Rehabilitation; unwrap your gift

Linda Walker assists inmates in making earings and necklaces at the Women's Corrections Centre. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

A REHABILITATION program to help women inmates get back on their feet once they are released into society is now underway at the Women’s Corrections Centre in Suva.

According to the Fiji Corrections Service Assistant Commissioner operations, Superintendent Salote Panapasa, the upskilling program is one of many the female inmates will be undertaking to help sustain themselves once they’re released from prison.

The program is led by Linda Walker, a fashion and jewellery designer from Sydney, Australia and her daughter Natacha Brochard, a design and visual arts teacher.

Both have been carrying out various programs among Fijian inmates since 2015.

“This is part of our rehabilitation framework which has four phases in the selection of the prisoners that will take part in the program,” Supt Panapasa shared.

“We have 10 female prisoners selected who have completed the first two phases of the program.

The first phase is discipline, the second phase is personality enhancement. Once they have completed that then we assess their training needs, those who are good in practical and those who are yet to serve two years before they are released into the community.

“For this one, we are so grateful to have Linda Walker from Australia who volunteered to come and facilitate this program on sewing and handicraft works. It has four modules, so far they’ve completed two modules, one of which started late last year. From here then we’re able to assist the prisoners to start their own business.”

Supt Panapasa added the Fiji Corrections Service has an allocation in relation to the Poverty Alleviation Program where they assist inmates in buying items for their business once they are released.

“They can appoint supervisors to monitor them. “The upskilling programs have helped prisoners to occupy themselves instead of just coming in to serve their time and go,” she said.

When a team from this newspaper visited the corrections centre in Suva, the place was abuzz with the women carrying out design and sewing of garments.

Another room had a group creating jewellery products. Linda Walker, who spent her early childhood in Fiji, says it’s a great feeling to be back in the country and helping out.

Prior to this, she and her daughter were involved with male inmates in similar rehabilitation programs.

“I guess it’s a first for us and for them (female inmates). When I first met them they all seemed very somber and serious but the joy for me is coming here every morning and seeing their smiling faces greeting me. I’ve noticed an incredible character change in all of them,” she said.

None of them had ever been on a sewing machine before. In the first module we told them about drafting patterns and size and so forth and they made their first garment which was a kaftan.

They drafted it themselves and it’s about professional finishing. We’ve taught them French seams and if you look at the inside of the garment that would be their prize point and when they leave here, they’re able to start their own business.

“It’s wonderful to give back and for me that is the greatest gift that I could have is to share my skill. I call it skill share because I think everybody has a gift. It’s just a chance meeting or a moment where the gifts are unwrapped and that’s what I’ve done with the girls because I think the girls are pretty brilliant. I told them that we all have a gift, and we need to all recognise that.”

The rehabilitation program runs for six weeks from June 11 to July 22. There are 66 inmates serving at the Women’s Corrections Centre.

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