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Former prisoners carve out new future with art

Jul 12, 2019

Those leaving prison face huge barriers, with 60 percent reoffending within two years of their release. But a new art programme is helping them stay on the right path.

Newshub spoke to one of the proud artists at their first exhibition in Auckland this week, where buyers snapped up their pounamu, paintings and graffiti art.

Chris Molloy is a social worker for PARS, which helps reintegrate ex-inmates. The first person he helped was Mason Edwards.

“[I was] just basically drinking and smoking and getting into all sorts of mischief and then ended up in jail,” Edwards says.

Facing multiple years in prison he decided to refocus his energy.

“How I did that was through drawing and making models and creating things,” he says. 

Once on the outside, Molloy helped Edwards and nine other former prisoners develop their artistic skills through a 10-week course run by PARS.

“It relaxes me, makes me feel good – mentally, physically and spiritually,” Edwards says.

This weekend the pair were back at Mount Eden – the mountain, not the prison – to show off the results: some of Edwards’ beautifully-carved pounamu.

Molloy says art can give those without hope both confidence and a job.

“The art exhibition specifically makes another avenue, you can make a living or possibly be successful or make some part of a career doing what you love because a lot of the guys come out of the prison and don’t have any skills,” he says.

Those leaving prison face huge barriers, with a high rate of reoffending if they don’t get help.

“You know I’ve got a lot of respect for them and the rest of the PARS workers because they’ve all been there to help us out,” Edwards says.

“I don’t think I would be here, you know. I think I might be back in jail or on the streets getting on the piss.”

Instead, he has a huge smile and is excited about life.

“[I’ve gone] through all the bumps and all the obstacles and I’ve made it, and now I’m here I’m not going to stop,” he says.

Edwards has this message for prisoners still inside: “If you’re creative in jail bring that creativity out here”.

He’s hoping they’ll join him in future exhibitions.