The fight to get back on track
3 August 2020 at 8:23 am
Simon Fenech didn’t have many options for work after a 12-month prison stint. But when an opportunity arose with the social enterprise Fruit2Work, he was able to turn his life around, and help others in the process. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
Following a horrific workplace accident, Fenech’ life spun out of control.
He became addicted to ice, and ended up in jail for 12 months. Post-prison life wasn’t easy either, and finding stable work was near impossible, until he picked up a flyer for Fruit2Work.
At the time, the social enterprise Fruit2Work was only small. Delivering personalised fruit and milk to workplaces, the organisation employs ex-offenders, like Fenech, giving them economic and social support and stability to get their lives back on track.
Fast forward a few years and Fenech has made his way to operations manager of the organisation, where he not only looks after the day-to-day running of the social business, but helps mentor and guide new employees back on their feet, using his lived experience as a guide.
In this week’s Changemaker, he discusses the importance of never giving up, the mark he’s trying to leave on the world, and the best bits of his job.
How did you get involved in Fruit2Work?
I had come out of the justice system, and I was finding it impossible to get a job. I was at the end of my tether and was really struggling. One day when I went into Anglicare for food parcels, I picked up a flyer from this little social enterprise, Fruit2Work, advertising work for people with an offending history. So I applied for the job and I was successful.
The beauty of Fruit2Work is that it offers transitional employment, with the idea being to keep guys and girls around for six months, giving them the skills that they need and the confidence that they need to get them into full time employment. I started out working two days a week there, which helped me fulfil my corrections order of doing a mental health program and a drug and alcohol program. Instead of just relying on Centrelink I was able to work and feel like I had a purpose in life.
What kind of impact do you want to have while working with Fruit2Work?
I’m now the operations manager at Fruit2Work, but it’s not just that. I’m a mentor to the guys and girls that come through, because I have been where they are. I understand what they’re going through, and we can relate to each other. There’s really a shared understanding between all of us, and if somebody falls, somebody else picks them up. It’s a natural mentoring process.
We’ve been 100 per cent successful in the past three and a half years, where not one person has gone back to prison. It’s amazing when you consider the rate of recidivism is 47 per cent in the first two years.
What do you like most about your job?
I just love watching the transition, it’s like watching a baby walk for the first time. You see somebody come in from prison without a penny to their name, and all of a sudden they come home in a uniform, they’re earning pay packets, and slowly, slowly, you see them move out of government accommodation into their own private rental. You see them get their children back in their life, you see their confidence build, and you see them start to stand up straight. That’s what I love the most about my job.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Not to give up and to just take one day at a time.
How would your life be different if you weren’t working at Fruit2Work?
I was getting desperate before I got this opportunity. I was hungry and really low on life, and I almost definitely would have gone back to my old life if it hadn’t been for this opportunity. So it’s highly likely I could have been back in jail or possibly dead.
If you’d like to hear more about Fenech’ struggle and the road to recovery, check out his new memoir, Breaking Good.