STIGMA is one of the first and biggest challenges when anyone impacted by the justice system returns to the community.
This often leads to social isolation, poverty, and reoffending; perpetuating a harmful cycle that continues to impact individuals, families and future generations.
Fruit2Work, a social enterprise delivery service of fresh fruit and milk to workplaces and businesses throughout Melbourne and Geelong, has been actively disrupting this cycle for the last five years.
CEO Rob Brown recognises employment is one of the first steps to improving the lives of returning citizens and their families.
“Far too often we see people getting caught up in a never-ending loop, because society is determined to marginalise anyone who has been through the justice system,” Mr Brown said.
Since its inception, it has supported 62 people returning to the community, and has a zero rate of recidivism amongst employees.
While this is an impressive achievement, Fruit2Work’s dream is to create even more opportunities.
As their orders increase, so too does their ability to employ more people, meaning even more lives are changed.
After incarceration Simon Fenech experienced firsthand the challenges of returning to the community.
His journey to rebuilding his life began with the Fruit2Work program.
He recalls how important it was to feel accepted, supported and self-determined; already having the innate strengths and skills to turn his life around.
Mr Fenech, who acts as a peer mentor in the program, and is now general manager of Fruit2Work explains, “We just help employees see those strengths for themselves, which in turn, helps them to be seen by others”.
By supporting people Fruit2Work also provide a crucial form of early intervention for future generations.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics show over 5000 young people – aged 10 and over – are under youth justice supervision each day.
Mr Fenech said that young offenders need mentors with life experience.
For this reason. Fruit2Work use a natural mentoring system by matching younger employees with older ones who have been through the justice system.
“If they have someone to teach them, and open their eyes to the world, it makes a big difference,” Mr Fenech said.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies shows a significant number of young people in the justice system are also child protection clients.
This means these vulnerable children are 12 times more likely to engage in criminal activity.
Mr Fenech explains how helping their employees uncover their strengths impacts positively on young people.
“We make dads better dads; we make mums better mums; we reunite parents with their children… kids who have given up hope on their parents and vice versa,” he says.
He explains that when young people see their mum or dad turn their life around in such a big way, they know they can too.
Fruit2Work hope to prevent these children from getting caught up in the justice system.
“The ripple effect through families is huge, and we see it every day,” Mr Fenech says.
While Fruit2Work provide the opportunity, it is the individual who does the hard work to shun the label society gives them.
“We help them to build themselves up, and then we let them fly,” Mr Fenech explains.
He adds that sadly, many are seen by employers as being in the ‘too hard basket’ so often they aren’t given a chance.
“In reality, they’re just humans like us, who’ve made some bad decisions… it doesn’t mean they need to be written off for life.”
“We can’t change the world, but we can change the world for one person”
Rob Brown, CEO
Mr Brown explains many of their employees have never had a job before, and sometimes, neither have their parents.
Often their behaviour is intergenerational and their mindset more difficult to shake.
“We’re effectively mentoring and training them from scratch, and that takes patience,” Mr Brown said.
When asked what aspirations there are for the future of Fruit2Work, the answer was quite simple.
“We want this positive ripple effect to continue, but for this to happen, we need more workplaces ordering our products,” Mr Fenech explains.
“Only then, can we create more chances for people to turn their lives around.”
Christie Welsh is currently completing her Bachelor of Social Work at Deakin University. She is a writer and has extensive experience in early childhood education, as well as a family of her own. Christie is passionate about mental health, social justice and human rights, and has a growing interest in social policy and politics. She has a deep respect for peoples’ lived experiences and strives to empower others whenever she can.