Tenielle Booth is on a journey – she’s not sure where it’s taking her, how many twists and turns she may encounter along the way, or how long it might last, but she’s prepared to ride it out to the end of the line. This gutsy young woman shares her thoughts on being thrust into dealing with the justice system, and how she hopes to turn her family’s personal tragedy into a positive outcome for thousands of others.

Picture a girl, five years old, riding the bus to school with her nine-year-old brother – a brother she adores. Picture that brother being bullied on the school bus and this wee girl trying to intervene.  Move into the playground, and picture more of the same, year after year.

Tenielle and her brother Brayden grew up in an average kiwi family, loved, educated, encouraged, but from a very early age, mum Bronnie knew that Brayden had issues. At age seven a paediatrician diagnosed him with ADHD, General Anxiety Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. “A lot of letters,” Bronnie says, “but not a lot of practical help.”

Over the years, Brayden slipped through the cracks of the mental health system and the education system. Eventually withdrawn from school for his own safety, he had a fulltime job for a while, but was drawn into the world of drugs and alcohol, and in 2017 was arrested and charged with murder. “My worst nightmare,” Bronnie says.

Now eighteen years old, many of Tenielle’s early memories of her brother are about trying to protect him, but equally about him protecting her. “He was my big brother and we were best friends – we were very, very close. Everything that hurt him hurt me and vice versa. We were always there for each other.”

Skip forward to Christmas 2018, Tenielle’s brother is serving 12.5 years minimum non parole. Her grandmother gives each grandchild $30 to do something to benefit others, challenging Tenielle to do something ‘outside the square.’  She immediately determined to turn that money into $1,000. She also knew who she most wanted to help – the children of prisoners – something that would help to keep them connected to their parent. 

“But you’re not the child of a prisoner,” I point out. “I know first-hand that having a family member incarcerated sucks. The children (and family) of prisoners serve that sentence too and they don’t deserve that,” Tenielle says. “Their peers know, everyone around them knows. If I’m an adult and I don’t understand, I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids. I look at them, and I just want to wrap them up and put things right.”

Tenielle ran meat raffles and, with Bronnie’s help, made and sold cheese rolls, and by July this year she had achieved her $1,000 goal.  

In the meantime, Bronnie had started a Facebook page called “Supporting and Educating Families of Prisoners” providing information and communication to help families navigate the system.

Through the Facebook page they learned of a children’s book, ‘Stardust,’ written by NZ author, Ivana Mlinac who, during her criminology degree, had studied the impact that having a parent in prison has on children. Bronnie and Tenielle contacted her and asked if they could buy 50 books (RRP $20) to donate to local primary schools, pre-schools, libraries with some additional copies to be gifted to local children with a parent in prison. 90 books arrived, 20 of them personally signed by the author.

Tenielle recently attended the Mid Canterbury Primary Principal’s Association meeting to speak about her efforts and she presented each principal with a copy of the book for their libraries. She is now focussing on individuals and pre-schools, and will continue to spread the word of acceptance, hope and education around children and siblings of prisoners and how they serve their own silent sentence.

“I am beyond proud of Tenielle,” Bronnie says. When we found ourselves in the darkest place we could have imagined, she has risen to shine with our family values of doing our best for others.

She is simply outstanding in her efforts to walk with her head held high and make sure that the message of hope, acceptance, education and support gets out to as many people as possible.

Our family sees her as an unsung hero every day for her strength and passion!”

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.