This week, four inmates from Auckland's Paremoremo prison will graduate with a certificate in apiculture – or beekeeping. Their instructor is Brian Alexander, a volunteer and veteran bee-whisperer.
Brian has been a beekeeper for four decades now and says this is one of the most satisfying things he’s done in his career.
“You hear things like: ‘It’s the best thing that’s happened to me since I’ve been in prison’ and it’s pretty humbling.”
The beekeeping programme, also taught at the Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility at Wiri, combines practical experience with theory taught in classrooms.
The inmates' course fees are paid by the Howard League, an organisation working towards penal reform in New Zealand which Brian volunteers for.
They took to beekeeping quickly, he says.
“They’re like sponges, they just absorb everything about the bees. Bees are just so fascinating, they just see it and it just grabs them. It’s nature at work.”
The course teaches practical beekeeping – a hands-on approach which is vital to progress in the field, Brian says.
“You need certain skills, you need to be able to understand what the hive is doing.
"You’ve got to examine the brood for various diseases that they could pick up, you’ve got to be able to find queens and gauge the strength of the hive.”
He says he was a little nervous on his first day, but couldn’t have been treated better by staff and inmates alike.
"All we do is the beekeeping, no other agendas or anything like that. We just settle down and go beekeeping.”
In February this year, the first honey was harvested at Wiri – 40 kilograms of liquid gold.
Sadly, the inmates didn't get to enjoy it, though – it’s banned in prison as it can be used to brew alcohol.
Barry, now retired, plans to keep up the teaching.
“I just love it.”