For Junee inmates, graduation day was one of the proudest days of their lives.
Thirty-four-year-old Matthew – whose real name could not be revealed for privacy reasons – was one of 57 students to attend a special TAFE graduation at the Junee Correctional Centre last week.
In a deeply moving ceremony last Tuesday, the group were commended for completing a range of courses, offered as part of the unique and award-winning partnership between the educational facility and the GEO Group.
The speciality campus is located behind the walls of the centre, where inmates are encouraged to enrol in customised courses to help them on their re-integration journey.
Matthew was honoured with the Student of the Year award, after completing qualifications in engineering, information technology and barista skills.
He was one of more than 60 per cent of inmates to enrol in a course last year – one of the highest participation rates in any correctional centre statewide.
The father-of-six, who has spent much of his teenage and adult life behind bars, said he was grateful for the opportunity to learn.
He said his qualifications would act as a crucial circuit-breaker upon his release next April.
“I’ve been in jail on and off since I was 13 and I’m not academic at all,” Mathew said. “But I took every chance to learn that I could; I pushed myself and I pushed my teachers and I’ve proven to myself I can do it.”
The 34-year-old said he was more than just a prisoner.
“I want to be a good father and a good role model,” Matthew said. “This has given me more confidence to do that.”
In a moving speech to graduates, Junee Correctional Centre General Manager Scott Brideoake encouraged inmates to use their education as a platform for change.
“You’re not here today as inmates, you’re here as students,” Mr Brideoake said. “This is all about your life outside, not your life inside and I hope it helps you participate in a normal life outside with your families.
The TAFE programs’s training services manager Kerry Footman said keys to rehabilitation included education and employment.
“You can take someone’s freedom away but they can’t take education away,” Ms Footman said. “Hopefully this will help them go on to improve their outlook down the track.”
She said the more education someone had, the greater their chances for a positive the future.
“Some may think the program is limited,” Ms Footman said. “But for someone to face numerous obstacles and challenges, they work exceptionally hard … it’s nice to acknowledge those efforts.”