The first time Sam walked into a prison, all eyes were on him. He was the outsider. And it was intimidating.
He’s been heckled, screamed at and he admits to feeling nervous.
“The first few times there were a few scary moments. But I think in those moments God gives you the grace to be there,” says Sam.
“Sometimes you’ll be in uncomfortable situations, but you just keep moving. You push forward, move forward and point forward. Because if you just stop there, then you’ll fall apart.”
Sam now stands tall. His confidence comes from his deep-rooted faith. He has a new perspective he says. He has God’s perspective.
“I see people. People who have been in really hard circumstances,” he pauses.
“You know we all need hope. And we all need a Saviour. I love the fact that our program gives hope. And I love the idea that we’re not giving them one dimensional hope.”
“We’re not just concerned about your finances, but we think holistically about how we can help you – and I think that’s what Wesley Mission is all about.”
At seven correctional centres, Wesley Mission’s Strategic Relationships Manager, Sam and his team of 15 are providing hope to prison inmates through High Intensity Program Units (HIPU) – a financial literacy program funded by the Department of Justice, Corrective Services NSW.
Since February 2019, 735 inmates have attended Wesley Mission’s ‘In Charge of My Money’ – a program which has supported vulnerable Australians manage their money and avoid debt since 2011. HIPU aims to reduce and break the cycle of re-offending in New South Wales.
“When I speak to inmates during the [course] breaks, you realise that a lot of offending that occurs, there’s an element of finances and money,” explains Sam.
“Financial stress, relationship stress, mental stress and emotional stress. And if you’re not on top of it, if you’re not in charge of your money and your money’s in charge of you, that’s another stress.”
So when the prospect arose for Wesley Mission to be part of HIPU, Sam jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve always had a passion for working within corrections. Although my job is to find partnerships, sometimes you find partnerships you feel passionate about that are compatible with Wesley Mission and with what the community wants.”
For Sam, it’s about empowering inmates to take charge and ownership of their future decisions.
“We’re there to explore positive money behaviours. Get them to pick one positive money behaviour that resonates with them. And you can see which one actually hits the mark with them. We feel joy when we see that.”
And they’re seeing attitudes shift from despair to hope.
“We had one inmate come up to us and thank us for helping another inmate,” says Sam. “He said, ‘He’s never said a word while he’s been in here. So you’ve cracked him open’.”
And it’s not just influencing the prison inmates.
“Not only are they taking that knowledge themselves, but they’re passing it to family – people who are significant to them,” explains Sam.
For Sam, HIPU has opened the door to not only share important life skills but has kindled his passion to explore prison chaplaincy.
“They are people. They are equally made in the image of God. And we all have struggles. And the struggles that they have are unique to the struggles that I have. But they’re still struggles that require hope and intervention. And it’s a privilege to be part of a little bit of that.”