March 15, 2016

When the Damage is Done

Preamble

Jackie Katounas is Edmund Rice Justice Trust’s principle facilitator in post-sentencing Restorative Justice conferences. Edmund Rice Justice Trust partners Pathways Trust and Victim Support in an inititative called Te Kaupapa Whakaora.

Jackie was one of a number of keynote speakers invited to contribute to a day inspired by the memory, life, work and values of Celia Lashlie.

Celia always had an incredible impact where ever she worked. This day was an opportunity to celebrate and share her vision to bring about social change especially through working with women and in particular the lives being led by women at the heart of ‘at risk’ families.

Jackie was invited to share aspects of her life’s journey, the impact of early childhood, unrecognized trauma, views from the’ inside out’ (time in prison), significant moments which led to healing and personal transformation and the inspirational ways Jackie has co led the restorative justice movement especially in New Zealand but recognized interna20160225_165921tionally.

It was a day of challenge, of forward thinking, and an acknowledgement of Celia’s lifework. It also illuminated the number of creative and innovative ways women in particular are working to address a number of tragic realities which exist in New Zealand society at this time in the community especially proximity to the criminal justice system. 

I was privileged to be there this day amidst so many hope-filled wisdom women and men who share a vision for a world rendered more compassionate, just and inclusive. Jackie’s presentation concluded the day capturing the hearts of all present as her witness spoke of the power of personal and community transformation.

We are grateful to Jackie for generously sharing this narrative, her personal story publicly and hope that it respectfully touches and inspires readers as it has done in other forums for a number of years.

– Cathy Harrison

When the damage is done

I didn’t meet Ces in prison and there’s a big part of me that’s pleased about that as I would have met my match I’m sure. I met Ces at a PFNZ conference I felt like I’d known her all my life, we clicked. I didn’t know her well but I love all that she had to say and I support her legacy in wanting better for the women who need support.

My story is not much different from other women who have been to prison.

Our paths may have been different but our journeys are the same.

I came from a typical family in the 50’s, the youngest of 3 with a stay at home Mum, and my Dad was in the fire brigade.

My life changed dramatically when my Dad killed himself in our family home.

I was 11 years old.

The adults in my life made bad decisions in handling me and any potential trauma. I was sent to school on the day of his funeral and I was supposed to act as if nothing had happened.

I had seen my Fathers dead blue body lying in our kitchen – how could I forget that image let alone process that as 11 year old.

This unaddressed childhood trauma led me down a path of self – destruction.

At 12 years of age I was in my first state institution, my experiences in state care led to more trauma.

I was 16 when I first experienced prison, and over the next 30 years I managed almost 12 years prison and 138 criminal convictions.

Nothing ever changed for me in prison – it was part and parcel of my life and it became comfortable.

Where do you go when the damage is done? What do I do and where do I begin?

It took an encounter with one of my victims to change my life. This encounter triggered my passion for RJ. In 1996/7 I trained to be a RJ Facilitator and was a founding member of HBRJ.

The journey to get here was not an easy one, but I have had some amazing support along the way.

My former boss Kim Workman has been a mentor and has been my biggest champion on and off the battlefield.

I piloted the first RJ service into a NZ prison back in 1998/99. Kim was then the director of PFNZ, he later employed me as National RJ services manager. We went on to grow a very successful RJ service running RJ programmes into 14 prisons. We facilitated over 200 RJ conferences in that time. Kim and I were also joint recipients in an international award for our contribution to RJ globally.

However the road was never smooth. We lost our funding in 2010 and all the RJ programmes in prisons stopped. I am baffled as to why this funding stopped although I do have my suspicions!

Challenges

There are the normal challenges one faces when being released from prison, housing, employment and just finding your place in society can be a real struggle.

For me, I found it challenging to be accepted as a professional.

My experiences of working with the MoJ and Corrections has left me scared and battle wary.

In the late 1990’s I was a part of the MoJ RJ training video’s and had input into their training manuals and their codes of best practice and yet to this day the MoJ will not give me accreditation as a facilitator despite my vast experience.

It is difficult not to take this personally.

20160225_154013 As an ex criminal I knew it would be difficult to earn trust and respect, but I worked hard at being honest, transparent and professional.

I don’t believe we ever lose our labels, ex criminal, ex prisoner, ex junkie and I know I have been all of those things but it does not define who I am today.

The stigma is a challenge, but once you start to build a new life it’s hard to turn back. I had to make new friends I had to learn another language (that’s how it felt), it does get easier over time and I am still a work in progress.

Despite the mountains, I am still working in prisons doing RJ conferences, I now work for Edmund Rice Justice in ChCh. I love that they are not funded by govt, it gives us the freedom to do RJ unobstructed.

These days as I knock on the door of 60 I’ve learned a lot about life, whether it be living on the edge or on the straight and narrow, it has come down to me accepting who I am, believing in myself and never worrying about what about what I can’t control. There is healing after the damage is done but it takes hard work and great support.

A friend once told me ‘different is not wrong, it’s just different’, so I celebrate being different, it’s a much happier place.

– Jackie Katounas

March 2016.