A prisoner peers through his cell door in Darcy 1 compound in D Block.
A prisoner peers through his cell door in Darcy 1 compound in D Block. Adam Taylor

What happens when prisoners are released in Australia?

EIGHTY dollars.

It was all the money Blake, 40, had to his name when he walked out of Silverwater Prison for the first time in years as a free man.

In his pocket was an Opal card with $10 credit.

A prison official had earlier issued it to him with instructions to make his own way home - despite not having one - or to arrange other accommodation.

"It's a big encouragement to them if they have someone to meet them at the gate when they're released," a NSW government handbook for ex-prisoners' families called 'Getting Out', reads.

"However, if you want to set limits about the support you can give your family member, meeting them at the gate may give the wrong message."

Starting from scratch is no easy feat. But within weeks of Blake's June release he was living for free in a one bedroom public housing apartment, with a new kitchen, just 200m from the beach in Sydney's exclusive eastern suburbs.

According to him, there is "not a housing crisis for everyone" when it comes to homelessness.

"I don't really know why I got a place straight away and others are sleeping rough," he said.

"But from my experience when you go to housing they put you up straight away in temporary hotel accommodation and keep extending it until public housing becomes available."

The apartment didn't cost Blake anything for the first six weeks but he now pays $64 per week on a two-year lease.

"It's awesome ... near Anzac Parade and Maroubra Junction, 200m from the beach, with a new kitchen freshly painted," Blake said.

"It's good for me because the unit block I live in is full of old people, not young d***heads."

NSW Department of Family and Community Services did not respond to questions from news.com.au.

Blake, who didn't want his last name published, spent almost two years behind bars after he was convicted in 2015 for high range drinking, not having a license and a second offence in five years.

He was first placed in maximum security - while still on remand - where he shared a cell with one other inmate until he was moved to the Darcy 1 block in minimum security.

NSW Corrective Service Emergency Response Team can be ready in 90 seconds and dispatched to an incident.
NSW Corrective Service Emergency Response Team can be ready in 90 seconds and dispatched to an incident. Adam Taylor

Darcy blocks 1 and 2 are where new and mentally unstable inmates are held under observation.

Blake described Silverwater Prison - which has also seen the likes of Roger Rogerson, Eddie Obeid, Sef Gonzalez and Robert Hughes walk the corridors - as "terrible".

Inside his cell was a television, shower, toilet and bunk beds for up to six prisoners.

"Your freedom is taken away," Blake said.

On arrival, new inmates or "freshies" are taken to the property room and placed in one of eight cubicles where they are stripped searched.

"They search you when you go in and they count all of your money and write it down, then itemise all your stuff - like your mobile phone and wallet - before they take it away from you," he said.

"Your clothes go into one of those plastic bags where a vacuum sucks the air out of them and you're handed your (prison) greens." A mugshot is then taken.

Blake told news.com.au that he couldn't wait to get out of prison for the duration of the time he was there. It was his first - and what he hopes was also his last - time in jail. His long-awaited release date finally came in the middle of this year.

"The (guards) come and get you, then you go in the processing room and they give you back everything you've bought, all personal belongings," he told news.com.au.

"Then you get the checklist from when you arrived to make sure the same things are there, like your Medicare card and key card."

According to Blake, who is originally from Windsor, NSW, the processing centre in Silverwater Prison is "massive".

"It's like walking into a shopping centre," he said.

"When you first go in, you see a welfare officer and doctor, but not when you're released.

"They just give you your bag, you get changed and they walk you out because obviously it's got a fence, but you're not handcuffed or anything."

As well as their personal possessions, prisoners are also given a $10 Opal card upon their release, and $630 is deposited into their personal bank accounts 48 hours later, according to Blake.

A spokeswoman for Corrective Services NSW told news.com.au she couldn't comment on individual cases but that all outgoing inmates are issued with a Release Certificate, which can be used to seek government housing or financial assistance. They are also provided with an ATM card containing funds from their prison account.

She said prisoners "can also be given up to $50 in cash upon release for immediate expenses".

"Where there is a demonstrated need, inmates are issued with an Opal card to the value of $10 or appropriate funds for transport purposes," she said.

According to the spokeswoman, offenders released to parole are required to sign their order - after being explained their conditions - and must reside at an approved residential address.

"Offenders are generally released during office hours to ensure the required checks and procedures can be carried out," she said.

Upon his release from prison, Blake caught a train to Martin Place, where he bumped into a friend in 'tent city', a controversial homeless camp that has since been dismantled.

"I was just walking around because I had no money and I didn't know what I was going to do," he said.

"Then I walked past someone homeless who I knew.

"We sat around and had a few drinks and Housing was there the next day and put me in a motel on Crown St, near Oxford St."

The NSW housing department put Blake up in the motel "which normally costs about $200 per night" until the Maroubra apartment he currently lives in became available about three weeks later.

He now divides his time between completing 500 hours of community service - which he had already started prior to his last offence which landed him in prison, visiting his parole officer once a fortnight and mingling with friends.

The former car parts salesman is required to carry out at least eight hours a week of community service which sees him walking the Hume Hwy and collecting rubbish.

"I've got 230 hours left to complete," he said.

Blake said he was off to a "good start" since being released from jail despite returning to the outside world with "no money, nothing".

"I had about $80 in my bank account when I got out," he said.

"I can't work until I finish community service and parole but now I'm on Centrelink where I get about $450 a fortnight and I live in an awesome place.

"I had the one job for 15.5 years before I went to jail and I'll go back eventually. I want to rebuild my life."

megan.palin@news.com.au

News Corp Australia

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