I like to try to use my position in the media to help small pockets of what I call “forgotten people.” Those who, for some reason, the wolves have pulled down in life. I am blessed with a healthy family and a good job so I like to try to use that as a reason to reach out to those who need a hand. Six months ago, I drove past Yatala Labour Prison and wondered what everyone was doing on the other side of the fence. I wondered how many prisoners have kids on the outside. That must be very tough. Each day these kids go without their mum or dad and have to deal with the fact their parent is doing a long-term gaol sentence. What toll does that take on a kid? How do they even process that?
I found myself thinking about them a lot and wanted to do something to help. I teamed up with a mob called Second Chances and found 20 South Australian kids whose parents are serving long-term sentences. We organised a weekend away at Woodhouse Activity Centre which Woodhouse kindly donated.
As I drove in the driveway to meet the youngsters my mind raced as to what I had got myself into. I mean what sort of kids would they be? I’m embarrassed to say that I assumed they’d be rough, rude, hardened kids. I was very wrong.
I spoke to two sisters in their early teens whose mum is in prison. “We’ve always just had each other and so we look after one another. Yes, life can be tough for us but there are people out there who have it a lot worse than we do,” one said. They spoke like they were 25-year-olds. A lad of about 14 had just helped an eight-year-old across one of the adventure activities. I asked him if I could have a chat about his home life. “My Dad is in gaol and my cousin is in gaol. I wake up every day working out what I need to do to make sure I don’t end up like that,” he said.
“I do not want to go to prison. It would be very easy to fall into the trap of doing the wrong thing so I need to focus hard on being good. I don’t want to end up like them.” I could have hugged him. What an amazing child. As taxpayers, whatever we have to pay for that kid to succeed is worth it.
Woodhouse ran skill sessions for the kids on how to survive in the bush. As our group learned to light a campfire I chatted to a 10-year-old girl. She told me she’d only seen her father a few times in gaol and she missed him every day. He’d been away for a long time and wasn’t coming home soon. We were filming for a segment for South Aussie with Cosi and I said, “You might not get to see your dad much but he could be watching this TV show. What would you like to say?’ She looked straight down the lens of the camera and said, “Daddy I love you and I miss you, please do whatever you can to come home soon.” I fought back tears and so did the camera crew. She raced back to the campfire to join in the fun.
Never underestimate how lucky you were to have a good, simple childhood and always take time to think of those who might not be as lucky as you are. These kids reminded me to look closely at the things I whinge about in my life.
Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello is the host of travel show South Aussie With Cosi on Channel 9, Sunday nights at 5:30pm.
What inspirational stories have you heard through volunteering? Let us know in the comments, below.