Tearaway teen turns away from life as a tagger
Spraying graffiti now seems less appealingROB KIDD
When Hamilton's most wanted tagger was arrested last year on more than 100 charges, the writing may have appeared to be on the wall.
More than six months later, 18-year-old Lance Larsen is barely recognisable to himself and even talks about the person who committed those crimes as if they were someone else.
He calls him "the old Lance".
Over the course of a year the old Lance spent all his money on spray cans and went out a couple of nights a week defacing fences, bridges, toilets and benches.
"I did tagging because of the people I was hanging around with," he said.
"I tried it a couple of times and liked it.
"It's the fame of people seeing your tags out there; getting known. That's how it is in tagging."
Hamilton City Council's Tagbusters team – now four years old – take a photo of every tag before they remove it and eventually the police caught up with the errant Nawton teen.
Hamilton police graffiti liaison officer Craig Berquist arrested Mr Larsen but soon saw potential in him.
"I thought, `There's got to be a better way of helping him through this'," Mr Berquist said.
"One hundred and one convictions at 17 years old won't assist him other than introducing him to a life of crime."
After speaking with Tagbusters team leader Charles Flanagan, Mr Larsen was given the chance to repay his debt to society.
Over the course of seven weeks Mr Larsen completed 225 hours of work with Tagbusters, often cycling to work in the rain and never missing a day's work.
Offenders had done restorative justice work with the council's anti-tagging team in the past but Mr Berquist said nothing of this scale had been attempted before.
He said the process had been very rewarding for all involved but could not have been a success without the backing of Tagbusters, police and, most importantly, Mr Larsen.
After doing everything in his power to turn his life around, Mr Larsen was keen to express his gratitude to Mr Berquist and Mr Flanagan.
"I couldn't have done it without them," he said. "Knowing I had that much support made me want to put my backside into it. You don't really want to let anyone down when they're going out of their way to help you."
His advice to teenagers was to choose their friends wisely. "I used to be scared every time I saw a cop ... Now I've actually got a cop that's a very good friend."
On August 2 he will stand in front of a judge at Hamilton District Court, hoping to be discharged without conviction, but his immediate priority is to get a job.
Like most teenagers, he was unsure what he wanted to do but, somewhat appropriately, liked the idea of something with an artistic element.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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