Off to prison we went yesterday. To the aptly named “Doing Thyme” Restaurant, which opens it’s doors to interested groups, such as our SLG friends. Yvonne had arranged the outing for this month and we nervously arrived at the prison reception area.
We were met by the guard who would be our guide, and he asked very seriously if any of us were carrying drugs. Just following procedures, I presume. Then we had to hand over our cell phones, cameras, and any tobacco products before we could go any further on to prison grounds. We then climbed into a 10 seater prison van and were driven up to the restaurant for our lunch. The guard pointed out the high fences to us, the interior one was topped with razor wire, and the next was electrified.
Our lunch was ready and waiting for us, and we were served pita pockets stuffed with roast pork, and a selection of tasty salads. A basket of fresh fruit was for dessert, and there was ample tea, coffee, or orange juice. A group of trainee prison officers arrived, ate their lunch, and left quickly to while we dawdled over our meals.
A tour of the extensive grounds was part of our morning out, and we were surprised at just how large this facility is. We passed by the “Self Care” units, chalets where those low risk, soon be released prisoners, are able to leave the prison grounds and go to work. The High Dependency Unit has 24 hour medical care and houses those suffering from severe health conditions or dementia. As we passed by the High Security and the Drug Dependant units I thought that these must be challenging places to work indeed.
Prisoners learn skills in the Trade Training unit, such as woodwork, metalwork, bricklaying, and store man duties, and classes are also held in reading and writing. Musical classes are also popular. The prison kitchen is a very busy place and prepares 3000 meals a day, which are then delivered to the various units, and is a much sought after place to work, we were told.
Rimutaka Nursery at the prison covers 4 hectares and gives prisoners the opportunity to gain skills and work experience to increase their chances of obtaining employment after release.
It was quite a radical idea when the container cell blocks were first discussed. The 60 bed Rimutaka Prison unit averted a prison capacity crisis, was built in half the tome of traditional prison cells and cost around 30% less. The cells are comparable in size to other cells in prisons around the country.
Cells made from container units
Our tour was very interesting although we were all surprised at just how large this facility is. Our tour guide had worked there some years, and was full of knowledge and interesting insights into prison life. He told us that when he was a trainee, he was given some advice which he has never forgotten. Talking to the prisoners is the key, he said, to keep the communication lines open.
An incident happened while were were being driven around, and we waited till our guard received the “all clear” through his ear piece. Just goes to show that anything can happen at any time in a place like this. We retrieved our phones and cameras, climbed into our cars, and left the premises, breathing a sigh of relief. It was quite an experience being there.