BY GLORIA BAUAI
EX-prisoner Mason Mai found it hard to live a normal life and re-integrate into society because of his past.
So the father-of-two, a two-time offender, has now turned away from crime and engaged in making sure fellow ex-prisoners do not re-offend.
He has been offering basic life-skills and financial training to those inside the prison walls bars and those already released to help them make their transition into life outside prison as smoothly as possible.
“ People are hesitant to hire someone who has a criminal record unless one has a good character reference.”
Those he had trained include a female who spent 12 years in prison, and now employed at Nadzab airport, a male youth now a second-year student at the University of Technology, and two others who have jobs.
“People are hesitant to hire someone who has a criminal record unless one has a good character reference.”
Originally from Gulf, Mason was born and lived in Lae in the past 40 years. For 15 years, Mason did well for himself as a radio announcer with various radio stations including the National Broadcasting Corporation. But the lure of crime was overwhelming for him and drew him away.
“When you spend practically your whole life in East Taraka, you’re always surrounded by criminal activities and easy to be sucked in. I’ve been to Buimo twice – in 2000 and 2016.”
After seeing close friends and brothers shot dead by police leaving behind their wives and children, Mason decided that crime was not worth it.
“I craved for a change for my brothers too. While behind bars, I saw that illiteracy was the first big problem. And there was the need for life-skills, rehabilitation and reintegration of released prisoners. Nothing of that sort in Buimo. Prisoners come, serve their time and leave.”
When released in 2017, Mason entered into an agreement with the Correctional Service to run a rehabilitation programme for prisoners.
“It was a verbal agreement. No funding. My concept was good on paper but the actual implementation was very slow because there were approval processes – a lot of disagreements and arguments over four years. But I did not give up.”
This year, Mason formed his organisation called the Banis Discharge Prisoners Reintegration Services. He turned his family resident into a transit home for released prisoners, especially those whose records were so bad it would be hard to easily resettle back in their communities.
They spend at least three months at the transit home while undergoing training to help them find jobs.
Mason’s effort was eventually recognised by authorities. So together with the Lae City Authority, Lae MP John Rosso, and a local company Tok Stret Counselling, they formed the Niu Laip programme.
They then worked with the Buimo Prison this year. So far, 13 ex-prisoners are with city authority’s urban hand-up programme and three are working as security guards.
“At the end of the three months, it’s safe for them to return to their communities, or wherever they wish to settle, and restart their lives as financially independent individuals.
“We want to build this model in Buimo so prisoners know there’s pathway after prison and they can find support to help them.
“My vision is to properly set up this programme and then roll it out to other prisons.”
Mason’s advice to young people is to focus on their education.
“Do not waste your life. Manu don’t realise they have a long way to go. One day they will get married, they will have a responsibility to care for their children.”
Mason has learnt from his mistake.