Prison carving unit proves powerful

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Taking discarded timber and transforming it into precious taonga has taken on both a figurative and literal poignancy for the men in the Navigate Initiative (NI). We talk to Reintegration Manager Anaru Baynes about the inherent metaphor in the carving programme set up in the unit earlier this year. 

“Our work is centred around a philosophy of a ‘Good lives model’, which is the idea that we’re all trying to meet our needs in life and if we don’t meet those needs in a good way, then we’ll meet them in a negative way,” Anaru explains. 

“That’s why everything we do is focused on giving our people skills and opportunities to create a good life. Carving is one of the most comprehensive activities we have to be able to do just that.” 

Still in its infancy, the NI carving programme was birthed from the idea that the reintegration team will always be responsive to the needs and aspirations of its men. So when two of the Tū Ora expressed an interest in carving, that was exactly what the team set out to organise. 

Carving takes a lot of skill, which creates a sense of mastery and it is a methodical process with clear steps to get to the finished product. “It is also an amazing metaphor for life - the idea that we can achieve great things by making incremental steps to get there,” Anaru adds.  

But the true beauty of this ancient art form is how it touches all parts of one’s life. Because although there is no doubt that carving teaches physical skills and tikanga (knowledge, values and practices), it is about so much more than that. 

Tauira (students) learn the roles and responsibilities of being a carver, how to be responsible kaitiaki or guardians of their newfound knowledge and how to apply appropriate tikanga (customs and values) to their practice. They get to learn about their whakapapa and culture; there’s a sense of pride in being able to give back to the community and there’s an opportunity to turn these newfound skills into business opportunities. Meanwhile, studies have long shown carving is good for wellbeing, 

It is also a catalyst for making a fresh start in life. The inherent metaphor of the project is not lost on Anaru, who says repurposing old scrap timber and giving it new life captures the rehabilitation process the NI is supporting for the men in its programme. 

Another beautiful opportunity carving affords is connection. A longstanding contact, the Whakaraupō Carving Centre offered to share their knowledge and skills with the NI. Now once a fortnight the men from inside the wire travel to Lyttelton, where they spend 2-3 hours immersed in the art of indigenous carving and exposed to a highly regarded carving centre that is commissioned to produce indigenous Māori carving work throughout the country. There is also a carving space inside the NI and, although Anaru says the programme is still in its infancy, the taonga the men are producing are impressive. 

“Carvers have a responsibility to tell a story and there’s a lot of respect or mana attached to that role. It’s also a way to build a strong sense of connectedness - these are all skills we are trying to instill with our men.”

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