Wed. May 29th, 2024

How Lawrence Bounced Back from Rock Bottom, While Others Still Struggle – Here’s the Lowdown

Jamie Roberts By Jamie Roberts May28,2024
Inside a small warehouse, Lawrence is busy checking the day’s deliveries of fresh food including fruit, milk and pantry items.
Filling orders from 1,400 customers across Melbourne keeps his team busy, and there’s a sense of gratitude on the warehouse floor. That’s because the workers, including Lawrence, are ex-prisoners.
“I love my job, yeah. And for the first time in a long time, I’m actually happy again,” says Lawrence, 45.

“And I am proud of being a part of a company that gives people a second chance.”

A man in a hi viz vest sitting in the cabin of a forklift at a warehouse.

Lawrence drives at forklift at the fruit2work warehouse. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Lawrence is now a warehouse manager, and one of 130 ex-prisoners so far employed by fruit2work, a social enterprise and registered charity helps transition ex-offenders back into the community.

A son of migrants from Malta, Lawrence grew up in Sunshine 13 kilometres west of Melbourne and says he developed an addiction in his late 30s.
“The worst part of addiction for me was having no income and trying to find an income to support my addiction led to me thieving. It was just simple as that,” he says.
Several stints in prison followed until finally, he says the addiction cost him his marriage and his self-respect.
“Towards the end I chose to be homeless. I lived in my car, I lived on couches. It was a pretty dark time in my life, a very dark place.” he says.

“It wasn’t a good feeling. I don’t want to experience that again to be honest.”

A man in a hi viz vest holding apples and standing in front of  box of pears.

Lawrence packing fruit for deliveries across Melbourne. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

After being released most recently in 2021, like many ex-offenders, Lawrence faced numerous barriers re-entering society.

“When I got out I started looking for work as a forklift driver or a delivery driver. I just wanted a job. And I put out a few resumes and I made phone calls and I never heard back,” he says.
It’s a common problem and a factor in Australia’s high rate of re-offending. Nationwide, 42 per cent of all adults released from prison are back inside within two years.
“This recidivism rate in Australia is one of the highest in the developed world,” says Rob Brown, owner and chief chance creator at fruit2work.

Yet he says fruit2work employees have a zero recidivism rate.

A man in a black vest stands in font of a cardboard box in a warehouse.

Rob Brown is ‘chief chance creator’ at Fruit2Work. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“We’ve worked hard at creating an organisation that doesn’t judge people. There’s no stigma, and we treat each other with respect,” says Brown.

To mentor and train newly released workers, Brown says fruit2work utilises lived experience, including his own.
“I’m from Glasgow I had my own challenges when I was younger. Then somebody gave me a chance, and I was lucky enough to effectively end up running businesses all over the world.

“I would not have done that, had somebody not given me a chance. Because the reality is I’d either still be in jail or I’d be dead.”

After buying the social enterprise in 2016, Brown says it aims to turn over around $8 million this year and is growing quickly, with several warehouses in Melbourne and a new branch in Brisbane.
“I really hope it goes nationwide, because it’s an area that is lacking within the system,” says Victorian operations manager Rick Young who has spent 10 of the past 13 years in prison.
Young says he struggled with addiction for most of his life, but remains clean after four-and-a half years. A job at fruit2work is a big part of that.

“What it does is to give people hope that if you really want to have a go, there is a place where you can come and get a job. And I think that is needed all over the country.”

A man in a black t-shirt standing next to a box of pears in a warehouse.

fruit2work Victoria operations manager Rick Young. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Fruit2work is one of 600 certified social enterprises across Australia. These ‘for-profit’ businesses tackle social problems and their number is growing rapidly, with turnover predicted to reach $5.5 billion by 2030.

Social Traders helps businesses like this lock in contracts, and grow their revenue. CEO Tara Anderson praised fruit2work as a great success story.

“They have built the people that they’re supporting into the delivery of their model. So, the number of people that are no longer offending by working with fruit2work, proves that a social problem can be solved” says Anderson.

A man in a hi viz vest looking over his shoulder while sitting on a forklift at a warehouse.

Lawrence says fruit2work has turned his life around. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“And it is an example of social enterprise success: starting small, growing interstate, growing every year and wanting to do more and more.”

For Lawrence, fruit2work is about much more than a job. It’s a doorway to a better life.
“I am really grateful for the opportunity, and the position I am in. You never know, I might go further in this company than warehouse manager,” he says.

“And my personal goal moving forward is maybe to one day buy a house.”

Jamie Roberts

By Jamie Roberts

Jamie is an award-winning investigative journalist with a focus on uncovering corruption and advocating for social justice. With over a decade of experience in the field, Jamie's work has been instrumental in bringing about positive change in various communities.

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2 thoughts on “How Lawrence Bounced Back from Rock Bottom, While Others Still Struggle – Here’s the Lowdown”
  1. I truly admire Lawrence’s resilience and determination to turn his life around. It takes immense strength to overcome such hurdles and find happiness again. His story is a testament to the power of second chances and the importance of supporting ex-offenders in transitioning back into society.

  2. Lawrence’s story is truly inspiring. It’s heartwarming to see someone who has faced such adversity find success and happiness again. It’s a reminder that everyone deserves a second chance and the opportunity to rebuild their lives. I hope Lawrence’s story motivates others to never give up hope.

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