A former gang leader was in town last week promoting a message of change and reform, just two days before the nationwide White Ribbon Ride arrived with an equally peaceful message.
Tuhoe "Bruno" Isaac was a patched gang member for 17 years and led one of New Zealand's most notorious gangs, the Mongrel Mob, during the 1980s.
His book, True Red, is an autobiographical, no-holds barred account of his life and how he turned it around.
Tuhoe is on a tour of New Zealand with his motorbike, books and message.
He left Thames in October and has since been visiting towns on his way south, spending a day or two in each, promoting his book and talking to everyone he meets.
He plans to travel to Invercargill and back up the West Coast, arriving back in Pukekohe by Christmas.
The South Island had so far been very receptive to the book, he said, which was also used by schools and social services agencies as an educational tool.
Young people with little or no direction found it empowering, he said.
"The book really gives them [students] an awareness that there is more to it than just being in a gang - you close your life off once you join."
Once in a gang, Tuhoe likens it to being stuck in a hole from which there is no way out.
The longer you spend there, the deeper it gets and the harder it becomes to make change, although he is walking testament that it can be done.
"It is always about change, and it doesn't happen overnight," he says. "You have got to want it within yourself."
While in Kaikoura, Tuhoe had spoken to a lot of people and had met other gang members who were passing through and sold his book to them.
Tuhoe was born in Wairoa in 1954. By the age of 18 he had already spent time in prison and joined the Mongrel Mob.
Many years, crimes and prison sentences later, he became leader of the King Country chapter, shifting to Auckland as the president.
In 1989 he had a realisation that the life he was leading was no good and he turned to God after a series of triggers, both in the gang and his personal life.
In 1992, Tuhoe joined Te Whare Amorangi Bible School at Pukekohe. After two years' training he moved into full-time mission work from 1994 to 1999. He also ran a successful gang reconciliation hui in 1997.
He has since created a trust to support the unloved of society, visiting prisons and doing motivational speaking at schools.
He also runs a men's group and visits the prisons to facilitate a prisoner's mentoring programme.
Since writing True Red with author Bradford Haami in 2007, Tuhoe has also made two short films, Day Trip and The Rap, which also address gang lifestyle.
For further information about the book and the author, visit true-red.com.
- Kaikoura Star
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