Giving former prisoners the tools to kickstart their journey back into employment, Ngalla Maya is breaking national records and saving the Western Australian Government millions in the process.

Founded in 2014 by staunch Minang Noongar man, Mervyn Eades, Ngalla Maya came about after Eades himself got out of the prison system and saw there was nothing around to help ex-prisoners find their feet.

“It’s a broken system, it’s a failed system that doesn’t meet the needs of our people once out in the community,” Eades said.

For the first two and a half years, Ngalla Maya was unfunded by the government.

“I was getting huge numbers across the line without any funding,” Eades said.

In late 2016, the Federal Government came on board to fund the program.

After talks with industry and much fine-tuning, Ngalla Maya now offers a ten-day training program to former inmates to help them get all of the entry-level tickets or certificates they need to gain employment.

The qualifications graduate trainees leave with include:

  • Working at heights
  • Elevator work platform
  • Gas and fire
  • Forklift
  • White card
  • Confined spaces
  • Telehandler.

“It’s equivalent, I say, to a Certificate III in Construction,” Eades said.

Part of the Ngalla Maya approach is that they don’t vet out anyone. Trainees sign up and complete the course whether they’re homeless, struggling with addiction or experiencing other issues.

“I tell them … ‘When you start your training [no drugs], nothing. Stop. There and then. Because when the training ends and you go for jobs, you’ve got to be clean.’ And I talk like that to them … a bit of tough love,” Eades said.


Industry expertise

Teaming up with well-respected training provider, Skills Training and Engineering Services (STES), Ngalla Maya buses trainees to STES in Bibra Lake, a southern suburb of Perth, and provides lunches, too.

“That lunch might be the only feed they have during each day … what we’re talking about is [training] the critical, most vulnerable of people,” Eades said.

STES Training Manager, Clinton Kieswetter, said the partnership first came about when Ngalla Maya approached them to assist with training in 2016.

“With STES industry contacts we helped them along with a lot of employment,” Kieswetter said.

“When the groups were coming through for training, I was inviting corporate human resources departments to come and meet with [them] and have face-to-face [meetings].”

For Kieswetter, he believes the employment opportunities for ex-prisoners are there, it’s just that “nobody [knows] where to look for them”.

“A lot of [people] coming out of prison, they have no idea what their future looks like. They don’t understand what the different types of industries are about,” he said.

“I thought for the whole program to be successful we’re going to [have to] introduce them to different industries so they can see what they do and what they like.”

Fast forward to 2020 and Eades has helped over 300 former prisoners gain entry-level employment through Ngalla Maya, breaking a national record along the way.

Eades believes the record Ngalla Maya has set is an indictment of the current prison system.

“If that is a national record that is actually damning on the full system and all the monies that have been spent on the system.”

“We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars that have been poured into corrective services over the years.

“To keep a male adult prisoner [and female] adult prisoner in prison per year, it costs $200,000 [each].”

Using that figure, Eades has saved the WA Government at least $60 million if each of the 300 former prisoners he has helped train were inside for one year.


Changing lives

After being in and out of prison for a few years, trainee, Tennielle Brown, is happy to be out and setting an example for her three young children.

Coming out of prison just days before starting Ngalla Maya’s training program, Brown, 32, is resolute in getting her life back on track.

“I don’t want to go back to jail,” Brown said.

It’s been especially rewarding for Brown seeing the impact her training is having on her 13-year-old daughter.

“She’s excited for me, pretty much more than I am,” she laughed.

Eades said there are many success stories from the program.

“When they succeed, my heart is warm for them.”

“We’ve got eight or nine boys out of our program, from prison, who’ve spent much of their lives in the system, buying their own homes today.

“People can actually come out of prison and get the right supports and wrap around services around them [so] that they can feel that hope is not lost and their lives are worthy.

“We just need to support them into it in a proper way.”


A group effort

To extend the reach of those wrap around services, Eades and a number of other organisations are launching a consortium to assist mob in Perth.

“We’re ramping it up at the moment … A consortium of our people have got together and we’re looking at changing the system in a different way that’s never been done before,” said Eades.

“As an individual, you can only do so much by yourself.

“When you build a consortium [you can] show government that this is the way forward and it’s something different.

“It’s outside the box, because everything inside the box has always failed our people.”

The consortium aims to provide holistic care and assistance in a number of areas including housing, employment, health and mental health.

On board are Ngalla Maya, the First Nations Homelessness Project, the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, and Spartan First Mental Health.

Eades is excited at the prospects of a fully operational, holistic consortium.

“I can see it being a great success.”

“We’re having talks with State Government at the moment and hopefully they’re coming on board and supporting what changes we need to make in a bigger way.”

By Hannah Cross