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Kōrero Pono is about giving a voice to people with lived experience of the criminal justice system. As we face up to the failures of our criminal justice system and our legacy of mass incarceration, it’s crucial that we do more listening.

The collateral consequences of a prison sentence are profound. They affect the present and future of people serving sentences, their whānau, their communities, and Aotearoa as a whole. But these stories are often not heard.

77% of people currently serving a prison sentence have themselves been victims of family or sexual violence. If we want to understand how to reduce cycles of harm, we need to listen to people who have experienced all stages of this cycle.

But these stories are often not heard. They are typically not part of the narrative of crime and justice. And the people who could tell them are frequently dismissed, derided or condemned.At this point in time, when the Government is reckoning with the failures of our criminal justice system and our legacy of mass incarceration, we think it’s crucial that we do more listening.

This exhibition is the first project that JustSpeak has rolled out as part of Korero Pono. We’ll be working on more content over the coming year, and we would love to hear your perspectives on this work.

"Under our current prison system, when you’re incarcerating someone and you’re not offering them safety, security, and ways forward - to address their literacy, their addictions, their family violence histories - all the things that lead to people ending up in jail - I think it’s really important."
"In that sense [prison is] a permanent punishment. It’s like, you remember that thing you did this one time, well I’m not going to let you do anything that’s privileged because you did this one thing this one time a long time ago. It’s the old ‘a leopard never changes his spots’. It’s bullshit and we know that."
"I think sending [someone] to jail doesn’t serve anyone any good purpose whatsoever. If anything, they’re going to come out worse. A bit more educated, you know; you might go in a shoplifter and come out a burglar. I think it’s more a college of criminal minds."
"I kind of felt like what they were trying to do to me was more harm than me supplying cannabis to anybody, they ripped me away from my family, put me in prison and subjected me to the lifestyle in prison. I thought that was a whole lot worse than me supplying cannabis to my mates."
"My partner at the time became involved in drugs and was sent to prison. I didn’t really know what was going on, even when he’d been arrested and held on remand. It was just our son and myself, we were just really left in the dark and my son was five or four or five when it happened. I think he was just finishing kindy and starting primary school and he had a terrible time dealing with it, he didn’t cope that well."
"One thing that really would help a lot of people is if they actually sat down with someone who’s been in jail. It’s not just like, one day you’re solid, you’re good and then the next day you decide to beat someone up. It’s just not that simple. For myself, I grew up watching my dad fight and just watching that violence was ok. Then it got to that age where I thought that it was ok too."
"I think for me, being a trans woman going to prison it mentally did my head in. That’s it really. I felt like I was in the wrong place. I should have been in a women’s not a men’s prison. .. I felt like my life was threatened. I felt uncomfortable, like I was going to get hurt."
"Looking back now that I am an adult, and I have more knowledge and things, I was a lot more withdrawn once my dad went to prison. Even though I was already a shy kid, it just made me more nervous, aware that anything could happen any minute, things could change for what seem to be no reason. So I just became a lot more withdrawn, wanted to just stay at home. I really hated going to school."
"I think that going into prison is counter-productive to rehabilitation and living a productive life. It gives society an illusion that they are safe when really it's contributing the complete opposite to safety. I think it separates people, it creates an 'us' and 'them'."
"There’s not really any positive ways to express your identity [in youth justice], they’re all antisocial and detrimental in the real world. In that way, it’s super unhealthy, especially for teenagers, who, at that time of their life that’s what it’s all about - learning and forming those sort of things around your identity and what your self-esteem is built on. So, coupled with that, it’s a fucking recipe for disaster to produce humans who can’t function in general society."
"Just from my experience I've seen others that have been to prison . . miss that time with their kids, being able to take them to school for the first time, watch them play sports, taking them swimming, being involved with the school, and just their whole upbringing."
"Once I got out, I felt more locked up than what I was in YJ [youth justice facility], because in YJ I had the freedom to do nothing. On the outside, it’s a bit different. You have to do things. I didn’t recover well at first...I think I just felt institutionalised, after being hand-fed. On the outside, you got to work for stuff. You have to build relationships with people by not being a dick."
"I was brought up in the ‘once were warriors’ environment, my dad was an alcoholic, sexually abused, I was brought up in that rough environment and that kinda shaped me into that person. I suppressed a lot of those feelings through alcohol as I got older and never stopped until just recently. I had to work on those issues which I thought I had closed the door on that and left that behind but ... [being in and out of jail] kinda brought it all back up."
"My experience in there was terrible - being in jail introduced me to...just more violence. Being in an isolated area with 59 other men wasn't healthy. I found myself being... extremely introverted I suppose. Not being one to talk.. you know, I wouldn't share anything. I wouldn't give too much that being vulnerable inside was seen as a weakness. I was depressed. Full of anxiety you know, I felt quite vengeful..Being incarcerated was a negative influence on me in many ways - spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally all those things."
When I came out what I felt was everywhere I tried to go, or tried to better myself or just do something, there was always that paper that had the "do you have a criminal conviction" and I'd be honest ..and no matter what you do and no matter how long you've been inside, or how short - if you've got a conviction you're going to get ‘exed’, it doesn't matter.
I think she tried for a year . . trying to get jobs. And after a year she was almost done - she was actually talking about suicide again like she had in the past. She was applying all the time and going to interviews and kept saying 'yeah I think I've got a job', and then they'd be like 'oh no, the jail thing'.
It did what it did for me because it got me straight, it got me clean. But I have scars that I’ll carry for the rest of my life - emotionally and mentally. But for other people out there there has to be another way. Otherwise you know… you just build bigger jails.
It did what it did for me because it got me straight, it got me clean. But I have scars that I’ll carry for the rest of my life - emotionally and mentally. But for other people out there there has to be another way. Otherwise you know… you just build bigger jails.
I think she tried for a year . . trying to get jobs. And after a year she was almost done - she was actually talking about suicide again like she had in the past. She was applying all the time and going to interviews and kept saying 'yeah I think I've got a job', and then they'd be like 'oh no, the jail thing'.
When I came out what I felt was everywhere I tried to go, or tried to better myself or just do something, there was always that paper that had the "do you have a criminal conviction" and I'd be honest ..and no matter what you do and no matter how long you've been inside, or how short - if you've got a conviction you're going to get ‘exed’, it doesn't matter.
"Just from my experience I've seen others that have been to prison . . miss that time with their kids, being able to take them to school for the first time, watch them play sports, taking them swimming, being involved with the school, and just their whole upbringing."
"I think that going into prison is counter-productive to rehabilitation and living a productive life. It gives society an illusion that they are safe when really it's contributing the complete opposite to safety. I think it separates people, it creates an 'us' and 'them'."
"I kind of felt like what they were trying to do to me was more harm than me supplying cannabis to anybody, they ripped me away from my family, put me in prison and subjected me to the lifestyle in prison. I thought that was a whole lot worse than me supplying cannabis to my mates."
"I think sending [someone] to jail doesn’t serve anyone any good purpose whatsoever. If anything, they’re going to come out worse. A bit more educated, you know; you might go in a shoplifter and come out a burglar. I think it’s more a college of criminal minds."
"In that sense [prison is] a permanent punishment. It’s like, you remember that thing you did this one time, well I’m not going to let you do anything that’s privileged because you did this one thing this one time a long time ago. It’s the old ‘a leopard never changes his spots’. It’s bullshit and we know that."
"There’s not really any positive ways to express your identity [in youth justice], they’re all antisocial and detrimental in the real world. In that way, it’s super unhealthy, especially for teenagers, who, at that time of their life that’s what it’s all about - learning and forming those sort of things around your identity and what your self-esteem is built on. So, coupled with that, it’s a fucking recipe for disaster to produce humans who can’t function in general society."
"My partner at the time became involved in drugs and was sent to prison. I didn’t really know what was going on, even when he’d been arrested and held on remand. It was just our son and myself, we were just really left in the dark and my son was five or four or five when it happened. I think he was just finishing kindy and starting primary school and he had a terrible time dealing with it, he didn’t cope that well."
"I think for me, being a trans woman going to prison it mentally did my head in. That’s it really. I felt like I was in the wrong place. I should have been in a women’s not a men’s prison. .. I felt like my life was threatened. I felt uncomfortable, like I was going to get hurt."
"I was brought up in the ‘once were warriors’ environment, my dad was an alcoholic, sexually abused, I was brought up in that rough environment and that kinda shaped me into that person. I suppressed a lot of those feelings through alcohol as I got older and never stopped until just recently. I had to work on those issues which I thought I had closed the door on that and left that behind but ... [being in and out of jail] kinda brought it all back up."
"Under our current prison system, when you’re incarcerating someone and you’re not offering them safety, security, and ways forward - to address their literacy, their addictions, their family violence histories - all the things that lead to people ending up in jail - I think it’s really important."
"One thing that really would help a lot of people is if they actually sat down with someone who’s been in jail. It’s not just like, one day you’re solid, you’re good and then the next day you decide to beat someone up. It’s just not that simple. For myself, I grew up watching my dad fight and just watching that violence was ok. Then it got to that age where I thought that it was ok too."
"Once I got out, I felt more locked up than what I was in YJ [youth justice facility], because in YJ I had the freedom to do nothing. On the outside, it’s a bit different. You have to do things. I didn’t recover well at first...I think I just felt institutionalised, after being hand-fed. On the outside, you got to work for stuff. You have to build relationships with people by not being a dick."
"Looking back now that I am an adult, and I have more knowledge and things, I was a lot more withdrawn once my dad went to prison. Even though I was already a shy kid, it just made me more nervous, aware that anything could happen any minute, things could change for what seem to be no reason. So I just became a lot more withdrawn, wanted to just stay at home. I really hated going to school."
"My experience in there was terrible - being in jail introduced me to...just more violence. Being in an isolated area with 59 other men wasn't healthy. I found myself being... extremely introverted I suppose. Not being one to talk.. you know, I wouldn't share anything. I wouldn't give too much that being vulnerable inside was seen as a weakness. I was depressed. Full of anxiety you know, I felt quite vengeful..Being incarcerated was a negative influence on me in many ways - spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally all those things."