Tremain's Story
I had a wonderful mentor - I still have him

But I got kicked out of the school because I was still dealing drugs, selling cannabis to school kids. The school knew – but they couldn’t track me because I was too good at hiding what I was doing. Finally the school called a meeting, along with the Maori community, and I had to front up to my nephew’s parents for giving him a marijuana cigarette – and I was told to leave the school and never to go near a school again.

After that I was lost in limbo for six months. That meeting really knocked me, it was so painful. I was back on the benefit again, doing nothing. Then Moeke found me and said “Your lessons in life are to teach you. You’ve had so many, and that’s for you to help other people with their lives.”

They say violence begets violence – I could see the circle right in front of my face, and I could see that I had the opportunity of changing it.

What was I going to do – walk away and let what I had been through happen to other children? Or was I going to be what I call ‘man-up enough’ so that I could show the kids “I was like you and there is a way out...”.

I could see this change could really work. Then, funnily enough, the criminal fraternity started going, “You’re shit. You’re just doing it to get a name for yourself.” My stubbornness kicked in and I wasn’t going to the pub any more, and the marijuana didn’t taste nice to me any more, and even though I am a chronic alcoholic, I drastically cut my intake of alcohol.

I had to get away from all the ‘doubting Thomases’ – all the people I had grown up with. I had to leave everybody I thought I loved to become the person I had to be – to help me first, to help my family secondly, and thirdly, to become the exemplar that Moeke wanted me to be.

Then I learnt Maori at polytech and I started doing social work, facilitating for Get Safe Motueka, and becoming a coordinator for Maori Men Against Violence. Now I am the violence free champion for the anti-violence campaign It’s not OK in Nelson, and I do lots of work with the Women’s Refuge.

I’m also working with a local group, the Health Action Trust, because they want to break the drug and alcohol cycle, and with the Child and Adolescent Youth Alcohol and Drug Advisory arm. They are all professionals and doctors. They asked if I’d sit in on one of their meetings. And I looked at all these people and said, “You don’t have an idea, do you?” They had these wonderful ideas, but none of them had even walked into the pub, and they were trying to imagine what it was like for youth to go and buy drugs off a dealer. So I went in to see them a bit later and said, “Did you know I really did all that stuff you guys are trying to research and you should ask me because I’ll tell you, and then if there’s any way you can figure out how to combat it, do it.”

I told them about how I used to deal drugs at the school. I told them: “Just think of me as Mr Whippy. I’ll pull up outside your school gate, I’ll whistle out to your little Johnny and tell him I’ve got the ice cream you want. I’ll sell him a tinny – a tinfoil of marijuana – worth twenty dollars, and ‘I’ll give you two extra because I like you and you can just pay me back a bit later’. Got you! I’d know I was in because he’s got to pay me later, and later is the next time I’m back at the school being Mr Whippy again. He’ll come back in and I’ll say, ‘You owe me two but I’ll give you three and you just owe me five’. And he’ll pay for two – and now he owes me a hundred dollars. And later I’m going to put the screws on, ‘Get me that hundred bucks or I’m going to hammer you.’

I’ll come to your Mum and Dad’s house. Next minute Mum’s missing her watch and her rings, and Mr Whippy’s got them.”

When I gave them that scenario, they said ‘no!’ And I said, “Well, how else do they do it?”

I’m just so sad, now that I am in my forties, that I couldn’t have lived this life I live now when I was younger. It takes so much self-healing to know it wasn’t your fault, to know that you are all right and that there are things you can offer to others, that there is hope out there even though you think there isn’t.

When I was in the gang culture, I hurt so many people and saw so many people hurt and was hurt so much myself.

I look back now on the gang life and I can see there is no life in it. I would have quite happily laid my life down for people then, but now I see it wasn’t even friendship, it was only to get our self gratification and to make more money, because we didn’t want to work for it. We were going to do what we knew was wrong and justify it by saying, “They wouldn’t give it to us anyway bro. We’re Maoris, we’re useless.”

It’s hard to explain how the gang depowers you – to give you power with them, and then you are clinging to their power. If you go into a gang, they are going to give you mana. “Bro we love you, we are going to do this for you, we’ll back you 100 percent. If you do this for us, this is what we are going to do for you.” And you do, but it’s all fake. It’s alcohol, it’s drugs, it’s women. There is no life in it. You will go to jail for a very long time – if you are a good gang member. If you are a bad one, you will get killed.