“Being born and raised in a rough upbringing in Southland during the late 1990’s, I’ve experienced some violent gang wars. My whole world consisted of violence, I didn’t know there was any other way of life. As simple as it sounds, you can’t do better, if you don’t know any better.
When I turned 19, I was sentenced to life for murder. Shortly before my arrest, I had my first glimpse of how different life could be without violence. I realised that I had a choice.
It was when the parents of the victim visited me in prison; the father looked me in the eye and said, ‘I won’t be able to forgive you, if you don’t change.’ That moment stuck with me, it was the push I needed to make up my mind.
When I went back into my cell, I thought about it for a long time and finally decided to change my life. From that moment on it was a done deal, I never looked back.
It took me about four years to unlearn everything I had learned in my previous lifestyle. I was angry a lot during that period because I felt like I had been deceived by my environment.
I must have read thousands of books in prison, but to truly change my old habits I needed to get to know other people and experience firsthand what it means to react appropriately, how to deal with my emotions and how to broaden my horizons.
Luckily I met the right people who were able to give me guidance on these things. One of them was a literacy teacher in Christchurch men’s prison who taught me differently and really believed in me.
One day he told me to study Business Management at University, because I would have the brains for it. I laughed, it completely took me by surprise because it was something I never would have considered for myself. But I believed him and actually started studying.
It turned out he was right. I also studied Agriculture, Philosophy and Anthropology and came out top of my class. Another important tutor in my life was my art teacher. She could see who I was rather than what I had done and she still liked me. That was one of the most empowering encounters I have ever experienced.
Over the years, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet 5-6 mentors who are still only a phone call away. Carey is certainly one of them. I met him in 2007 in Rolleston prison and we stayed in contact. He helped me during my hardest time in prison: after the first two parole boards failed. I felt like all the hard work I had done was for nothing. I didn’t know how much longer I would stay in prison, I was so close to being released, but so far away at the same time. Carey prepared a whole reintegration package for my third parole meeting, which hadn’t been done before, and it paid off. I was released in 2015.
Now I have a permanent job. I helped set up (and am now consulting on) the Navigate Initiative and I spoke alongside Carey at the 2018 Restorative Justice Conference in Wellington a few weeks ago. In the next few months, I’ll go back into prison to be a cultural advisor and a mentor to others in the Navigate Initiative. I truly believe I can contribute and pass on my experience to the Tu Ora, since I’ve lived through it all myself. I would like to be the mentor that I needed in my early years. Good mentors are the most important part of change, in my opinion.
My dream at this point is to get a job with an intervention programme that I became aware of at the Conference; it helps to upskill at-risk youth before they become part of a gang.
I often think back to that conversation I had with the victim’s father. I have yet to forgive myself for what I have done. I’m trying to give back to the community as much as I can to feel worthy. But it’s only been 15 years - maybe I will one day. I’m still waiting for it to happen, until then I will try and help others on the same path.” - Jevon*
*name has been changed