Second chance 'all I needed'
When Peter Tuapawa competes in the grand final of the national Young Butcher of the Year contest later this month, it will mark a remarkable chapter in a story of redemption.
Six years ago, the now 27-year-old was jailed after pleading guilty to being an accessory after the fact of a crime. A childhood friend of Tuapawa's was later convicted of that crime - the murder of a man whose body was found washed up on the shore of a Wellington bay.
The sentencing judge said that Tuapawa - then known by a different surname - had nothing to do with the man's death or the dumping of his body. But the judge said the young butcher had acted out of "stupid loyalty".
Tuapawa had helped dispose of and cover up potential evidence of the crime.
Tuapawa, whose skills had seen him make the finals of a top butchery contest in 2004, was sentenced to 15 month's jail. He spent about three months behind bars before being released on home detention.
Now, as he prepares for the Young Butcher of the Year final on August 24, Tuapawa has told of how he has since turned his life around and returned to the trade he loves.
He spoke to Sunday News on Friday to show other young people who have made a bad mistake that they, too, can turn their lives around. He also wanted to thank those who have stood by and supported him.
"I think it is a big accomplishment [making the final] and shows how far I have come," Tuapawa said.
"A lot of kids make a mistake and don't get that second chance. Because of one mistake, they stay stuck there and keep making mistakes.
"I was given a chance and that is all I needed . . . that one chance to prove that you can turn your life around."
Tuapawa moved to Auckland about four years ago with his partner, wanting "a fresh start . . . a new beginning".
That new chapter in his life began when he was hired to work in the butchery department of the New World Victoria Park supermarket.
He was immensely grateful for the chance to get back into his trade, and for the encouragement of workmates.
"It is huge, because that is all someone needs at the end of the day - just one chance to show that they can turn their lives around."
Tuapawa's support group includes New World Victoria Park owner and operator, Jason Witehira.
Witehira - who has owned the supermarket for the past two years - said he was proud of the steps his young butcher had taken, and that Tuapawa was a dedicated and talented worker.
"I understood the seriousness of what had happened, but also believed through the courts that he had paid his dues," he said.
"It is not my job, I believe, to plaster him with that for the rest of his life. I believed in the guy . . . he looked me in the eye and we were clear with where we were going forward."
Witehira understood some people might not have been open to giving Tuapawa a second chance.
But he added: "The company, that is the family of ours, it is part of our values to support, train and develop . . . not rubbish someone for a mistake.
"I had people give me a chance and they were my mentors when I was a young man.
"Now I would like to think that I can help, support and mentor Peter."
Witehira hoped Tuapawa's dedication to turning around his life would inspire and motivate other Kiwi youth.
"Pete is a great example of turning it around, turning it into a positive. The world is at his feet in respect to where his career path goes."
Tuapawa said Witehira's support had helped him "hugely".
That support, and encouragement from other workmates, had helped him reach the final of the Young Butcher of the Year competition, he said.
Winning the title was something he had dreamt of since he was 14.
"It would be a huge achievement and accomplishment," Tuapawa said. "I have dreamt about it since I was 14 . . . to win this for me personally would be a huge milestone."
The final will see the country's top six young butchers battle it out over 13 hours.