"If it wasn’t but for the grace of God, I'd be on the other side myself. So I think in a way, I'm trying to help others to see that there is a better, stronger way."
How did you get into mentoring?
Carey from Pathway was looking for mentors and asked if I’d catch up with a guy and just be a friend. It was neat and got me into the frame of mind of realising that not everybody is coming out of jail expecting to still be a criminal. The first guy was one of those drunken hits. He was in a bar, got drunk, saw a guy, hit him and he died on the spot, so he went inside for manslaughter. So it was a drunken, stupid thing, and he knew it straight away. It wasn't the sort of person that he was. So we clicked, because I thought, I'm just so lucky that didn't happen to me. I was so close to being that guy. So to journey with him with his new life going forward, I thought that was just fantastic.
So I’ve mentored for 5-6 years. It's been a mismatch sometimes, they haven't all been the same sort of scenarios. Some of them I've had very short encounters with, but most of them have been quite positive. And ALL of them come out with the idea that they don't want to go back; they want to try to make life work. I find that quite positive, that they're really trying to do better for themselves.
If it wasn’t but for the grace of God, I'd be on the other side myself. So I think in a way, I'm trying to help others to see that there is a better, stronger way. There is a difference that you can make and a different place that you can be in, if you just change your lifestyle.
I contact them by text, mostly. I’m a long-haul truck driver, I drive over 3,000 kms a week, so I'm actually out of town five days a week. I call if it's urgent, and then we catch up for coffee as often as we can, which at this point has only been once a month. I'd much rather it was a lot more often, but our timetables don't always line up. One guy I was in contact with for only about three months, then he was back inside. And that was a real struggle. I was disappointed in that. I felt like maybe I'd let someone down, but with all the others, I’ve felt like they were great relationships, and the guys have all moved forward with their lives. And we had quite long contacts. So yeah, about three months was the shortest and about well, just over a year for the first guy.
So the one who went straight back in after three months, can you pinpoint it to anything like lack of family when he came out or anything like that?
Yeah. The support network around him was very minimal. And even my ability to contact him got stretched. He changed his phone number three times in three months and each time, I’d try to get back in contact. A lot of guys just don't want to be contacted. They’ll just ditch the phone somewhere and buy a cheap SIM card so that they don’t have anyone following them. And some of that is a fear-based thing, a legal thing, maybe they’ve hooked back up with their old crowd and gotten back into the same sort of scenario. He’s the only one I know of that went back inside. I don’t know about the others, once I lose contact, I just lose contact.
What’s the prison system like?
Some things were a surprise to me. I’d had the idea that they get locked in a steel cage and a room with a Telly and eat your biscuits and keep quiet for six months. It just wasn't that at all. I suppose it was more a good education of how the system works, or doesn't work, depending on the individuals involved. I learnt that some of them go to woodwork, and others have release jobs which allow them out for the day to work, because it’s a low-security prison.
Tell me your story, what motivated you in the first place to do the prison ministry and mentoring?
I tear up on this question everywhere I go. My story. I came from a poor family. I went through the normal scenarios of violent homes. Alcohol, leaving home early, ending up with gangs and just doing all the wrong stuff. And several situations in which I nearly ended up inside myself. I wasn't a Christian, not until I was 31. My lifestyle changed hugely then, it was a complete flip, it was in a matter of an instant that I was changed and clean.
My father had tried to get a couple of business ventures off the ground. Both had failed, for multiple reasons, he just wasn't really a businessman. So both businesses went under. Mum and dad tried to work really hard at odd jobs, so that we didn't lose the family home. So things were pretty threadbare at home all the time. But I think also because of that situation, my dad became quite violent and a bit of a drinker. I’m one of five children, the youngest boy. I feel like I've copped probably the worst of it. When I wasn't being beaten on by my dad, I was being beaten on by my brothers. And so at just 15 and a half, my dad hit me with a piece of wood, and I just turned around and smashed his nose. And that was the end of it, I suddenly thought I’m the boss of my own life. And as we know, 15 year olds know absolutely everything about life.
From a very young age, I've been involved with motorbikes, so by that time I was riding all the time, illegally. So I kept riding with the wrong crowd and ending up in all sorts of places. I lived all over the North Island, for a good five, six years and eventually got married to a prostitute and had a couple of kids. We decided to settle down on Hamilton because it was close to family. But I was still a very angry, drunk man, just trying to make ends meet myself. So I think I looked a lot like my father, and I hated that. No bibles in the house, I never had any Christian instruction and never met anybody preaching the gospel.
We planned a great family holiday. I had a van, everything was loaded and ready. I had a mate who was coming around to look after the house while we were away for a couple of weeks. What I didn't realise was that he'd been having an affair with my wife for over a year.
So it was one of those moments where he had come around and I think I'm pretty sure it was a Friday afternoon and he was heading off to do something, but I wanted to get the house key to him. So he'd come around and picked up the key. My wife was inside trying to work out how to tell me that she didn't want to come on the trip with me at all, she wanted to stay at home. So I could go with all three kids. And I'm standing on the drive and I gave him the key. He jumped in his car and drove off and I just waved him goodbye and I turned around…
I had Jesus standing in front of me. And I just knew that I knew that I knew that I knew that it was Jesus. And I felt like I had like half an hour standing on the drive just talking with him. Hugging. My wife said that I was only gone for about five minutes. But I felt like it was this massive time. And he told me all these things about myself, about my wife and her fear and all this sort of stuff. And he was very brutal, but very loving. I remember him calling me things like a liar, thief, murderer. Every word was like a rock. But it was just these waves of love. Just washing straight through me. And I just felt so loved and cared for. He just said, I forgive you. And I just really got blown away. It was like this whole mountain lifted off me. He just he told me what I was. And then he just forgave me.
So I went inside the house, and I said to my wife that I knew she was having an affair. And she absolutely freaked because she didn't know what just happened. And she knew what my nature was at that point. And she did sometime later, say that she thought she was about to be dismembered and left in body bags all around the sitting room. And that freaked her out. But when she asked me - how did I know? Had he told me? And at that point, I didn't know who it was. I just knew she was having an affair. But she said, did he just tell you? I said no, God did. And then that just blew both our worlds. Yeah. So when it was really funny, because I went out, I said, Look, if you don't want me, fine, I'll just get all your stuff out of the van. And I'll just go find somewhere to stay. But if you do want me, we'll go and take this holiday. And we'll try and work out how to put this marriage back together. So we talked for a while and she said, let's give it another go. And she told me that inside, she was screaming, run, run, run, run. But in her heart, she was thinking - no, I've got to give this one more try. So I went out to the car, and I took all the alcohol, and all the drugs and everything. And I just left it on the floor of the garage. And we went on that holiday and I was clean from that moment, just bang.
And I thought that everybody who met Jesus had that sort of dramatic conversion. And I started telling everybody my story. And some people were excited. Others were like – yeah, right. Others said it must have been something else. And it's actually been quite hurtful in some ways, some people's responses. But it's also still so raw, that I can't get through the whole story without just falling into blubbering tears about it.
So this was 21 years ago. At the time, I had this huge circle of friends at that point, all to do with drugs and alcohol. And I've only got two of them left now. They said they thought it would last a year or two and then I’d go back. Even my own family, for a while they kept clear of me, they didn't shun me exactly, but it was sort of like – stay clear of Warren till this phase is over. And that was a bit hurtful in itself, but it's still not a deterrent. They’re now all quite on board with the fact that Warren’s got this life and he's really enjoying it. Good on him.
Did you have any strong role models to support you, growing up?
I always remember a maths teacher at high school who was awesome. Mr. Till, we’ve met a couple of times since school. He’s the most incredibly caring guy. He basically told me to stand up, get up, go and do what you can and get better at it. I mean, I was almost expelled from school as an alcoholic at 15. I think that his encouragement and his endorsement of what I actually managed to do by the end of it, that was a ‘wow’ moment. So having a teacher that really cared about my trying to get better, and then encouraging me and congratulating me. He phoned me after exams to say, hey, you actually passed that, you did well. And so I've always looked at him as a role model. Only a couple of other people feature in my life as someone that I look up to. My grandfather was a great man, and very family focused, he knew what our family was going through and what my father was like, but he was always still so supportive and helpful.
What do you wish everyone knew about prisons?
Not everyone in there is a bad apple. In fact, most of them aren’t bad apples. And I think that if we could all try and be in some way supportive, we would see a lot less reoffending, or no offending in the first place. Most of the guys in the gangs were there because the gangs were the only family they knew. And even though they had a violent, drunken family, it was still the only one they knew. And when they get out of jail, they go back to that.
I think, if we turn it around, if we can get a hold of people before they're really starting to waver off the tracks and give them some encouragement - and a kick in the bum at the same time. To say, ‘I'm here to help. But you know, you've got to stop this behaviour.’ I think we can reduce everything, but I think everybody has to get involved. You can't just expect them to come back out, jump into society and get given a flat and a weekly amount of money and told to get on with life, if no one actually engages with them. In fact, most people are negative. Oh, who is this inmate being put in my neighbourhood, I don't feel safe anymore! You're automatically telling them that you don't want them there, so they go back to their old lifestyle. Whereas if, as an entire neighborhood, city or nation, we can actually individually just input a little bit of time into all of these people and these systems, I think we can actually slow it down and eventually stop it from getting so out of control, which I think it is at the moment.
I mean, the guy that I contact now, I'm sure that if there were a couple of other people in his life that were doing what I was doing, I think he would have contact with people every second day. And it would just boost him. I know it boosts him when I contact him and I do that as often as I can. But I think if his neighbours talked with him and his mother talked with him, and I’m not saying they don’t, but just more contact would be good.
People wouldn't even necessarily have to have contact with the inmate or the ex-inmate themselves. If they just got in behind Pathway and said, hey, look, I'd like to help out with some sort of fundraising to help with this, or help with food, to go out to inmates, that sort of thing. I'm sure there are loads of areas that people can get involved in, where they're just showing an interest and showing just a bit of compassion, a lack of animosity. No contact to an inmate is animosity. They're put in prison to have no contact. So when they come out and they have no contact, again, they're feeling that animosity, whereas if everybody got a little bit involved, that would change their attitude.