White Ribbon on the inside
December 19, 2011
The White Ribbon Ride visited three prisons in 2011. Each visit different, but each the same, an opportunity for men who have committed some of the worst crimes to meet and interact with the leather clad White Ribbon Riders and hear their message of non-violence and respect.
North Island Ride Coordinator and West Wind support crew Vanessa Rushton accompanied the riders into Waikeria and describes here her recollections of the visit.
At Waikeria Prison the riders were given permission to take their bikes right inside the compound where they parked in a cornered-off area.
After a period of mingling and ogling at the bikes, a group of inmates assembled on the large square grass patch in the middle of the compound, and performed what can only be described as the most passionate haka I have ever seen (most definitely put the All Blacks to shame). One of the men came forward and on behalf of all the inmates, thanked the riders for coming to visit them, and expressed his support for the kaupapa, the riders and the mission they were on.
With goosebumps and hairs on end, everyone moved into a dining area, taking an illustrated program on the way. The cover had been drawn by one of the inmates and was an evocative depiction of the White Ribbon kaupapa.
Speeches from the unit manager and counsellor were followed by words from the White Ribbon Riders.
Each of the five White Ribbon Riders stood up in turn, sharing their story and their reason for being on the Ride. The inmates listened attentively and in silence, taking in the advice and the messages. One of the Riders was a former gang leader who had spent time behind bars at Waikeria Prison, whilst another had worked at Waikeria as a chef many years ago. There were a couple within the riders who spoke of their experience of violence in their relationship and how they got through it. Each speaker left the inmates with the message that violence is not the way, and change is possible.
The visitors then mixed with the inmates over an afternoon tea of scones, tea and coffee. This was a special time for less formal conversations – some light-hearted, others straight to the point: what does this visit mean to you? What do you think of these guys?
On leaving, I felt a sense of sadness at all these young and old men locked away. There were many who were younger than I, who we learnt had children and families. Families who would not spend time with them at Christmas, birthdays and those once-in-a-lifetime occasions when children learn to walk or go to school for the first day.
I hope the visit instilled in them a sense of hope for the future – that they too could put their pasts behind them, be good men, and ride out into the sunset, living a happy violence-free life.
The Campaign Team believe sending the White Ribbon Riders into prisons is a highly effective use of their time, put plainly, it’s talking to men that need to hear the message most. Ride organisers definitely intend to include prisons in the schedule for the 2012 Ride.