Last week I went to prison.
No really! For a whole hour, to Arohata Womens Prison to sit in on the barista training that Peoples Coffee are offering for inmates. The training, now in it’s second year, is run by Lauren Tennent & Ashley Roper and is designed to provide real, transferable skills outside of the ‘traditional women’s work’ the prison offers.
On arrival myself and the rest of the media team were escorted down to the training room and introduced to the women who are taking part in the programme. The group were in high spirits throughout the visit (though one might suspect it was from the 4+ cups of coffee some of them had had!) and were eager to show us what they’d learnt. We all placed our orders and the ladies jumped to the task – delivering the coffees with surprising efficiency and big smiles. My flat white was great – nice and creamy with a strong finish!
After our caffeine fix we talked to group about the training – they said it was great to be able to learn new skills that could contribute to a new life when they were released. They were especially grateful to be able to have a cup of ‘real’ coffee as the prison only has instant available “things like good coffee are taken for granted, you don’t get anything like that in here and so to be able to have a cup is a real treat”.
Prison Director Chris Burns was enthusiastic about the project – “we’ve kept the sessions deliberately short so that the women can walk away with something tangible…you’ve only got to feel the vibe in the room to know the positive effect on them”. Arohata and Peoples are hoping to be able to run the programme again sometime next year as the feedback from both inmates and staff has been so positive.
I spoke briefly to one of the women about the course and she told me that the length of the courses was good because some of the inmates had difficulties concentrating for long periods of time “people have bad days and find it hard to be able to stay for a full day”. She said the short burst style of the course combined with the step-by-step process of the coffee-making made it easier for the group to stay focused.
After our chat we got to see the group graduate – all of the ladies were grinning from ear to ear. One of the inmates was particularly excited to show her certificate to her family – “my gran and my mum are really proud of me!”.
Overall I have to say my first trip to prison, whilst nothing like what I expected, was pretty great. I think its fantastic to see these women so eager to learn and grow. They are really hoping to be able to use these skills in the real world and I sincerely hope they get to.
July 24th, 2015