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Rimutaka Prison, New Zealand, 2013 

Six years ago today I went in to Rimutaka Prison near Wellington in New Zealand. I was on a four week tour starting in Invercargill on the South Island, where I performed in concerts and schools for ten days with fellow Storyteller Bill Harley. Then I set off to explore the magnificent country of “The Long White Cloud”. 

My time in Rimutaka, the largest men’s prison in New Zealand is a treasured experience. I didn’t write a blog post about it st the time, but I did write a Facebook entry.  I would like to share that with you today. 


May 22, 2013


Yesterday I went into Rimutaka men's prison with Hermione to do two storytelling/writing workshops.  They were both in the Drug Rehabilitation Unit - a therapeutic community where men stay six months - they were about to graduate from the intensive program (although a few of the next batch were already there,)  The first group were the "protection" prisoners (In the US - segregated) and the group after lunch were general population.
What an amazing experience.  The first group of men greeted us with a Maori welcome, ushering us into their home with prayers and songs, a song was sung by our group as a thanks. A beautiful, ritualized welcome - and then the workshop began.  The men told anecdotes, did writing exercises, - which they threw themselves into -and then told deeper stories that were delightful!  They really engaged with the process and the  therapeutic staff were deeply impressed  at the way the men responded.
The therapeutic staff gave us lunch behind the bars - oh my!  I had been expecting prison food and was flinching at the thought - but this was a magnificent feast cooked and brought in by those lovely staff!  Vegetable curry and rice, chick pea patties with a mint and chili dipping sauce that was only just this side of heaven, cream cheese and smoked salmon on baguettes, mouthwatering pineapple and lemon cake, traditional Kiwi cream buns......  Such delightful and delicious extravagance.  We were utterly spoiled!
Back into the main compound to do the second workshop.  Again we were greeted with the impressive, wonderful ritualized welcome. This group, was far more vocal, high energy and at times difficult to corral - but once they got into the process  they loved it and really connected.  The staff was amazed that in that constantly noisy place, silence descended for ten whole minutes while men did the writing exercise (New Zealand has one of the highest literacy rates in the world) - amazed is not the right word.  Blown away would be more correct!  And then the men shared stories that made us laugh and think - and understand...  Hermione was fabulous as always, handing out paper and showing off story starters as though these tough guys were her neighbors.  At the end of the workshop I thanked all the men - and I thought that was it.  But no!  They had a present for me.  Instead of only a ritualized spoken thanks - they performed a haka - an incredible honor.  To say I was moved was a total understatement - I was grateful, and profoundly touched and very humbled that they would extend that measure of respect. And it was magnificent!  My great thanks to Richard, Jacqui and Iona of Arts Access for arranging the visit.
Home to Judith and Tony's glorious pad overlooking the sound set for the movie "Lord of the Rings," and a dinner for all the local storytellers.
So we ended the evening with another feast, and shared stories around the fire.  
A day that will live on in my mind for years


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