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Methodist Mission reaches out to Mongrel Mob

The Wellington Methodist Mission – Wesley Community Action (WCA) – added a new twist to its work with society’s marginalised people when it met for a three day exchange of ideas with the ‘Notorious’ chapter of the Mongrel Mob.

The meeting of the WCA and Mongrel Mob Notorious took place at a backpackers lodge at Turangi, near Lake Taupo. Unlike other chapters, Mongrel Mob Notorious is not geographically based. It has branches throughout the country, and leaders from as far away as Dunedin and Auckland attended the meeting. Heads of several Notorious branches were there including the president of the chapter, who lives in Manukau.

Seven WCA staff and board members drove up from Wellington for the meeting. One was Rev Des Cooper.

Des says the WCA director David Hanna approached the board with the proposal to begin a discussion with the Notorious chapter because its leaders have said the Mob should move out of criminal activity into gainful employment.

“The conversation with Mongrel Mob Notorious is an interesting and exciting opportunity but one fraught with danger in case they are having us on,” Des says. “We thought of it as an exploratory dialogue and a chance to see what the WCA and the Mongrel Mob Notorious have in common.

“They kicked off the discussion by showing a DVD they made for their 25th anniversary a couple of years ago. It tells how and why they were formed. The Notorious chapter had to prove themselves to other Mongrel Mob chapters. They earned mana through fighting and a reputation for being hard.

“Eventually they got girlfriends, the girlfriends got pregnant, and they had children. The warriors are now too old for fighting. They are fed up with jail and being harassed by the police. They want to keep their children out of jail and they don’t want CYFS to take their kids away because they are bad parents.”

In response to the Mob’s presentation the WCA spokespeople explained what the organisation is and what it does. David Hanna said WCA supports people on the margins and especially children at risk and the elderly (which might include old mobsters).

Des says one of the values the mobsters expressed was unconditional regard for others in their chapter, their ‘bros’. In his response, Des said the Mongrel Mob’s unconditional support for one another resembles the unconditional love Christians have for God.

“The next day Notorious leaders presented their vision of how to use their gifts and skills to gain employment. They said their skills include facilitation, mentoring, and labouring,” Des says.

“One proposal was to volunteer to paint out graffiti on some fence lines in South Auckland with the aim of getting a contract with the Manukau City Council to paint out the graffiti in the rest of the city. Along with the impact of the Mongrel Mob covering up graffiti, they would be able to talk to kids about why it the right thing to do.”

Des says no one is under the illusion such a transition will be easy. For example, directing mobsters would be difficult for any foreman, so chapter chiefs would have to act as intermediaries between management and the gang.

WCA offered to do two things to further the process. One is to maintain contact and build the relationship with Mongrel Mob Notorious.

The other is to help broker work for the gang. This could be by providing work on WCA projects, such as painting its buildings. The WCA could also provide references to other employers on behalf of the chapter.

David Hanna says the meeting was significant to the extent that it created a space where people could meet, share, and talk across their diversity.

“I don’t really know if anything tangible will come out of it, and if anything does it may not be visible until further down the path. We have reported to our board of directors on the meeting and they have recommended that it is a worthwhile project and we should carry on with it,” David says.

University of Canterbury Sociology professor Dr Greg Newbold is a specialist on crime in NZ. Greg says criminal gangs have talked about going straight in the past. Those efforts came to naught, and he says there’s no reason this one should succeed.

“These moves are nearly always made by older people in the gangs but the leadership can’t make a 360? turn and expect the membership to follow them. The young ones join up because they like devilment and excitement. Even if some of the older ones go mainstream, they will be a splinter group.”

Greg’s student Jarrod Gilbert has done extensive research on gangs and is writing his PhD thesis on the topic. Jarrod agrees that if the leaders try to turn the Mongrel Mob into a social club it could alienate younger members. But new youth gangs are already forming outside the established gangs.

Jarrod strikes a positive note. “Gangs are made up of people who have experienced the worst aspects of society so they are hard to organise. But it is always positive when mob leadership takes the initiative to find a positive way forward. At least it can take the hardest edges off,” he says.

“And if no one supports them, it is certain nothing will change. Nevertheless, these endeavours are enormously difficult. The WCA will need a healthy dose of optimism and a healthy dose of scepticism.”

His words echo David Hanna’s. David says WCA does not want to separate people into the deserving and the non-deserving poor. While expectations about the outcome of the dialogue with the Mongrel Mob are not high and WCA must be wary it isn’t used as screen for illicit activity, optimism is one of its core values.