Trouble, then more trouble: Len remembers
I was remanded in custody In Pentridge, awaiting trial for armed robbery.
I decided at that time that my best option was to escape.
I deliberately smashed my finger and was taken to the Royal Melbourne hospital.
I waited till I was treated and plaster was on my hand. We were walking out when I said to the officer “Hang on; I need to go to the toilet.” So off I went and walked out the other exit from the toilet. He didn’t know there were 2 entrances to the public toilets, but I did!
He was still waiting outside while I was picked up by somebody and was driven away.
It was an intense time as I was on the run. The bloke I was staying with knew a sailor that worked on a steam ship, and so I went aboard. On this ship, the crew rotated every 4 to 5 hours. There was always one spare bed and that was filled by me! Everyone on the ship just thought I was one of the crew.
We were about a mile off the coast of New Zealand when my sailor mate came up to me and said that the authorities were on their way to out to the ship to search for “stowaways” and drugs. Unless I was willing to go overboard, then I would be caught. So my mate gave me a life jacket and overboard I went.
It took me about an hour to get to the shore. When I finally touched dry land I laid there for an hour recovering.
Amazingly, at that moment a lady came along and said “Looks like you’re in trouble?”
I replied “Yeah I am, I lost my wallet and things in the water and I have nowhere to go.” She then said “Well I have a spare room at my place. Why don’t you stay there for a couple of weeks until you get on your feet?”
So I accepted her offer.
Her husband had died some 10 years prior and she hadn’t got rid of his clothes as yet so she offered them to me. It was a miracle!! Someone up above was looking after me!!
I had started work in New Zealand as a painter and was earning a good wage. I wanted to move on from New Zealand so I contacted a mate of mine who went and rented a room for me. What I didn’t know was that he had already told someone in Melbourne that he was helping me, so two months later I was arrested and extradited back to Melbourne.
My punishment for escaping was being placed in “H” division in Pentridge. I ended up doing 2 months concurrent for that escape.
My current sentence was eleven years for armed robbery. While I was still inside I met up with a mate who was into “stick ups.” He offered me "a quick job" when I got out and I agreed as I had no job or anywhere to go once I got out.
Unfortunately I was still thinking with the old crim’s mentality where you think you are smart and invincible. So we did the job and ended up having a shootout with the cops this time. Bullets were fired everywhere and I was shot in the collarbone; it was like a thud, which then started really throbbing about 30 minutes later. It was like being in a western but it was Melbourne.
Time for change
I ended up with a 14 year sentence with a minimum of 12 years to serve.
On the first day of my new prison sentence, I knew that I had to change.
During that time I started looking at myself and those around me.
I realized I had all these tough gangsters around me and they were all doing hard jail terms 18 years, 20 years, 22 years and I realised that this was my life gone.
I was only 32 when I first went to prison. All the gangsters say they don’t cry but they do when the doors are shut!
I didn’t want any visitors at that time. My Mother came to visit me often which I think is where I got my strong will from, but she died after I was released, but I was lucky to have managed to spend some time with her.
So I ended up doing 8 years after all because of my good behavior.
The people in charge around me had noticed the change in me, and I began leading by example.
At that time, a highly esteemed judge, Prof. The Hon. Alastair Nicholson had made a committment to ACSO as Chair of the new Council, and Patron. Fortunately for me, he was also the head of the Parole Board at that time and greatly assisted me in getting parole.
I made a determined decision to turn my life around mentally too. I no longer hung around those gangsters or became one of them. I was no longer a sheep. I decided I was going to go straight and I was never tempted after that.
Finding my way to MacCormack House
I was released from prison with 5 years parole to serve.
I knew Stan McCormack in jail. I also knew of him trying to put his criminal past behind him and was serious about setting up a place for prisoners when they are released. He used to talk about it a lot before his own release.
Stan offered me a job at ACSO and I stayed on for 20 years.
The one thing that I was able to do the whole time I was in prison is work. So I became a cook and worked 7 days a week. I had trained myself to get up and go to work. I was in a “disciplined” routine.
Why did McCormack House succeed?
McCormick House thrived they way it did mainly due to the life experience of the staff on board. It was the way we treated people. We treated everyone with dignity. We were all equals. A lot of prisoners are aware the moment they walk in a room whether they are liked or not. You get that from jail.
That’s when I would say to them “Hey, we're all equals here now. No one is the boss. I’m the same as you mate, I’m here to help."
What did I get out of working at McCormack House?
People often wondered what I got out of working for ACSO. I would always respond that I felt those prisoners pain as well as my own. I have all these wasted years, my youth, all my good times, all the nice women I could have been with! We are all human.
The main I thing I got out of my time working at McCormick House was that I saw the change in myself as I was helping other people.
I was committed to being a better person and was continuing to change while helping others.
I got a lot of satisfaction from working with somebody and seeing the changes in them.
If we all have the same attitude of “I don’t want to help somebody” then we need to realize that these are dangerous people and without help they would probably go on to kill or rob someone.
If you can change their lives around and get them to think about their actions, then that is half way to changing.
It was a job that I wanted to do and it was the opposite of what I had done before. I had made a commitment to myself to change and took responsibility for that. I was dedicated to the cause. I wanted to live a normal life…go to work, go home, work hard, save money, buy a house.
The process of change
Before you can change, you need to be ashamed of what you did and genuinely sorry. You need to take responsibility for your actions.
You can blame others for your bad childhood but when reality hits, you will be back to square one in the “merry go round” cycle of jail.
I had to be hard with all the “sob” stories I heard. Sometimes I would say things to people that they didn’t like to hear at that time. But the next day they would often come back and say “Hey, you were right about that. I was an asshole. Some of the things I did were wrong. ”
I would then say to prisoners “Well that’s what you have to take on board. You have hurt a lot of people in your life. You need to be sorry. If you’re not sorry then you are going to keep going back to jail and it shows your aren’t worried about the people in your life."
I would always give people something to think about!
You must have the will to change. You can’t be half a crook! You can’t sit on the fence. I had a bloke come down the stairs one night with a balaclava and gloves on. I said to him “Where the bloody hell are you going?’ He said “It’s a cold night!” I yelled to him: ”Get that balaclava off, get the gloves off and get back to your room and I don’t want to see you for the rest of the night!” The next day the guy come and apologized to me. I asked him what he was planning to do? He said “I was going to go and hit someone and rob them!” I managed to talk him out of it and he changed his ways after that.
Our many residents
I remember one guy who was really dangerous and mentally unstable. He used to watch tv and go out and stab people, because the tv would tell him to do it. He had been in jail at least 4 times for stabbing people.
He came to me one night and said “Mr Lenny, The TV told me I have to stab someone!” I said to him “Did it mention my name?” With that, this guy smiled and I took him to Royal Park psychiatric hospital where they managed to put him on the right medication and cured him.
I used to use jokes and humour in the way I dealt with a lot people. I found it was a common ground and that people could relate to. It also diffused a lot of potentionally nasty situations.
This guy has been in one of the boarding houses for 16 years now and he succeeded all because he got the right help.
I feel that ACSO has given me the chance to get my life back, and in turn I have helped get back many other peoples lives.