I’m not going to lie, I feel a bit weird admitting that prisons and jails fascinate me. However, My Favorite Murder is one of the most listened to podcasts around the world, so I’m just going to own my feelings.
Perhaps it’s the abundance of documentaries I’ve watched or my trip to San Francisco in 2012 where I sailed around Alcatraz that fuelled my obsession. As that arctic northern California summer wind froze me to my core, I imagined Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris escaping in 1962 on a makeshift raft and wondered if they chose a warmer month to flee.
The other thing I think about is the fact that the US prison system is for profit and completely overcrowded and all in all a mess. I read about prisons in Scandinavia and wonder why the US can’t have the same model. Recently, I was speaking to my friend, Margot, and her husband, Matt Felvus, who works at Macquarie Correction Centre in Wellington and he mentioned that their facility is loosely based on Halden Prison in Norway. We ended up having a really interesting discussion about it so I asked him to answer a few questions for this week’s article!
Summer: Can you tell me a bit about your work history?
Matt: I have been working for the Corrective Services for 13 years now. I joined as a Correctional Officer when I was 21 and worked at Long Bay for around nine years. It was a tough gig for a young bloke and looking back those years working on the ground level were my toughest. I witnessed a lot of things that people don't often see. In 2012, it was time for a change and I started studying toward my Bachelor of Education. Finally completing my degree early this year I searched for positions within the Department of Justice where I could utilise the skills as an educator. Fortunately, I won the position at Macquarie Correctional Centre as the Education Services Coordinator.
Summer: You've recently moved to Mudgee and talked about the importance of being able to make connections. How have you tried to instill those skills with the inmates who will have to be re-introduced into society?
Matt: When it comes to joining a community, it’s vital to socialise and connect with like minded people. I have always believed that gaol communities should mimic outside communities. Inmates can often have difficulty making connections once released, therefore it is important we equip them with skills and tools while still in custody. At Macquarie Correctional Centre, inmates will have more control of their structured day allowing some choice in where they work and study while in custody. This is important as it can tap into new skills or develop existing skills inmates may have. We have deliberately chosen study options that will lead to work when they are released from custody. Offenders will receive full qualifications delivered from trained TAFE professionals. We also plan to adapt a NRL referring program. This will give inmates a Level 1 NRL referring ticket allowing them to referee local games in their community once released. Sport is such a fantastic way to make connections with community members so I’m confident this will be a popular intervention. Because we have dormitory style accommodation, inmates will need to adopt social skills to live in this environment, which will hopefully result in better communication skills and make their transition into outside community smooth.
Summer: What are some of the programs you're most excited about that are already happening?
Matt: Coming from an education background I am extremely excited to see a suite of 4 full qualifications being offered at Macquarie Correctional Centre. We are offering: Cert II/III In Business, Fitness, Warehousing and Cleaning Operations. I am particularly excited about the business qualification. I have always found that inmates have dreams to start a small business when they leave custody but lack knowledge about how to get started.
Summer: What are some of the programs you're still trying to implement?
Matt: One program we are in the process of planning to offer inmates is a Certificate III in property services (Real Estate Agent). This has been something I have been pushing for a while now as I think it will be a popular intervention for inmates. I have been in contact with a local agent who would like to offer some staff to come into the centre to mentor the offenders on the course. I think this ties into the previous questions regarding connections. Because inmates have limited opportunity to make connections with community whilst in gaol, mentorship can be a fantastic first step. I also have dreams about teaching inmates how to produce podcasts. We’re actually hoping to invest in some recording equipment for our music programs too.
Summer: Any common misconceptions about jaols/ inmates that you'd like to clear up?
Matt: At almost every dinner party / social gathering I go to, I’m asked how I could work with “bad people.” Personally, I actively try not to judge inmates. The courts have done this already and my job is to make sure they return to communities better than how they came in. Many humans simply make mistakes and have criminogenic problems. If we can address these issues while they are in custody by educating them (and not just letting them pass time in a gaol yard,) we have a far better chance of rehabilitating someone. This is the main reason why I applied for this position at Macquarie Correctional Centre, I believe the education level and programs provided here will equip inmates with skills, which will stop negative repetitive behaviour.