It's a topsy-turvy world where a killer is held up as a role model of morality, Mongrel Mob and Black Power gangsters sit tattoo to tattoo and talk about their feelings and the weapon of choice for settling scores is the gospel according to St Matthew, chapter 18, verses 15 to 17.
Everything about Rimutaka Prison's faith-based unit marks it out as different from the rest of the world behind the razor wire. The first thing you see is the wooden cross in the window of the unit's library. There are trees and picnic tables, songs and laughter. Within these walls, inmates are called brothers.
Inside the library six men in prison grey sit on couches in the shadow of the cross, heads bowed, and pray for God to forgive their sins.
This is a cornerstone of the unit's philosophy the 60 prisoners are randomly divided into groups of 10, called living unit groups, or LUGs. They meet to read the Bible and talk about how they're feeling, who has pissed them off, what they're struggling with and what has gone well. There are no staff present, and the men have to learn to talk out disputes among themselves.
Leading this living unit group is Hemi, a former Black Power gangster in his 30s who's serving five years for killing a fellow gang member, who was also a mate and an extended family member.
Hemi (not his real name) freely admits he used to like hurting people. "At first I used to blame my past on my father and mother. But I have always known right from wrong. I always knew what I was doing was bad."
He had free will and used it to make a mess of his life. "A real big mess." He's been in and out of jail and this, he says, is his last chance to reform. So far it appears to be working.
This is an excellent article. When the faith-based unit was established in 2003, there was much scepticism around it, and much criticism that it would be a "soft option". It's clear from the Dom-Post story that it is anything but soft, and that it is working. One of the inmates interviewed notes that "I think it's harder here than mainstream prison, because the expectations are a lot more. The way you behave, the way you speak, you have to show respect and be honest."
As we've mentioned before, we've been involved in prison ministry. It's not easy, but it can be incredibly satisfying. Our faith includes a deep belief than no life is beyond transformation where God is concerned; he is, after all, in the business of miracles. It's not just that though, and there are no bells-and-whistles conversion for some of the inmates; but it is a unit which is a conduit for change.
The continued success of Rimutaka's faith-based unit will be a wonderful epitaph for Patrick Lewis' life. We'll leave the final word for one of the inmates whose life has been transformed:
He has cut ties with his old contacts, and is so far staying clean. He's doing a course part-time and earning some cash fixing up cars and computers. He puts his success down to Pat Lewis, whose coffin he helped bear, and the unit's unfailing patience. "I wasn't really faith-based material but I was keen to change and they decided to give me a chance. The amount of times they should have kicked me out ... But they stuck with me. It's a place of change. It works."