Acknowledging the importance of respectful connection, VACRO’s Aboriginal Engagement Worker, Peter Moncrieff, the man described as a quiet achiever, says, “If you can’t build rapport and trust, you’re just not going to be able to help.”

Originally from Western Australia, Peter, a Yamatji man, first learned of VACRO three years ago when VACRO were recruiting staff in Victoria’s regional city of Wangaratta. Since then, Peter has been part of the Time to Work Employment Support (TWES) program, helping Aboriginal men to build meaningful pathways out of prison.

Working with people at Dhurringile and Beechworth prisons, Peter connects with participants in the lead up to their release. Depending on the individual, Peter may work with them for a few months before being released, or for a few weeks. “I just enjoy helping the fellas, to help set them up for their release so they can stay on track,” Peter says.

Peter’s highlight for the year was being able to go back into prisons after experiencing COVID-19 related lockdowns. After meeting with participants online for the better part of the year, he said that nothing compares to being able to connect face-to-face. “When you can have a chat with them in person, you gain their confidence and they open up,” Peter says. “In our first meeting, we just talk, they ask a lot of questions, including questions about me.”

For those participants who don’t have much in the way of support waiting for them, Peter is a source of calm reassurance as they prepare to leave prison. “When people are about to be released, they’re scared.” Although Peter’s contact with participants ends when they exit prison, he often refers men to the ReLink and ReConnect programs for support in finding employment and especially housing. “Not having housing is a big problem. If a person coming out of prison can’t get into something, they can end up on the street and go back to prison. It’s a vicious circle.”

Upon meeting Peter, his sense of humour is immediately apparent, and you can tell he has a heart of gold. Interestingly, in his down time, Peter can occasionally be found prospecting, yes, panning for gold. Perhaps some of it has found its way into his heart?