The Ngara Nura residential drug and alcohol program is a 12-week pre-release therapeutic community course based at Sydney’s long bay correctional complex. Aboriginal mentor and Yuan man, Matt completed the program and spoke to jailbreak about how the course has changed his thinking and outlook on life. In his early days, matt used to love the tussle on the footy field. These days, the battle is for self-awareness. He says he’s now learnt to appreciate the little things.
A lot of us in jail put on this massive façade about who we are and what we’d like people to think we are. The moment you chip away at that and replace it with your own identity, your own thoughts and beliefs, then that’ll be there for the rest of your life. With self-acceptance, the world might be a better place with a lot less of our people in prison.
Turning things around
All the mayhem and chaos and violence that ensued from my old lifestyle, drinking and drugging, got me not to feel and not to think. I had a circle of people around me who were all focused on what I was focused on, getting as much drugs, getting as much booze as I could, no matter what the cost.
Now, through understanding myself, as soon as those little thoughts and those little patterns start to creep back into my life, I’m aware. I’m aware of that whole alpha male thing, that dominance through fear, through anger, through violence, and I can’t be doing that any more. It’s landed me in so much trouble.
Learning at Ngara Nura
Ngara Nura teaches you to appreciate and be aware. That’s where the real work starts – being aware and mindful of what’s around you and what’s going on inside you. Just being able to go down to the beach, being able to go for a surf, to
feel the salt water envelop your body again, you know, to feel all those things. If at the end of the week I don’t have enough money to go down to the pictures or have enough money to put a full tank of juice in the car, don’t worry about that, just appreciate the fact I‘ll be in my own bed, I’ll be able to go to my own fridge, open it up and get a feed. I‘ll be able to ring up my family any time and just talk to them!’
Accepting yourself and others
There’s just one word but it has a huge impact and it’s called ‘acceptance’. The moment you can accept something, it means you’ve come to terms with it. Don’t wallow in things. There’s also a saying in the fellowship, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. When you’ve talked about something (to someone), you can see what it is, you can see it’s just a little storm in a teacup. I think if everyone learnt acceptance there might be a lot less of our people in prison. That’s pretty much what this place (Ngara Nura) is about. After a while you see a transformation in people. They actually start to have a go, be a little open minded, see life as something other than going out, getting stoned and getting drunk. That’s just survival, it’s not living.
On sharing problems with other people
I’ve always had strong opinions and never been afraid to share them. These days, I’ve developed more appropriate ways of sharing them. To respect other people’s opinions, even if you don’t agree with them – that’s what I’ve learnt from the group situation. I know it’s clichéd but the only way to know where you’re going is to see where you’ve been. See your mistakes and see your faults. I didn’t use the wealth of knowledge around me as a boy, I chose to ignore it. I gravitated towards people who were as mad as I was. I’m aware of how I tick now. I’m aware of my dangers and what my strengths are. I’m too well aware of what my weaknesses are and they are drugs and alcohol – and I know I cannot use them.
Aspirations in life
My Dad’s a Yuin Elder. Our totem’s the black duck. My family is all the way from the South Coast, from Wollongong down to Bermagui. The love and respect for family is a tangible thing, that’s real. It doesn’t get any more real than that. He’s an inspiration, my Dad. Grew up with nothing, in a little tin shack, dirt wall to wall, finished his apprenticeship. He was a champion athlete as a kid. He boxed most of his life and had to fight in many ways, he had to fight socially, he had to fight financially and he’s come through all that. Now my dad’s financially secure, he’s healthy, he’s happy, he’s got the respect of the whole community and he’s got the love of his family. That’s the sort of thing I aspire to in life.