Out of their comfort zones:
Mongrel Mob and Methodist families strengthen ties
By Paul Titus
Last year Wesley Community Action (WCA) agreed to work with the Notorious Chapter of the Mongrel Mob in its effort to move away from criminal activity and into the social mainstream.
In March members of the Notorious Chapter and their families joined WCA staff and their families for a two day ‘whanau camp’ aimed at strengthening ties between the two groups.
The retreat was held at Camp Wainui in Wainuiomata. A major focus was on shared activities for children and parents. These included a high ropes course, canoeing, a treasure hunt, and a hydro slide.
WCA director David Hanna says the relationship between the Notorious Chapter and Wesley Community Action is growing.
“Like all positive relationships it is based on mutual respect and a shared commitment to help bring about a better future. On one level the weekend was a typical camp with groups of parents and young people engaging in activities, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. At another level the police tried hard to stop the camp, quoting safety concerns,” David says.
“For all of us it meant taking risks to step outside our comfort zones and mix with people outside our usual social networks. All the people from Wesley who participated – from nurses at our rest homes, to youth workers and their families – say the camp was very worthwhile. Any concerns people had were dispelled by participating in the community created in the camp."
Mongrel Mob Notorious spokesman Edge Te Whaiti echoes David’s words about the element of risk the weekend posed. Gang members and their families from throughout the North Island as well as Dunedin and Christchurch attended the retreat. For them too it meant stepping outside of familiar networks.
“We wanted to open our community up to people from other walks of life and mix with other families. I’m a gang member. I know that life and what goes with it. I also know there is a lot more to life, and I want our kids to experience it,” Edge says.
“I see it with my own kids when they get certificates for their work at school. It is important to acknowledge that and find ways to participate with other families in the community. It is healthy. Otherwise our kids will face closed doors and barriers.”
Edge is critical of people who dismiss the efforts of the Notorious Chapter to reform itself.
“People who say ‘Don’t hold your breath, it’s not going to happen’ are not up to date. Contrary to what you might read in the papers, not every gang member is on a crime spree, just like every church minister is not a paedophile. They are stereotyping our community and our culture, and just regurgitating old attitudes about us.
“We are still people and we live in the community. I am not saying that we have always stuck by the rules. We have our history.
“But we have matured. We have children, and we are striving to do well with them and with ourselves. If a person is sick in hospital you don’t kick him so he will stay down,” he says.
Currently Edge and Mongrel Mob Notorious president Roy Dunn work with the Consultancy Advocacy and Research Trust (CART), which delivers a range of services to vulnerable and hard to reach members of society. Edge and Roy are employed to help at risk young people flirting with gang life to find other ways to live their lives and resolve disputes.
Over the past year, Edge says, the Notorious chapter initiated a number of projects in its move to go crime free (straight.)
They include a ‘Rent a Bro’ initiative to help unemployed mobsters get into the workforce, a programme for youth, and a centre to rehabilitate gang members addicted to the drug ‘P’ (methamphetamine). While progress is being made, it is slow going because it is difficult for the Mongrel Mob to get government funding for its projects.
The Notorious Chapter also helped sponsor the New Zealand visit of former New York gang leader Nicky Cruz in February. Nicky is with the evangelistic outreach movement Victory Outreach International. While he was in New Zealand, Nicky help broker a meeting between the heads of different gangs, who usually refuse to be in the same room together.