BINGO First Nations’ offenders program changing lives

BINGO Industries is helping First Nations’ offenders gain employment through a Work Release program within Corrective Services NSW and providing support as they transition back into life after prison.

Natalie Davies knows how it feels to have someone show you kindness when you need it most.

She also recalls the words of the person who helped her; “Don’t repay me. When you can, help someone else”.

They’re powerful words that have resonated with the now Indigenous Engagement Manager for BINGO Industries. 

“Being shown kindness and having someone show you a good example of living; it’s worth a million dollars,” Natalie says.

She is paying it forward, leading a program at BINGO Industries that is giving rehabilitated offenders employment and additional support to help with the transition back into life after prison.

Under the REvive prison release program, First Nations prisoners serving the last one to two years of their sentence are employed at BINGO and complete certificate III training in process manufacturing.

Natalie says the aim is for the participants to become full-time employees when their sentence is finished. Following nearly 12 months of working with the Work Readiness team at Corrective Services NSW to get the program started, there are now several First Nations offenders taking part.

You can hear the pride in Natalie’s voice when she speaks of the success of the program and the impact it’s having.

She recalls the first participant being nervous and nauseous.

“When I showed her the toilet she said: ‘That’s the first time I’ve opened the door for myself in a long time,” Natalie says. “It broke me.”

“When I went to see her at the end of that first shift the nerves were gone. She still wasn’t 100 per cent confident but she wasn’t shaking or nauseous.

“By the end of the fourth shift she was beaming and talking about future goals. She was a new person.”

The REvive program is a joint initiative with the Yalagan Group, a leading Indigenous national Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and Group Training Organisation (GTO) that works closely with BINGO. The two companies have joined together to establish an Indigenous recycling and waste management business, Djurwa.

Natalie says BINGO and Yalagan have collaborated for several years to improve the lives of First Nations people. The REvive program had support from the BINGO executive team from the beginning, but the company wanted to ensure employees were also on board.

The wellbeing of participants and employees has been a priority, Natalie says. Placement of participants within the company was also important. Work sites where participants could likely be placed were visited and employees were given an opportunity to air any concerns.

The program is open to prisoners who have a security classification C3 (males) and a Category 1 (females) – and are ready to be integrated back into the community. The first participant was released on home detention after commencing employment but is still considered part of the correctional system.

Participants apply for the program through the Aboriginal Offender Employment Officer who is a part of the Work Readiness Team and are then interviewed by Yalagan and BINGO. 

Applicants who are successful in the interview are then given a site tour and undergo medicals. Once this has been completed, participants are signed up with Global Skills as part of the Pre-release Prisoners initiative to provide the necessities and resources to successfully get to work. This can include required work wear, a laptop to complete their traineeship studies post release and a mobile phone with a sim card and credit. 

Natalie says she was impressed with employee feedback to the program. 

“They were proud to be working for a company that is looking at helping people who have been disadvantaged,” she says.

“BINGO has built up a lot of genuine relationships in our community and a good reputation for looking after First Nations people. The executive team understands that this is organic work. It’s people-based, not money-based but it’s equally as important.”

When Natalie’s position was created two years ago, BINGO had four First Nations employees, one of them was in a management position. Today, Natalie, affectionately known as ‘auntie’ to some of BINGO’s younger employees, is a mentor and advocate for 31 First Nations staff, five of them managers. She says it’s about empowering and advancing the lives of First Nations people. And REvive is empowering its participants. Natalie says they are thriving and are valuable team members at BINGO. 

She has no doubt they will become long-term staff at BINGO who “end up soaring through the heights”.

“These participants have the ability to go far, they have talent and the right attitude combined,” she says. “Often you can get far with just one, but they have both.”

She says one of the main takeaways from the program is that you don’t need to implement something on a large scale to have meaningful impact.

By the end of 2023 up to six participants will be part of the REvive program, and BINGO, Yalagan and Djurwa intend to replicate the program in Victoria and Queensland. Each of those participants is going to have a positive influence on up to 10 other people in their lives whether that be children, parents, brothers, sisters, or even neighbours.

“It’s a domino effect,” Natalie says. “They’re showing their families and community that no matter what happened in your past, it is possible to turn your life around and become a great role model.

“We’re changing lives, and this makes my heart sing.”  

This article originally appeared on Waste Management Review.

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