“It’s a bit surreal. It’s something I never thought would’ve happened,” says 29-year-old Nathan Martin.
Nathan is an inmate at the Long Bay Correctional Complex in Sydney’s south-east. He’s been inside for a few years.
But last week, he graduated with a Certificate I in Maritime Operations. It’s the first step to becoming fully qualified on a vessel.
“It is definitely invaluable, even if you are not considering a career in it, participating in this course ... will change your life,” Nathan says.
Nathan is part of the Never Going Back program.
The program, a justice reinvestment initiative, helps to break the prison cycle by teaching inmates the skills to adjust to life on the outside and never go back to jail.
“With what they’ve achieved today, it’s never been achieved before. They’re got worldwide qualifications that can take them anywhere on the water, and it’s a great achievement for the boys, and I’m so proud of their achievements,” says General Manager of the Long Bay complex, Patrick Aboud.
A joint initiative between Redfern Police, Long Bay jail, TAFE NSW, the Department of Corrective Services and the Tribal Warrior Association, the program provides the boys training and mentoring to 'never go back'.
“It’s taught them how to work as a team. It's also taught them resilience, and it’s taught them structure. And it's also more importantly taught them what life's all about and never come back to jail,” says Mr Aboud.
The pilot program also works in conjunction with the Clean Slate Without Prejudice boxing program, an initiative of Redfern Police Local Area Commander, Superintendent Luke Freudenstein and local elders Mick Mundine, Mark Spinks and Shane Phillips, for at-risk kids in Redfern.
“You get up at 6am, you go to training and at the end of that session everyone knows each other and you’ve dropped your guard. There’s a whole new respect that’s been built out of this and this is healthy for us,” says Shane.
It’s here where Nathan and three other inmates are released for a few hours, three days a week, to train with police and the local community at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern.
“They don’t get anything off their sentence. So they’re up at four to come to boxing, the other inmates are sleeping til seven or eight, so they’re doing it pretty tough,” Supt. Int. Luke Freudenstein says.
As part of the Never Going Back program, the boys are also encouraged to learn a new skill.
Working alongside the Tribal Warrior Association, a non-for-profit organisation, the boys have been learning maritime skills.
“We thought let’s train them as captains, let’s keep them in our network. That way we can push and we can make sure we can mentor them when they’re out,” says Shane, CEO of the Tribal Warrior.
The certificate provides the inmates with a number of different skills such as firefighting, seamanship and First Aid. The inmates received their certificates during a special ceremony last Friday.
Head of Maritime Training Chris Heeks from TAFE NSW, who provide the course, presented the certificates and copies of the Australian Boating Manual to each of the inmates. In each book, he inscribed;
"The greatest journey begins with the first step. This manual is your bible. You’re on a great path now. Just keep going and never go back,” he said.
Mr Aboud is confident the boys will succeed.
“What today brings to them is to give them skills with a view of not returning into custody and I’m confident that will be achieved,” says Mr Aboud.
Nathan, a Yuin man from the south coast community of Wreck Bay, hopes the pilot program sticks around for other young Indigenous people.
“There are a lot of young Indigenous kids in there that need help. And they need something to do, and they need something to look forward to, this program offers that,” he says.
Wiradjuri and Yuin man Stan Ciessman, is another inmate taking part in the program. The 22-year-old was nine when he first encountered police.
“I was nine when I was first charged with robbery for stealing someone’s purse,” Stan says.
He can’t remember how many times he has been in and out jail since.
“[There’s] too many times to remember, a lot of times. At one stage I went in like three times in a week, but because I was only a kid I kept on getting bail. Eventually I breached bail so many times they stopped giving it to me,” he says.
But with this program, Stan has newfound confidence that he will never go back.
“After I get out, Uncle Shane wants me around [working] with him, so I’m gonna do as much as I can for him. We’re halfway through our Coxwain course now so hopefully when I get out I got enough time to finish that. Anything is better than being in jail.”
The young men are now working towards completing the next stage of their maritime course.