Being part of Northland Region Corrections Facility’s Redemption Performing Arts whānau and also training as an arts mentor with the prison’s Tuakana Teina peer mentoring programme has been life-changing for Sanity.
“I didn’t even like talking in front of people and I didn’t show my family that I could write music,” he says.
Now, Sanity mentors two bands at the prison each weekend. He regularly writes and performs original songs at whānau days, and he’s written several haka that have been performed by him and other members of the Redemption Performing Arts whānau.
Sanity was already doing informal mentoring in his prison unit when he learned that the Tuakana Teina peer mentoring programme existed. It was established by Beth Hill, who manages the prison’s arts programme, and is facilitated by Sarah Parker. It provides intensive training to tane who are recommended for the course by a prison staff member.
Those who successfully complete the training can provide up to seven hours of paid mentoring to groups and individuals in a wide range of areas such as work skills, numeracy and literacy, tikanga Māori and – as in the case of Sanity and several other mentors – art, performance art and music.
“It can be hard to get people to come into prison to support arts programmes, and having the guys is a great way of expanding the reach and kaupapa of the programme,” says Beth, who has run the arts programme at the prison for six years.
The Covid-19 lockdown highlighted the value of the mentoring programme when the arts mentors stepped up to keep arts activities going while Beth and her team were unable to go into the prison. The mentors worked with other inmates on a wide range of creative projects. This included organising a special ANZAC Day performance based on a play about the 28th Māori Battalion that had been developed and performed by the prison’s Redemption Performing Arts whānau in 2019.
The success of the Redemption Performing Arts whānau and the Tuakana Teina arts mentors was recognised at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2020 on 13 October when they received the Arts Access Corrections Whai Tikanga Award for the outstanding contribution of a community group, organisation or individual working in a prison.
In their comments the judging panel said: “It’s exciting to see men in the performing arts group at Northland Region Corrections Facility taking leadership roles and mentoring others, including during the Covid-19 lockdown. The group works collaboratively and autonomously, using the pillars of the Hōkai Rangi Strategy as its guide. The positive impact of this group of men provides an example for other prison sites to follow.”
Valuable insights and skills for mentor
For Sanity, training as an arts mentor hasn’t just boosted his confidence, it’s also provided him with some valuable insights and skills. “I learned how to deal with different personalities and that different people learn in different ways.”
Becoming an arts mentor has also given fellow tane, Marvel, a chance to learn new skills as well as develop a sense of purpose. “If it wasn’t for the programme I think I’d just be holing up in my cell somewhere,” he says.
Both men are members of the Redemption Performing Arts group, which meets every Friday. The group began life as Shakespeare Behind Bars but it changed its name in 2018 to reflect the fact that it’s about a lot more than Shakespeare. Its most recent major work was a play about Captain Harding Leaf who served in the Pioneer (Māori) Battalion in World War 1 and was killed in Crete in 1941 while he was serving with the 28th Māori Battalion.
The play featured a haka written by Sanity, who says that being part of the Redemption Performing Arts whānau has helped him reconnect with his culture and given him a sense of belonging. “Our group is a whānau, we support each other, we powhiri our visitors, we karakia together, we uphold our culture as a collective and we genuinely help each other to become better men, fathers, sons, brothers and overall better people.”
The group is now working on a “walking performance” based on the Department of Corrections’ Hōkai Rangi Strategy, which aims to bring Māori values into the prisons.
“It’s ground-breaking because we’re going to be performing in different areas of the prison,” says Beth. “The audience will come with us for the whole performance. It’s a great way of showing whānau around the site, which they don’t normally get the opportunity to do.”