In ‘86 my mum, dad, five siblings and I moved from Samoa to Auckland. We lived in our own bubble - surrounded by other Pacific Island families. Growing up, domestic violence was all around us, throughout the neighbourhood and at home. My Dad was an alcoholic, and spoke no english. You would hear screaming from the neighbours house and we thought it was normal, you just wondered what they had done to deserve a hiding.
I was an angry kid at school, fighting and running away. I found a group of boys the same as me and we started stealing cars, breaking into houses, and doing robberies. I got caught and went to prison. When I got out, I started a relationship and had a son, but I wasn’t ready to go straight. I tried the nine to five but it didn’t work, and I tried so hard not to be like my dad, but I got violent with my partner. I hurt her really badly and went back to jail.
When I got out the next time, I started using meth. The drugs messed with my head. I was emotionally and mentally aggressive and I turned on my family. I sold all my stuff to get crack, and I ended up in prison again, but I now see that as a good thing.
In my first month back in prison I was trying to get a stash, but before I could, the guy who was getting it died from drug use. That woke me up. I saw there were only two possibilities if I kept doing drugs, life in prison, or end up in the dirt like that guy. That stopped me wanting to use again, but the thing that really changed my life was my partner getting back in touch after five years of being apart. I knew I had to do something different, but I didn’t know what it was, and this was a sign.
I decided to wash my hands of my old life and start a new life. I discovered that the more good choices I made in prison, the more doors opened for me. I made sure I did nothing bad. My goal was to get out before my end date, so I could go home and be a dad. I was buzzing because I kept going forward, I quickly got a mechanics job, then an engineering job, and then I worked on the prison farm.
I worked with the Tu Ora Navigators for seven months. Everything they do helps to prepare for out here, particularly the social activities. Having friends and family come in for a hāngi made it feel like we weren’t in a prison environment. It made me feel normal again, which makes it easier when you do come out. My favourite NI programmes were screen-printing, health and wellbeing, music, and barbershop. All the people who came in were cool, and had their own stories. Each one was genuine and sincere. They weren’t there for the paycheck, they really wanted to teach us and spend time with us. We are so lucky they are prepared to share their passions with us for free.
All the programmes were good. Even if I was bored sitting there listening, it taught me patience - that it’s ok to be uncomfortable. It’s like doing the dishes, it’s not something you enjoy doing, but it has to be done, that’s life, so it taught me how to manage situations like that inside my head.
When I was released the first two times, I went straight back to normal life with my family, and straight back to old patterns and habits. I had no external support. This time I’m older and wiser, I’m not a little kid who doesn’t think of the consequences anymore, and I’ve worked for my release. It’s about making choices, and saying no to people. I’m motivated by my son, I’ve missed out on so much of his life.
If I’m struggling, confused, need help, have suicidal thoughts, or think about causing harm, I know I can contact someone from Pathway and they will support me. The Salvation Army found me a house for the first few months. Pathway are helping me get ready for, and find, a new home I can go to after that, and they have given me a bike for transport. They have helped me find my feet, and think about what I want to do after this. I want to study sports science next year. My passion is to help the Pacific Island community reduce obesity caused through diet.
I’m determined to put my plan into action. This is my last chance, I’ve already done 13 years in prison. I’ve never had this kind of support before and I don’t want to ruin it. I don’t want to let them down. Everything I’ve done has brought me here. Some people see being released as the finish line, but for me it’s the start line - the start of my new life.
*name has been changed