Prisoner crochets at Invercargill PrisonLocal parents of new babies and the homeless are benefitting from new arts projects at Invercargill Prison.

Volunteers are teaching men at the prison traditional weaving skills, and non-traditional crocheting skills, which they are putting to use making Ipu Whenua and Pito Korae to support local community groups which help new mothers and the homeless.

“The Arts are an important part of prisoner rehabilitation and education programmes,” says Acting Invercargill Prison Director, Daryl Tamati. “They allow participants to learn new communication and expression skills while learning a skill for personal development or even a potential source of employment.”

“These two projects tick the boxes in terms of offering men in the prison the opportunity to develop culture and art skills and understanding while making a difference in the community and learning a skill they can pass to their whanau,” says Daryl.

“The men also enjoy having something useful, meaningful and challenging to do in their quiet time and in their cells in the evenings.”

The arts community programmes are being delivered under the tutelage of two volunteers.

One volunteer has prisoners producing Ipu Whenua and Pito Korae for new mothers through a Raranga (flaxweaving) programme.

The Ipu Whenua is a small Kono, for taking the placenta home for burial and the Pito Korae is a smaller kete used to store the umbilical cord (belly button) when it dries and falls off the baby. They are also weaving traditional Wahakura, woven flax bassinets, so mothers can sleep safely with their babies next to them. The baskets are distributed through the Southland District Health Board.

The second volunteer will be teaching crocheting to men on remand at the prison.

Remand can often be a difficult space in which to deliver programmes. People in the unit are either being held in custody on bail awaiting court, or have been found guilty in court but are awaiting sentencing.

“The men in remand units of prison can be there for varying amounts of time,” explains Phillip Kirby, Invercargill Prison Residential Manager. “They are also often going to and from court or in discussions with their lawyers, so disruptions and movements in prison, can make it difficult for them to participate in many programmes.”

“This project provides a good opportunity for the men to get involved in something meaningful and learn new skills. It provides flexibility so that participants can come and go without impacting the outcomes they achieve through involvement in the projects.”

Sam* is one of the men involved in the weaving project.

He has done a bit of weaving on the marae when he was young and is really enjoying the opportunity to build his skills. He says he is really pleased to be doing something for the community and also has friends and family who will benefit from this project.

“I am enjoying learning about connecting with my culture. I am learning new skills and it relaxes me. I really enjoy seeing the results of my labour. Taking raw flax and producing something amazing. I have a lot of pride in what I produce.”

“When I am released I look forward to teaching these skills to my family and using my new skills to make gifts for family and friends on release.”

The men are also crocheting recycled plastic shopping bags into plastic sleeping mats for the Salvation Army to distribute to local homeless. The mats are designed to keep anyone sleeping rough off the cold damp ground.

The plastic shopping bags are cut into strips and then rolled into “Plarn” balls before being crocheted into mats. The first of these mats was sent to the Salvation Army this week.

Philip* is involved in crocheting mats for the homeless. He’s never done crochet before and is enjoying the opportunity to learn a new skill and create something that will make a big difference to people living on the streets.

“I have had friends that are doing it rough on the streets and this would help keep them dry. It would belong to them and I know that would mean a lot to them,” he says.

“I am enjoying the crocheting. it keeps us busy and gives us a sense of pride that we can actually help someone while we are in prison. You never know, I might be able to make a blanket for my kids one day. It’s nice to be able to work in a group and be able to share stories while learning at the same time.”

Crochet instructor and Volunteer, Jackie Carter is pleased with how the project is going.

“It seemed like a really good project for the men,” she says. “It gives them the chance to help the men learn a new skill that can be used at home. Staff saw a story on the internet about the Southland homeless and the unit staff thought it would be a good project to undertake to help keep them warmer and drier for another day.”

There are currently six prisoners learning to weave the kete, three preparing the plastic bags, (cutting them into strips, tying them together and rolling the strips into balls), and up to nine prisoners learning to crochet the mats.

“When we are up to speed, we are going to open the course up to other units which have shown a lot of interest in getting involved,” says Phillip Kirby. “We don’t want to rush this, we want to ensure everything we send out is of a very high quality.”