PRISONERS listened intently to the words of a government health worker who 16 years ago turned his back on crime to become a beacon of hope for Aboriginal equality and employment.
Noongar man Laurence Riley is this year’s Perth Naidoc Community Person of the Year.
He addressed guests and about 50 prisoners at this year’s Acacia Prison Naidoc celebrations on Monday after a band performance and series of Aboriginal dances presented as part of Naidoc celebrations at the Wooroloo prison, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up about 40 per cent of inmates.
Aboriginal adults make up only 2.9 per cent of WA’s population.
Mr Riley said he was living proof of how educational programs could help bring about change.
“The justice system doesn’t hold you back, but you have to make the change, Mr Riley said.
He urged prisoners to use the systems in place to support and improve their lives.
Mr Riley, a member of the Labor Party’s Gosnells-Thornlie branch, said through his work with police and other government services he sought to influence change and increase post-prison employment opportunities.
His closing words by American author Mark Twain met with rapturous applause: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Acacia Prison deputy director David Brampton thanked Mr Riley before presenting awards to prisoners for good work ethics.
He also spoke of the importance of maintaining connection to culture and country as an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offender rehabilitation and its role in reintegration with their communities following release.
Naidoc celebrations at Acacia continued throughout the week with a roo tail cook-up on hot coals shared between inmates and staff at the Serco-run prison.
Other events included a series of football matches and other social activities in celebration of Aboriginal culture.