Nobody should be judged by their worst moment

 Richard Branson with Keenan Mundine at a Virgin Unite Necker Gathering
Poppy Lynch
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 14 October 2022

I have long believed that nobody should be judged by their worst moment – and criminal law systems around the world have a long way to go when it comes to delivering a fair justice system that offers a humane pathway towards redemption.

I had the pleasure of meeting Keenan Mundine at a Virgin Unite and Igniting Change gathering. My close friend Jane Tewson, the founder and director of Igniting Change, told me what an extraordinary person Keenan was. But it wasn’t until witnessing him share his story, and his hopes for First Nations people in Australia, that I grasped the how special his work is.

Jean Oelwang with Keenan Mundine hugging at a Virgin Unite Necker Gathering
Poppy Lynch

A proud First Nations man, Keenan had an incredibly rough start to life. After tragically losing his parents (to drugs and suicide) at a young age, he was separated from his siblings and placed in care. While not receiving support or counselling, Keenan slid into drug addiction, made a series of poor decisions, and found himself trapped in the revolving door of the criminal legal system.

One of the most upsetting things about Keenan’s story is that - for First Nations people in Australia – it is not rare. Indigenous people currently make up about 32% of the prison population, despite accounting for approximately 3% of the total population. Youth incarceration rates are also alarming - Indigenous children are imprisoned at 24 times the rate of non-indigenous children and make up 50% of the youth prison population.

When Keenan was released from prison, he worked incredibly hard to rebuild his life. But with no obvious pathways to employment and a criminal record hanging over his head, it was not easy.

Keenan Mundine speaking at a Virgin Unite Necker Gathering
Poppy Lynch

And yet there he stood before us, as the Deputy CEO and Co-Founder of Deadly Connections – an Aboriginal community-led organisation working to break cycles of systemic racism, disadvantage and trauma to address the involvement and over-representation of First Nations people, families and communities in the child protection and justice systems.

Keenan’s story is one of hope and he spoke passionately about the support he received from Jane and the Igniting Change team - attributing Deadly Connections, and the way it works, to the support he personally felt from that intervention. I encourage you to learn more about Deadly Connections and how they’re providing services to Indigenous people, families and communities who have been impacted by the terribly unjust systems.

Keenan Mundine hugging at a Virgin Unite Necker Gathering
Poppy Lynch

The unacceptable incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people also need attention. I am proud that Virgin Unite continue to support the incredible organisation, Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), who for years have fought to protect and promote human rights in Australia. The team from HRLC are inspiring, no matter where you are in the world, from Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander human rights to environmental & climate justice.

Finally, I recently joined the JUSTICE podcast with prison philanthropist Edwina Grosvenor. We discussed fair criminal record checks and the new Fair Checks campaign, which calls for a fresh start to the UK’s outdated criminal records system.

I strongly believe in offering employment opportunities for those with a criminal record and encourage all businesses who can to get behind the campaign.