Life 101

From Spectrum, 12:10 pm on 14 February 2016

By David Steemson

LIFE 101 lecturer Phil Moon in in front of prisoners

LIFE 101 lecturer Phil Moon talks to prisoners Photo: RNZ David Steemson

“We’re making pancakes,” the young man yells out to me, as I cross the visitors’ room at Paremoremo Jail. He’s among a group of grey-garbed prisoners, leaning earnestly over electric fry pans that are emitting a buttery sizzle.

These 15 have spent the last three days in this sweaty room, learning what the 'Real World' holds for them, when they’re released. Some have been in jail for more than a decade.

Listen to Life 101:

Prison pikelets

Prison pikelets Photo: Supplied Alta van Wyk, Department of Corrections

The Life 101 course was designed to give school leavers some practical life skills, to help them cope with such things as keeping healthy, budgeting, banking, housing, how the stock market works, and getting a job.

Now the course has been taken into Auckland Prison at Paremoremo to help long-serving convicts prepare for life on the outside.

It has been so successful that a more comprehensive course is about to be piloted at the prison soon, which has been dubbed 'Life 202'.

Making pancakes comes at the end of the course, and the friendly young prisoner says he’s never done this before.

He’s pleased there is butter and real jam to put on them.

Prisoner *DJ didn’t think he’d ever bake pancakes either.

”I’m more of a steak on the barbecue man myself”

Life 101 is the brain child of two friends who say they were always the kids who asked why they had to learn algebra instead of budgeting and financial literacy at school.

Co-founder Nick Carroll says the resulting course was so successful as a school holiday programme, that the Corrections Department heard about it and decided to run it too.

LIFE 101 Co founder Nick Carroll

LIFE 101 Co founder Nick Carroll Photo: RNZ David Steemson

Nick is now working on Life 202  for prisoners, which will cover some of the subjects in much great depth and will be tested at Paremoremo next month (March 2016) . Life 303 is also being set up as a mentoring programme for prisoners once they leave jail.

A lecturer over the three days is Phil Moon, former real estate man and co-founder of Life 101. As he talks to the prisoners, he’s eloquent but earthy, positive but careful not to oversell his own expertise.

He tells the men: “I was never one to budget, until I realised I was spending money on all this stuff I really didn’t need. Now I look at my budget every week, and give myself a cash allowance for my weekly needs, and that’s it.”

Carroll says it’s important for the course participants to feel they are going to be able to pass on their new knowledge to their children, and Life 202 will provide more skills for that.

The Corrections Department has a target to reduce reoffending by 25-percent by 2017.

Julia Prescott Assistant Director at Auckland says: “While we have a captive audience I think we have a moral responsibility to do what we can to rehabilitate people and get them prepared to cope  with life outside, back in society.

"Life 101 is just one of many interventions the prisoner goes through during his time in prison. But a person can still use the skills he’s learned in Life 101 right now in prison”.

Assistant Director at Auckland Prison Julia Prescott, outside prison coffee shop

Assistant Director at Auckland Prison Julia Prescott, outside prison coffee shop Photo: RNZ David Steemson

Prisoner *Todd says the course has helped him learn about life after prison.

"I’ve been in prison since I was 16, but hopefully my sentence is going to end soon. I need to learn about life on the outside. I’ve never used a credit card, and don’t have a driver’s licence.

"But I’m good with figures and I hope to start putting money away in savings. In ten years from now I might buy a car or put a down payment on a house. I should be saving now, with the bit of money I earn in prison.”.

Prisoner *DJ, who’s also been a jail for years, says: “With long-leggers, when we get out, it’s the small things that trip us up. All the big things have been covered for me, but I’ve got to learn such things as how to deal with money, if I get a good job on the outside.

"When someone gets money they’ve never had before, they want to buy everything they’ve never had before”.

Prisoner *Tash says the course has been positive.

“I’ve enjoyed learning how to make money work for me, and there are steps I can take now while I’m still in prison. Why wait for another four years?”

Another prisoner says: “I didn’t know nothing about the share market, but I did know that money can make a person greedy. It can also do good. Back in my old schools days they never talked about this stuff, and they should be teaching kids now how to value money for themselves.”

No Caprtion

Photo: RNZ David Steemson

At the end of my day at Parry, we’re chatting easily, the felons and I. I can’t ask why they’re in jail, or how long they’ve been there, but some volunteer their stories. They miss their kids. When one discovers where I live, he reminisces about going camping in the regional park nearby as a boy. 

They’re not too different from many blokes on the outside, although there’s a common refrain; when they leave jail they will have to stay away from some old friends and family. Bad influences it seems. Also booze and drugs are things to stay away from.

I wonder how easy that is to say and think when you’re in the relative safety of a prison? Probably the test for them is yet to come. On the outside.

So here’s to Life 101.

* Not their real names

The nine parts of Life 101:
1. Personality profiling: who am I?
2. Producing a CV.
3. Preparing for a job interview.
4. Basics of business.
5. Basics of the sharemarket.
6. Basics of property.
7. Health, fitness and wellbeing (includes cooking).
8. Saving money.
9. Personal budgeting.