My oldest son was totally unprepared for his upcoming weeks of compulsory work experience. We had hooked up one week with a mechanic at Toyota, but he hadn’t shown a whole lot of gumption in arranging his second week of experience. So I suggested he spend the second week with me at Gatehouse. He flatly refused at first. But then, as the idea began to take form, and the empty week began to loom, he agreed.
He couldn’t eat breakfast on his first day. He was dreadfully nervous. And I guess I should have been a little more understanding as it is not a typical day for a school kid, to be hanging out in the heart of Melbourne’s Red Light district, with a bunch of women who work, and sometimes even sleep rough, there. However, I reminded my son that he has always visited prisons and helped support ex-offenders in the community, and that our women are pretty much the same, many of them having been prisoners in the past.
I had to run my son through our volunteer training program, and this is when I realised the unique opportunity which had presented itself to instill and reinforce in my son a respect for all women – a rare opportunity in this day of on-line pornography, continuing objectification of women, and extreme violence towards women which exists in our entrenched paternalistic society.
And then I took him across the road to the drop in centre. It was cosy on that cold June day. Food on the tables. Big inviting couches and smiling faces. Babies. Laughter. I saw my son begin to relate and relax. Gatehouse was working its unique magic on him.
He had a wonderful week. He encountered many people who warmly welcomed him. But, best of all, was the feedback I received from my son and from the clients. On his last day, as we walked away to our car, he said, “There really are so many good people in the world, aren’t there, mum?” Then yesterday, one of our women approached me and said, “You have done such a great job with your son. He was so polite and respectful. I wouldn’t expect that from a teen-aged boy. And…” she added with a cheeky smile, “…he’s very good looking.”