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Dr Hennessey Hayes is Living his Dream and Making a Difference!


Dr Hennessey Hayes is a well-respected, published academic who works in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University, in Brisbane. He specialises in restorative justice, an approach where all parties to a crime, committed by a young offender, come together to resolve and heal. Students and peers admire his work and he’s managing his rainbow, living his dream immersed in a subject he’s absolutely passionate about.

Hennessey is a man who is confident and clear of his direction, but that’s not always been the case. So, join me as I share his inspirational story from shop assistant to renowned Criminologist, as part of my series; ‘Stories from the pot of gold!’

Hennessey was born and schooled in Louisiana, US.  He said; “The way movies depict ‘small town’ American high schools, is not far from reality. It was very clicky, I didn’t fit in and I absolutely hated it!” His attitude to school was reflected in a poor academic performance, he added “I always scrapped by in exams, one teacher even told me I wouldn’t amount to much”.

In fact, his performance was so poor he graduated from high school with results that placed him 429th out of 430 students. Deep down he wasn’t surprised, it fuelled a lack of confidence and self-belief, and he left school uninspired with no idea what he wanted to do. His Dad was an air-conditioning engineer and wanted Hennessey to follow him in to the trade with his brother and uncles. But it was a job Hennessey had no interest in, instead, he got employment at a local pharmacist doing general shop work; stocking shelves, cleaning toilets and mopping floors.


It’s there he met pharmacists, Gary and Connie! They became good friends and were the first to help shape Hennessey’s future. They encouraged him to consider university, something no one in his family had ever done. He said; “Although, I still had no idea what I wanted to do, I knew I didn’t want to be a shop assistant all my life”.

So, Hennessey enrolled at South Eastern Louisiana public University, while still working part-time at the pharmacy. He managed to pass the entry test, but his poor school grades meant he had to take basic math and English. He said; “It felt like I was back in high school again, so I did the first year and then transferred to the University of New Orleans, enrolling in a 4-year degree, taking an extra year to finish”.

This was a challenging university and Hennessey was nearly kicked out due to average results. He said; “I was on the brink of being excluded and needed a ‘C’ in one course. It hit me that this is serious! If I don’t pass, I will be faced with working in retail”. He added; “I so wanted to graduate and have a career like my friends! I wanted it so bad!”


The fear of failure spurred Hennessey on and he focused on teaching himself new skills to get ahead. Writing was his biggest challenge, so he read lots of books, sitting with an open Thesaurus constantly beside him to help improve his vocabulary.

This renewed enthusiasm for his studies paid off and he passed the course. He then took chemistry, taught by a lecturer who gave Hennessey so much encouragement, he ended up acing the course. This built his confidence and he was able to declare a major in Psychology, minoring in Sociology. He said; “For the first time, I thought I can actually do this!”

Hennessey met professors from both departments who he really admired and respected. These academics inspired him to be a Psychologist, but to be eligible he needed a PhD. This motivated him to pull this GPA (grade point average) from under 2 to 3.35, and he was eligible for Grad school. There he did excellent courses on motivation and organizational psychology, but it was sociology that he really enjoyed.HennesseyHayes(1)-2.png

Hennessey had two stand out professors, one being Jack Spencer. Hennessey said; “Jack had one of the biggest impacts on my professional direction, he inspired me to work in sociology, and go for an academic career. It was after taking his course that I wanted to really understand what makes kids get off track, so I decided to do a masters in sociology.” He continued; “I decided I needed to take control and be totally focused, so I quit the pharmacy job and got a loan”.

This strategy paid off when he achieved straight A’s in the 2-year degree. Next, Hennessey enrolled in Tulane, a private research university in New Orleans, where he studied a PhD in sociology. He said; “At high school, I could never have imagined going to what is called the Harvard of the south”.

It’s around this time he married an Australian, living in the US, and his daughter, Olivia was born. He got work at the local jail as a research analyst and policy person, and did this job for two and a half years before applying for a job at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. He said; “A role came up that looked like it was written for me. They were just starting the department, building their staff and it ticked all the boxes, so I applied and got the job”. HennesseyHayes(4).png

Griffith has grown to be a world authority in Criminology and in his time with the university, he has moved up the ranks from Lecturer, to Senior Lecturer. It’s here that he became involved in Youth Justice conferencing, which piqued his interest in the story of justice, which he’s being doing ever since.

Hennessey now successfully co-hosts an annual restorative justice forum which brings academia, government and staff on the front line together. He said; “Restorative justice is about getting victims and young offenders together for an apology, rather than throwing them in to detention”. It’s an emotional process and Hennessey added; “Offenders are victims themselves with many experiencing child maltreatment and abuse. It shouldn’t surprise us when they retaliate, so it’s good to challenge people’s perspectives on punishment”.

Hennessey said; “What motivates me is the positive impact that I can have not only in teaching restorative practices, but also in researching and writing something that other people can read and implement”. He continued; “I want to inspire and empower people, leading by example! I’m lucky that every day is different, every class I teach is different, it’s satisfying knowing it has influenced people’s professional pathways”.

Hennessey with Bob Gee (Director-General Dept. of Youth Justice) at the 5th Annual Queensland Youth Justice Forum in 2019 and Hennessey with the 2015 Criminology Student Society (CSS) Ball with the outgoing Executive Committee

Hennessey with Bob Gee (Director-General Dept. of Youth Justice) at the 5th Annual Queensland Youth Justice Forum in 2019 and Hennessey with the 2015 Criminology Student Society (CSS) Ball with the outgoing Executive Committee

At a recent dinner, a former student went up to Hennessey and said, she’d really struggled with math in high school and he gave one lecture on standard deviation (around sets of values), and she got it. He said; “I helped her overcome the hurdle of self-doubt she had about the numbers, influencing her direction to do a dual degree in psychology and a PhD.”

Hennessey ‘s story shows the positive influence he’s received throughout his life. He added; “I’m also inspired by renowned Australian criminologist, John Braithwaite. He wrote the ground breaking book; ‘Crime, Shame and Reintegration’, which helped shape restorative justice. I was fortunate to meet him while doing my PhD”. He also finds continued inspiration from his students and colleagues who constantly challenge him to do better with his writing.

I asked Hennessey if he feared anything, he said; “Fear of failure pushed me to achieve at university, but that’s been replaced with a fear my work goes unrecognised, not having impact”. This is what motivates him to produce inspirational work that is cited by others in their publications. Google Scholar

Hennessey’s other passion is airport lounges, planes and flyingHennessey’s other passion is airport lounges, planes and flying

Hennessey’s story is a positive example to us all! He was lost with an uncertain future ahead of him, but he changed that the moment he dared to dream, he set a goal and worked towards it one step at a time. His success reflects the determination and drive he has to make positive change in the world and he may not have always been clear exactly where he would end up, but WOW, what a journey so far, with even more still to come.

Hennessey loves airport lounges, planes and flying, so the pot of gold at the end of his rainbow is abundant with dreams of travel and adventure. Professionally, he has a huge dream of being recognised as an Associate Professor and then Professor. His drive is not for the title, but because he will have more freedom and influence externally in a field where he is the only expert in Queensland. He said; “The selection process includes a heavy amount of self-promotion, which I find difficult, but I have support of colleagues and deep down I believe I’ve earned the recognition.” HennesseyHayes(2).png

I couldn’t agree more Hennessey! The photo that accompanies his story is from the December 2016 restorative justice class graduation. It’s significant for Hennessey as the two young men (Alistair and Serge), took his class as an elective subject. They believed it to be airy, fairy and really easy, when in fact, it was far harder than they realised.  The research challenged their perception of punishment, with both young men going on to start successful police careers.

The photo is a proud reminder for Hennessey of the positive impact he can have on a subject matter he is passionate about. Hennessey is managing his rainbow, but it’s very easy to look at someone else’s success and think how confident and self-assured they must have been to get to where they are. Truth is, the most outwardly confident and successful of us can still experience fear, self-doubt and lack direction. So, look to Hennessey’s inspiring story to see how you can find your self-belief and start working steadily towards achieving your dreams.

Please share Hennessey’s story, it may just inspire someone else you know and if you’d like to share your own story of success, then I’d love to hear from you by email – or via my Contact Page

I’m Allan Bennett! I’m managing my rainbow and I would love to help you manage yours. So, connect with me today for a FREE Discovery Chat, and take a step closer to the pot at the end of your rainbow.



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