By Sian Watkins

    In June 2022, 10 percent of Victoria’s adult male prison population were aged between 18 and 24. Just over half (52 per cent) return to prison within two years of being released. 

    But for the young men who end up in Ravenhall Correctional Centre and commit to the six-week YMCA ReBuild program – learning work, life and woodworking skills – and a post-release transition program less than 5% end up returning to prison. 

    The YMCA was founded in England in 1844 by George Williams, a 23-year-old draper who was concerned about the spiritual quality of young men’s lives amid rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. Australia’s first YMCA branch opened in Adelaide in 1851; Melbourne’s first branch opened in 1853. 

    YMCA is still doing what Williams wanted his organisation to do – help young people connect with others and live better, albeit through secular means. At the privately run Ravenhall, the YMCA – also known as the Y – delivers sport and recreation programs, work readiness and life-skills education, and trades training (including woodworking) to offenders aged 28 and younger. For those who complete the ReBuild program, a job awaits them after they are released, as well as support and mentoring from ReBuild staff. 

    Majok Aneet is one of the more than 350 young, former Ravenhall inmates who have been employed by ReBuild since it was established in 2010. 

    Majok, who was born in South Sudan, spent several years in a Kenyan refugee camp with his aunt and an older brother before arriving in Toowoomba, Queensland, when he was about nine. Home was crowded and life rather chaotic. School was challenging, as it is for all children whose education is fragmented or non-existent. Having not attended school consistently and learning in a foreign language, how could he keep up with other children who had attended school since they were five and were learning in their own language? 

    As a child with excellent coordination Majok understandably focused on what he was good at. A rugby union scholarship to a local boarding school soon followed but, struggling to fit in and keep up, he was, in his own words, a ‘handful’. His brother sent him to live with an uncle in Laverton, in Melbourne’s west, when he was about 12. 

    Majok took himself down to the West Footscray Football Club and ended up spending three years with the Western Jets TAC squad in the AFL under-18 competition. His uncle likely had little idea of how good a boy has to be to play in this competition. At 18 Majok was sent to VFL club Werribee, but the pre-season squad was full of “really big guys” and he felt overwhelmed and out of his depth. 

    For the next few years he drifted. If home is a ‘place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household’, Majok certainly didn’t have such a place. He spent two years back in Toowoomba but returned to Melbourne in 2016. It wasn’t a good time. 

    He “got caught up in the wrong crowd”, which eventually led to a 285-day jail sentence imposed by the County Court in late 2018. He had faced the threat of deportation to South Sudan if sentenced for longer than 12 months but a slightly shorter term was imposed after YMCA ReBuild assured the court they would employ Majok on his release. 

    As to his reaction on finding himself in prison? “I wasn’t happy but there was also a bit of relief,” Majok says. “I had a place to stay. I didn’t feel so stressed. I could think.” But when he thought, he mainly worried about where he would live when released. “That’s what stressed me most,” he said.

    In Ravenhall, Majok was assigned a ReBuild case manager and support continued after his release. YMCA ReBuild’s manager, Damien Carmody, said that staff help people break all their “post-jail anxieties down into small steps”. There’s help with housing and mental health care and an opportunity to work with ReBuild.

    Two days after leaving prison Majok contacted his ReBuild case manager; two weeks later he started work on landscaping jobs at Roxborough Park shopping centre and the Harpley Estate near Werribee. He is now one of about 20 young men working on one of ReBuild’s major project crews. Some participants go on to become crew leaders, while some get jobs with the construction companies that ReBuild works for. 

    When the Rebuild program started in 2010, its crews provided garden maintenance services for YMCA properties as well as handyman services. Now it supplies construction and landscaping services to major, government-funded construction projects, such as the Frankston Hospital redevelopment and public housing projects. All have social procurement requirements, meaning that a certain value of work must be supplied by social enterprises. 

    Social enterprises must have a defined primary social, cultural or environmental purpose; derive a substantial portion of their income from trade; and deliver a public benefit that outweighs any private benefits accrued. 

    ReBuild’s profits are reinvested into helping young people find stability, support, good social connections and work after they leave prison. Which is not to say that finding those things is easy. “Since leaving prison it’s been a rollercoaster,” says Majok. “Sometimes I have been really sad. I have to work hard to be positive as I can be hard on myself. 

    “Sometimes I want a shortcut. Sometimes I want what other people have – it’s easy for them and why can’t I have that? But I have learned that I have to let go of the past. I have to focus and choose between different paths.”

    Twice a week after work and once on the weekend he travels from Braybrook to McKinnon to train and play for St Paul’s Football Club seniors’ Division One team in the Southern Football Netball League. 

    Majok is a “gun”, says Damien Carmody, “and not only on the footy field. Majok is kicking goals in lots of aspects of his life and he’s finding purpose.”

    Majok and his elder brother are now sending their mother $500 a month so she can build a small house in her village near the South Sudanese capital, Juba that they can stay in when they visit her. Majok hasn’t seen his mother since he was five years old. 

    For more information about YMCA Rebuild: 

    Products made in the Ravenhall workshop include toys, chopping boards and cape cod outdoor chairs, with all proceeds reinvested into the social enterprise. The items are available online at or at Rebuild’s office: 12/75A Ashley Street, Braybrook.

    Sian Watkins is an adviser with Dr Daniel Mulino. If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email


    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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