance. It was based on a play about the 28th Māori Battalion, developed and performed by the prison’s Redemption Performing Arts group. The unit members made 200 paper poppies, which they laid on the floor like a carpet. They also produced other artworks, and sang and performed a haka during the performance.
Beth says the mentors responded so well during the lockdown period she is keen to encourage other prisons to develop mentoring programmes. “That’s one of the things I will be raising: how do we support other sites to set up a Tuakana Teina programme if they don’t have one, because it’s so valuable.”
Beth pays tribute to Sarah Parker, who delivers the mentoring programme. “I’d also like to do a shout-out to all of the staff at NRCF who worked through a highly stressful period supporting our students with care and respect.”