One way to promote more compassionate justice is to support ‘connections’. Connections may be between people in prison and their families, or between professionals and academics and the communities they live in and work for. This week I had the privilege of visiting the Waikato area of Aotearoa New Zealand. I experienced how other people make connections with one another. And, what struck me most was how important it is to make others feel welcome. This is the foundation for any efforts to work collaboratively and effectively.
After a brief whakatau (informal welcome) at the local university, we were prepared for a powhiri (formal welcome) at Waikeria prison. We listened to – and became familiar with – two waiata (Maori songs that support a speech) and were briefed about what to expect. Our tangata whenua (hosts) were people in prison, community members, and correctional staff at the prison. We waited to be formally invited into the facility. Then this was followed by a haka, singing, and speeches before we shared food. The whole unit turned out – about 60 or 70 people who all gave their time to honour our visit. The connections we made will help us to establish our working relationships going forward.
This experience left me with a strong sense that it is often how we approach working with justice-involved people that is more important than what we actually do. So, by showing respect and generosity, so much more becomes possible.