OPINION: When I’m asked what I love about working with the homeless and those without hope I reply – “we get to celebrate the beauty of the broken when they are put back
And so it is working with gangs.
Like the rest of society these people want to live a life with love and laughter and finding their own tūrangawaewae – their place to stand on this planet.
There is understandably a lot of focus on the front-page headlines of the harm gangs have caused to our communities.
As a columnist for more than two decades I bought into the collateral cannon fodder of carnage.
Then I started to dig deeper as to why and what could we do to turn the whero whanau waka (Mongrel Mob) in a direction that was firstly good for them, their whanau and for their communities of Hawke’s Bay and in the Bay of Plenty, where Te Tuinga first started in this space five years ago.
Te Tuinga is a Whanau Support Services Trust and is where I have just retired from. It has been the catalyst for change within the Gang Harm Reduction and Prison Reintegration space since Karl Goldsbury, a patched Mongrel Mob Member, walked out of Waikeria Prison a free man, walked into my office, and then walked back in to help others walk out the same way.
Not that long ago Karl and I – with Damion White from the Gang Harm Reduction team of NZ Police went to have a korero inside Mangaroa Prison with 86 Mongrel Mob members. The guards who greeted us politely at the unit gate said we would last about 10 minutes at best. Three hours later, after kai and korero and the gift of beautiful taonga carved and created by the inmates, we were greeted again by the same guards with a sense of disbelief.
The ripple effect of positive change is echoing up and down the prison population of Aotearoa.
Right now, we have the perfect storm of anxiety in Aotearoa. There is a meth pandemic where Tauranga is chewing through a kilo of meth a week, as are Hastings and Napier. We have been and still are part of a pandemic, and we have a poverty pandemic that has been around a lot longer than the other two by about three generations. Throw in a couple of cyclones and the anxiety levels are out the gate.
So, we need to look to other avenues of de-escalating anxiety and without saying how sweet our own kumara is.
What happened a couple of Saturdays ago at Maraenui Sports and Recreation grounds was groundbreaking to say the least.
About 800-plus patched Mongrel Mob members and their whanau showed up to support and to participate in an MMM Rugby League Tournament hosted annually by the current title holders – this year the Bay Bulldogs.
Te Tuinga Whanau and I Am Hope ambassador and former NZ Kiwis league captain Richie Barnett showed up to support our colleague Colin Kirioana – a patched member of MMM who was one of the key organisers of the event.
“You won’t ever see this on Netflix” was a classic comment from Richie as he witnessed a standard of rugby league that not only surprised but impressed him. “These boys can play bro” was another as the two teams (Waikato and BOP) battled it out in the finals.
Doug Laing, a longtime believer and supporter of sport and a local senior journalist was also there. His korero is worth noting and should be listened to by those community kingpins who are looking for avenues to guide our gangs toward living lives on the values they share with us all, those being love, loyalty and leadership, something they have ingrained in their whakapapa.
“Involvement of gang members at a positive level was spectacular and even townspeople were noticing changes at street level,” Doug told me.
“I’ve seen the park packed a few times with well over 1000 people but there was double that on the day of the MMM tourney and it was persisting down.
“I know the club itself was very pleased with the way it was planned and took place”.
Let’s all take a big breath when it comes to front page fodder. Believe in what could be if we can bring hope to the whanau who need it most, in this case the gangs of Aotearoa.
Tommy Wilson is the former executive director of Tauranga’s Te Tuinga Whanau Trust and wrote a column for the Bay of Plenty Times for many years.