Titled ‘When Daddy Comes Home’, the book was written with two aims in mind – to help connect the children of prisoners with their parents, and also to inspire those incarcerated parents to lead a positive life for their children.
Wilson has worked extensively with New Zealand inmates for some time and is also involved with the charity Pillars, which supports the children of prisoners.
In Rarotonga recently to attend Te Maeva Nui celebrations with his wife and daughter, Wilson also brought several copies of his book with him and was looking to connect with someone at Arorangi Prison who might help him get it distributed to the inmates there.
“What I want to do is to get these dropped off to the prison, and then what I’m going to do is I’ll send up enough for every prisoner,” said Wilson. “I’m going to be coming back here a lot,” he added.
Drawing on his experiences with New Zealand inmates, Wilson sees disconnection from family and culture as a common thread amongst those most likely to offend and reoffend.
“When I read about the prisoners that were here I was asking around: what’s the crime like here in Raro? And people said most of the crime is committed by people that have come back from New Zealand.
“That to me mirrors what is happening over there, that most of the crime committed by Maori, or indigenous people, are ones that are disconnected from their tribe, their marae, their hapu, their iwi, their church or their sports group.
“So the name of the game is to reconnect them while they’re incarcerated, so that when they come out they’ve got relationships, they’ve got ambitions, they’ve got goals. Hence this book.”
Wilson has been to Rarotonga twice before, and on his last visit taught a creative writing course for the students at St Joseph’s School, an extension of work he does in New Zealand, where he has taught in more than 200 schools.
Wilson has since adapted that course for New Zealand prison inmates as well.
“I’ve created a template in the prisons where the prisoners now write their own story about what they want to do when they come out,” he explains.
“Now that there’s a template, the people in charge of the prisoners’ education now use my template to teach the prisoners how to write their own story, which is all about their dreams.
“So they can express for the first time in their lives, because hardly any of them have ever written anything. What do they want to do when they come out? And it’s just amazing the stuff that they want to do.
“What they don’t want to do is go back to gangs, and come back to prison. But they just don’t know what their options are, so writing it down is pretty magic.”
Having seen what life is really like inside, Wilson firmly believes that those who run the prison system need to think about different ways of doing things.
“People don’t want to be bad. I don’t believe people have black hearts. I believe they sometimes get a rough deck of cards dealt to them, and all they’re looking for is a pathway out. And if you create a pathway, other people follow,” he says.
“I bet if you looked at the demographics of those 30 prisoners in Arorangi, something’s happened to them to disconnect them from their family, their tribe, their hapu, their church – that’s the common denominator in all the work that I’ve done in the prisons.
“And when you’re in the prisons with them, you start realising that they’re just people, you know? They’re just people like me and you, that have just made poor choices. And a lot of the time, the choices are being made for them.
“So we just need to give them an opportunity to make good choices.”