Just mindfully manning the jail barbecue
JAILS are commonly seen as contentious places dealing with negative aspects of society but at Saturday's open day at the historic Grafton Correction Facility, that stereotype was nowhere in sight as far as John Shearer was concerned.
Mr Shearer, a psychotherapist and Mindfulness Master and Life Coach among other qualifications, was representing the organisation he founded MindfullyMAD (Making A Difference).
And when the opportunity arose to be part of the community consultative committee at the jail he jumped at the chance to get involved.
"It was the jail's 125th anniversary so we decided to celebrate that and have a fete and open it to the public."
A former member of the Aboriginal Men's Group, Mr Shearer said initially the group were going to run the fundraising barbecue on the day but in the lead up the event some internal disagreement saw the duty taken on by Mr Shearer and his Mindfulness group which now has more than 670,000 followers on Facebook.
He said although prisons had some historical reputation problems, it was important to move forward and support the day and be part of the changing face of our correctional programs.
"You have to be involved in order to help people. I started my group three years ago and though this was the ideal opportunity to get cracking and so we did the barbecue as a the mental health initiative."
Mr Shearer said his group which is based in Grafton but has connection across the country and the world, helps people with addiction and mental disorders and the opportunity to reach out on a local level was a brilliant opportunity.
"There were six of us running the barbecue. We must have sold nearly 500 sausage sandwiches. It was a great fundraising day for our first day in the public arena."
"We got heaps of on the spot feedback and inquiries about mental health. The day was brilliant and a great move by the correctional people. Great exercise in PR especially with the new jail being built."
Mr Shearer said it was important to work closely with correctional services in order to help the people who might find themselves inside the system.
"I spent some time in jail myself as a teenager. They were not good places back then. People did get bashed but it is totally different today. It's a different environment and there are all sorts of teams helping in there.
"I've been asked to go in and do mindfulness programs in there. This movement is exploding world-wide. It's almost like a new religion learning to maintain peace of mind. When you feel like your mind is going elsewhere or negative thoughts are overwhelming the practice of mindfulness can really help."
Mr Shearer said despite the rocky lead-up to the barbecue his chance to launch his group on a local level at the open day "was meant to happen."
"People are putting their hand up all around the country to get involved with the group. We are coming up to World Mental Health day on October 10, the Aboriginal Men's Group will be doing the barbecue there and the Our Healthy Clarence has a lot of things planned for the month. I'm part of that steering committee too. The message about looking after our community's mental health is definitely getting out there and everyone can play a part in that."