You are here: Home / Media / Life after prison

Life after prison

Christopher [not his real name] is a man who understands the hard-hitting effects of the criminal justice system reports Laura Bannister in the South Sydney Herald of May 2009.

The 50-year-old father of two has been through more struggles than most parents, raising his young children whilst single-handedly attempting to secure an affordable living environment, stable employment and forge ties with a community whose experiences are markedly different from his own.

For almost a decade of his life, Christopher was incarcerated in numerous prisons across the State. “I have to say I made some great friends there … but there was always this underlying feeling of violence,” he says.

Despite the sometimes-hostile tendencies of fellow prisoners, Christopher declares the hardest part of the retributive process occurred post-prison, during his efforts to assimilate into the inner-city population.

“You become a bit of a loner,” he says.

“It’s so hard to get back on track when you feel behind the eight ball. You imagine the lifestyle of those around you and it seems so out of reach that you just go back to doing what you know, trying to get a short cut to that elusive happiness and ending up right back where you started.”

Wayne Watson, a spokesperson for the Community Restorative Centre (CRC), says many ex-prisoners he works with feel they face community stigmatisation. “[They] often feel an acute level of self-consciousness in ‘mainstream’ communities and worry that they will not be accepted,” he says.

“Many recent releasees are in the process of attempting to address the harm they have inflicted on their family and friends as a consequence of their offending behaviour … [which] can lead to a deep sense of shame and a desire to further disconnect.”

Watson claims that social dislocation, coupled with often unstable and inappropriate accommodation, unsteady employment due to poor education and lacking vocational skills and the absence of a legitimate income all contribute to the likeliness of ex-prisoners re-offending.

Almost 50 per cent of inmates will return to gaol within two years of their release.

Flexible transitional support programs, such as CRC’s Exit Checklist, Getting Out Book and an intensive accommodation program, are fast emerging as vital tools to reduce the return to prison rate.

Christopher says his involvement in a free employment application program helped him to secure part-time work. He believes the program, one of the only he was involved in, eased some of the difficulty in adjusting from the routines of prison to a fast-paced, seemingly hopeless existence outside.

One of the biggest battles Christopher has faced is working to re-build old relationships and commence new ones. “You feel so separate from other people … employers have trust issues with you and others judge you based on their own stereotypes of what a person who has been to gaol should be like.”

But Christopher refuses to give up, and after 30 years of separation, has recommenced contact with his father. “It’s really important to resolve differences … especially for my kids.”

Christopher’s determination to ensure his past does not dictate his future is finally paying off. After visiting a housing organisation every day for several months in a desperate attempt to secure a home for his family, he was finally given one he describes as ‘a bit of a dump’, which has now been upgraded.

He currently attends a church and does volunteer work and has started sharing his skills and hobbies with others.

“I’m starting to fill my week with activities where I can meet other people and break up the lonely periods,” says Christopher. “That is one of my biggest aims right now. That, and giving my children as much love as I can.”


Wednesday May 27, 7.30pm - South Sydney Uniting Church 56a Raglan St, Waterloo

Law and order campaigns? Privatisation? Prison for reform or punishment? Alternatives?

Greg Smith Shadow Attorney General & Shadow Minister for Justice

Lee Rhiannon Greens Member Legislative Council

Penny Sharpe Labor MP 

Prof. Eileen Baldry Associate Dean School of Social Science UNSW

Presented by the South Sydney Herald & the Social Justice Task Group of the Sydney Presbytery of the Uniting Church in Australia

Source: South Sydney Herald May 2009