“Prison not quite the end of world”, writes George

Damien George has been looking into the legal system and completes the series with his personal impression of prison life.

At first glance, the Otago Corrections Facility looks like a holiday camp.

Shortly after being guided through the receiving room during a tour of the prison this week, I was greeted by a wide, open space where inmates played a game of touch on a grass field, others walked around freely and staff and prisoners mingled like friends.

An asphalt basketball court was not in use, but some prisoners were doing chin-ups on exercise bars as they took a break from the match.

Elsewhere, a spiritual centre was hosting a tikanga programme for some inmates.

The centre is also used for church services and cultural programmes.

The dining room was far from the drab images of rows of tables, with a counter serving up slop and mash, as portrayed in prison TV shows such as Orange is the New Black.

Dining tables at OCF are spread out in a spacious setting, and there are table-tennis and pool tables nearby.

A gymnasium is available to prisoners once or twice a week, a library is stacked with books and board games and recreation time is referred to as ”morning” and ”afternoon”, with no specified time limits.

It is a holiday camp.  Except, you can’t go home after the weekend.  

Prisoners can get the qualifications while working within the prison. …

The opportunity was not lost on one prisoner, ”Bazza”, a former insurance industry employee of 20 years, who turned his four and a-half year prison sentence for fraud into a chance of a new beginning.

Bazza (52) is one of the few prisoners allowed to work on the dairy farm, monitored by a staff member and a GPS tracker.

Knowing his days in the insurance industry are over, which is ”probably a good thing anyway”, Bazza went down the outdoors path and now has a release job lined up for when he leaves prison.

”I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that if it wasn’t for the experiences I’ve had in here,” he says.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Prisoners are treated like employees and, if you took away the bars, the facility could be a five-star hostel, he says.

”If you come here, you definitely stand a chance of going forward.”

However, the realities of being in prison are still very much apparent and there is no preparing for the unknown for first-time offenders, he says.

”For the first 14 days you’re in here, you’re on remand, which means you’re with everybody, so that’s daunting.

”And the fact you don’t know what’s going on [is daunting].”

Going to prison has destroyed much of his life.

”I lost my job, lost my home, lost my marriage, but I maintained a relationship with my children.”

Bazza has been in prison for one year, eight months and has a parole board hearing scheduled for Monday, which he holds some hope for.

I guess it would destroy most of your life, unless you get out and you fall back into the exact same support systems that got you to prison in the first place.

There are no regular cell checks but checks can be done at random, Mrs Miles says.

Prisoners are generally checked on when they are let in and out of their cells.

Cells include a bed, shelf, shower and toilet, desk and chair and small television set with basic channels.

Prisoners who are close to being released are prepared for reintegration by being moved to a four-bedroom, self-contained unit with cooking facilities.

In the meantime, prisoners are given four meals a day, including supper, and can have a weekly allowance of up to $70 a week to buy items from an approved supermarket list.

I suspect the worst of it is just the mind numbing repetitive nature of existence in such a place.  Better to stick on the right side of the law at all times.


– Damian George, ODT

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