In his early 20s Keenan Mundine found himself Goulburn maximum security prison, talking to a group of fellow Koori inmates.
“They said ‘nephew between us we’ve got about 40 years left to serve in this prison’, and I thought, 'am I going to die in this prison? Am I going to die on the streets? And then I thought no, I’ve got more to offer.”
“That was the main turning point for me, that insight ... that I was going nowhere.”
Now 29, Keenan’s life has changed dramatically - he is a young father and a youth worker at WEAVE, a not-for profit youth and community services organisation in Sydney, working with the Kool Kids club program.
“They helped me build up my confidence and led me back to study and youth work, and that led me to get a job at Kool Kids club, and now it’s just been up and beyond from there.”
He says he wants to make sure other young Indigenous kids don’t end up behind bars.
Indigenous youth are 24 times more likely to end up in jail than the rest of the population.
While only 6 percent of our young population (10-17 year olds) are Indigenous, they make up more than half of all young people in juvenile detention. In the Northern Territory that figure is 90 percent.
“It’s a crying shame, the system isn’t working,” says Siobhan Bryson, operations manager at WEAVE.
She believes Kool Kids Club - which provides counseling, mentorships and after school programs to 160 kids, 70% of whom are Indigenous - is tackling the problem at its root.
“The kids that we’re working with they’ve got a lot of complex issues their families are disadvantaged, there’s a lot of risk factors for potentially ending up in detention or prison,” says operations manager Siobhan.
According to Siobhan, 40 percent of the kids coming through the program have a close family member in jail and another 40 percent have family member who struggles with drug or alcohol addictions.
Growing up on Redfern’s infamous Block in the 90s, Keenan Mundine knows all too well the uphill struggle these young kids are facing to stay in school and out of jail.
“Not many people were positive role models, having a job, pushing me to get a higher education, maintaining that education,” he says.
But Siobhan says the results speak for themselves- she sees kids that were at risk 10 years ago, returning to the program as mentors and role models.
“It's been around for 15 years, in that time I can honestly say that there isn't one Kool kid whose come through that program, as far as I’m aware, that's ended up in juvenile detention,” she says.
With four other schools on the waiting list for the program, demand is high, but Siobhan says the funding isn’t there- the money they receive under the Indigenous advancement strategy doesn’t cover the full costs of running the program as is.
“It’s around about $270,000 dollars a year to run the whole Kool Kids Club program…compared to around $237 thousand dollars a year to lock up one young person in juvenile detention in NSW,” she says.
“We don’t need to be locking these kids up, we need to give them a chance.”