Practice of Love

It’s been one of those years. I feel like I’m still in planning mode and woosh, its gone, done and dusted. These last few months have given me the worst of times and the best of times: the highlight being the success of the Mongrel Mob Notorious chapter’s inaugural methamphetamine treatment programme undertaken in conjunction with the Salvation Army at Kakahi – I’ll tell you more about that shortly – and the lowest point being a horrible incident with one of my extended whanau, brain fried on meth, and my being unable to get him the help he needed whilst the situation spiraled out of control with worrying consequences for our whole family. You will note that I’m avoiding use of the ‘P’ label and am sticking to the substance’s chemical name. This is because I think its time we wound down the hype and with it the perverse mystique that has built up around methamphetamine in Aotearoa.

In any case let me give you my cut on the Mob’s efforts at establishing a methamphetamine rehab and treatment centre. First it is an example of good leadership, from within the gang on one hand, and from without on the other, in the form of the Salvation Army hierarchy and treatment team, and from tribal leadership as represented by the paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, Tumu Te Heuheu. The actions of leaders may not always be popular, or, in the moment, even understood. But these are people who can see what must be done for the good of their people, what is important, and they stand up for the required course of action. This is the defining factor that separates them out from ‘followers’.

Love practitioners: Harry Tam, Bill Maung Maung, Denis O’Reilly at Eugene & Cherie Ryder’s wedding

I’ll start by discussing the leadership efforts visible in the Notorious Chapter of the Mongrel Mob, because they are been the source of this particular meth rehabilitation effort. Roy Dunne is the leader, the ‘captain’ of this chapter of the Mongrel Mob. He is someone I have to come to know over the period recorded by the 36 previous posts of this blog, Nga Kupu Aroha, representing some six years of commitment and effort. It may seem curious to some that as a member of the Black Power I can and will work with the Mongrel Mob. That is until it is realized that I mean what I say in my publicly stated mission to enroll the leadership of both the two major Maori gangs, the Black Power and the Mongrel Mob, in a movement to self-prohibit the manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine. As that’s the case, I need to make it real and meaningful and to take the risk to work outside my own clique.

I’d known of Roy, and his brothers, for many years, but as he was essentially Auckland-based, I had nothing to do with him until these recent times and the rise of the kaupapa to build community resilience against methamphetamine. Roy had a fearsome reputation on the street, and he will not deny that it was well deserved as a result of some of the terrible crimes he has committed. I remember Roy once speaking of how, when he was seven years old, he pinched a bike from school. It led to the intervention of the State authorities and he was removed from his home and family. He did not see his family again for five years. It was patently unfair and counter-productive. By that stage he reconnected with his whanau he had grown into a very angry young man. It would be fair to say that he waged war on New Zealand society and its mores for the next twenty or so years: many of which he spent inside our maximum security prison units. I oppose the ‘too quick to imprison’ policies of the current and recent previous administrations, but I acknowledge that for some crimes, and in some circumstances, jail is the only option. I was reading recently comments made by a former English prison Chaplin, and author of Prison Transformations – the System, the People inside and Me, Rev Stephen Chinlund. He says that some people “need to be held still” and positions prisons in a monastic context as potentially therapeutic communities. He claims that the “alchemy of transformation comes from the crucible of the cell”. Well I don’t know whether it was the reflective crucible of the cell or not, or the Christian influence of mentors like Sam Chapman, but Roy’s current frame on life is positive and along the pathway to creating what Tariana Turia describes as ‘whanu ora’. In a sense, Roy’s efforts are redemptive, making up for his past transgressions and helping ensure the self defeating route he originally took is not followed by the next generation. I should say that Roy has built a team around him, his trusted and hardworking lieutenant Edge Te Whaiti, Bones, Larry ‘the hat’ Potae, Francis, and a number of others. There are chapter members as well as a wider network of supporters and advisors like ‘Mindy’, Sheryl Connell, a practising lawyer. There are also Christian ‘investors’ of time and modest amounts of money. But most importantly, these people have community credibility, and help soothe the furrowed brows of funders and governmental decision makers. Roy and Edge and their team showed their commitment to community safety in helping to settle and solve the South Auckland youth gang pandemonium a couple of years back (see blog War and Peace May 2008).

Roy Dunne & Edge Te Whaiti: Leaders

Typically they went both unrecognised and unrewarded for their efforts. I shook my head in disbelief when some wallahs from the Ministry of Social Development were awarded the PM’s prize for policy excellence for their contribution to the resolution of this particular problematic despite the fact that there had been no independent evaluation of their efforts. If there had been it would have showed that the challenge to work with the troublesome and hard to reach youth who represented the difficult side of the scene was generally eschewed by the conventional agencies. In reality it was the work of Roy and Edge from the Mob and others like ‘Knockers’ Allen from the BP who made the difference. In stark contrast to the MSD effort I think the boys had their work reviewed three times by three different evaluators ,who all came to the same conclusion: this was good work and was worthy of investment. But both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Development opposed funding the guys because of their gang membership, regardless of the fact that they were modeling excellent behaviours and promoting pro-social community engagement.

As community workers Roy and Edge have not had the benefit of formal training or professional development, yet their native intelligence and life experience provide an action paradigm as yet unimagined by the authorities on social practice. For instance, with support from Sam Chapman, Roy applies a powerful but simple developmental process that the team have developed for themselves. It deserves to be written up in the academic tomes and some sort of qualification based of demonstrated prior learning conferred on these guys.

The process starts off with the provision of ‘awhi’, unconditional support. As the individuals begin to engage they are helped to work through a process for envisioning a better future. Roy refers to this as ‘Evaluation for Transformation’. He has a korero with the individual seeking support to help them figure out an initial plan, clarifying how they will mutually work together, and to establish what they will aim for. With my academic hat on I’d say that this step has many of the features of what we social practitioners would call a ‘client/agency contract’. As the relationship becomes more engaging trust is established and the defensive barriers begin to drop, allowing an increasingly more open and honest dialogue and a better quality – more ‘real’ – individual action plan to be developed. In reality it is the commencement of a journey of self discovery. It takes time and cannot be rushed. It follows a series of steps and uses a prescribed formula along these general lines:

Belonging: Who am I? What is my whakapapa? Where do I fit in? Where is my Turangawaewae? How am I connected to others?

Independence: What are the bounds of my personal independence? What am I responsible for? Who am I responsible to? What are the boundaries of my interpersonal relationships?

Self esteem: What are my skills? What can I do? What would I like to be able to do? What is my potential? What are the achievements of my tupuna? What are the potentials represented in my genes?

Generosity: What can I give out to others? What can I share? How can I contribute?

Reciprocity: How can I accept back from others?

Exit: What are my choices in life? What are the alternatives to a life of crime and imprisonment?

I reckon this is a very sophisticated taxonomy. It is elegant in its simplicity and those Maori notions of generosity (aroha) and reciprocity enable a new relationship to be established by a transforming individual with his or her community. As the transforming individual identifies their own skills and strengths they begin to develop an increased sense of self confidence and improved self esteem. Roy and team discuss with them about the alternative strategies to crime and violence, and, ways to cope with the current peril of methamphetamine. Just as in the Black Power, the Mongrel Mob have had to confront the impacts of methamphetamine. Yes, I readily acknowledge that some members of our respective groups have chosen to use and deal in methamphetamine and they will face the inevitable health and legal consequences of that behaviour as long as they continue to do so. But there are others who desperately want to quit and win their families and lives back. And it is into these willing souls that Roy and Edge and their team have been putting their effort. It must be about four years back now that they came to the conclusion that even if they could access them, the addiction recovery services that were on offer weren’t going to work for these willing Mob whanau. Around that time I attended a national hui of the chapter held at June Jackson’s Waatea Marae in Auckland. I was still working on my Masters and I asked one of my supervisors Dr Geoff Bridgman to come along and have some input. Having listened to the aspirations of the group to establish their own methamphetamine rehab centre Geoff pointed out that they didn’t have the clinical skills, and, even if they started to train their own workforce immediately it would still take years to build up the necessary capability. He told them that they needed to find a willing partner, and, so, the search began. Eventually they arrived at the very gate of the Citadel itself, and, after much knocking at the door their sincerity and purposefulness provided the key and the door was opened to them, and they found their partner in the Salvation Army.

If you are a regular reader of these columns you will know my Alinskian shibboleth “You’ll see it when you believe it” but even my optimistic glasses didn’t include the vision of the Mongrel Mob and Salvation Army teaming up. After much talk and negotiation between the parties, and huge investments of personal and organisational trust, a seven week live-in programme was developed and a venue established at a Christian camp near Te Kakahi, Taumarunui . Twelve Mongrel Mob Notorious whanau entered the programme and, after seven tough weeks of positive input and huge emotional psychological and spiritual challenges, all twelve completed it. (TV3 – Drug Rehab Camp a Success, 29 Nov) I was privileged to attend their graduation ceremony, and to be uplifted by the day’s events. If there is such as things as the spirit of God, then it was present amongst us at Kakahi marae on that very special day. The Sallies national hierarchy were there, and, as a counterpoint, on the paepae, amongst a good representation of the local people, sat Tumu Te Heuheu, the paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, an ariki Maori. As I wrote earlier in this piece, good leaders show the way forward by what they pay attention to and I found Tumu’s presence to be a profound signal of support for the kaupapa. The locals had originally been anxious, feeling a bit blindsided by the establishment of the project. But, from what I saw, those who had become engaged had now become staunch supporters. After the powhiri and kai, Tumu played his part by handing out the tohu, the certificates of achievement to each one of those who had completed the programme. It was just magic to see these people come forward and give their pepeha, a recitation of their whakapapa and acknowledgment of their mountains and marae. It took courage: for some it was a huge step, but they were able to demonstrate by their korero that they were filling the space left by methamphetamine with the teachings of their ancestors and rediscovering themselves as Maori, as members of whanau and community. Some had their children with them through the whole programme. As their mums and dads stood on the sacred space at Taumaihiorongo, the men standing on the atea, the women speaking from the porch, and made their speeches I had a sense that these tamariki were the witnesses of, and pivots for, huge personal changes. There was a sense of peace, inner peace, and pride. And, too, sitting alongside us were parents and grandparents who were witnessing their own children make these testimonies. In many cases these were prodigal children in whom they may well have previously lost hope, and yet, here, they were witnessing redemptive steps.

William Booth (1829–1912), founder of the Salvation Army

On the table that stood on the meeting house porch was a photograph of William Booth the founder of the Sallies and I think he would have been well pleased with the various juxtapositions that were occurring that special day. One little semiotic struck me as a signal that change was truly on the way. During the course of the programme the participants had developed a design, a complex drawing in the Maori form, which told the story of the kaupapa and the journey of effort. This was rendered both as carved plaques and printed on a red T-shirt. On one sleeve of the shirt was the Mongrel Mob bulldog and on the other the Salvation Army shield. I tell you, change is abroad.

Juxtaposition: The Red Shield – a sign of change afoot

Although Roy and Edge are key players in their own trust structure (Te Aratika o Te Whanau – you might translate this as ‘the wholesome pathway for the family’) the authorities seem a bit reluctant to support them through that channel. Whilst they build their credits and reputations through their work we have been able to support them in the meantime through the Consultancy Advocacy and Research Trust (CART) which I have the honour to chair. CART was formed twenty years ago, and, as we have now established a working base in Wellington with offices, workshops and a gymnasium (The Achievement Gym) the trustees decided to organise an opening and dedication of the building. The Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand agreed to do the honours, and, so, on Thursday 17 December 2009 we held a short ceremonial with welcoming words from the mana whenua, Te Atiawa, and Fr. Thiege O’Leary SM blessing the building. Ranga Tuhi had carved a number of photograph frames containing the images of the people we recognise as having provided succour to our cause and he mounted these on the stairwell walls: amongst the living Bill Maung Maung and Fran Williams, and Martin Joiner; and those who have departed into the long night, Sir Norman and Lady Perry, Elespie and Dr Ian Prior, Te Rangitihi Rangiwaiata (John) Tahuparae, Sir Robert Muldoon, and, the man from whom we draw our ethos James K Baxter. Again it was an example of leaders paying attention to the important things, the highest ranking official in the land and even the regional commander of Police, Pieri Munroe, and the head of the Maori policing unit Wally Haumaha encouraging us by their presence and affirming our efforts.

Ta Anand Satyanand and D

There was a TV3 news item about the event – the lead in was along the lines of “Why the Governor General is hanging around with gang members”. View video here.

I inwardly groaned, expecting that we were about to be crapped on – but no, it was a generous piece of reporting and it was contextualised both within the terms of the Government’s ‘Drivers of Crime’ initiatives and the ‘Whanau ora’ philosophy espoused by Tariana Turia. Both Pieri and Sir Anand spoke in glowing terms about the success of CART and the important social contribution it was making. I’ve got to say that this recent effort is attributable in the main to the strong management and leadership of my youngest son, Laurie O’Reilly, who runs the organisation. We had three of CART’s founding trustees present, Harvey, Gary Victor Martin, and Harry Tam, and our long time mentor Bill Maung Maung, now in his 90th year and in failing health.

Founding trustees Harvey Uiti, Gary Victor Martin, & celebrant Fr Thiege O’Leary at CART opening

Harry Tam founding trustee

Harry and Laurie spoke on our behalf. As I looked around the group gathered there that day, in some cases three generations, it made me realise that we were witnessing a changing of the guard and the intergenerational transfer of a strong kaupapa. Harry’s speech, typically, was powerful and challenging, pointing out to the Governor General that in contrast to previous years where our groups were marginalised by the accident of policy they were now being excluded and treated as ‘non-persons’ by the deliberate intent of policy. Harry spoke of the politician who delights in using the language of hate and deprecation and who recently called all gang members ‘slaves’. Harry reflected on the predictive aspect of our use of Baxter’s term ‘nga mokai’ – which can be translated as slaves – although we describe it as being ‘the fatherless ones’. In any case Hemi’s lines came to mind:

It will take more than talk
To make this a country
Where the men who were treated like slaves
Work for things other than money.

I contrasted the language of hate with the aroha and faith demonstrated by Tumu, by Ta Anand, by Pieri, the ‘more than talk’, and I knew in that moment that despite the reality that some sections of authority will forever see us as the dubious brothers others see our souls, and we will be alright.

Superintendent Pieri Munroe

I’m preparing to head off to Parihaka with the whanau in early January for the Peace Festival. Wow, what a line up of musicians. I’ve been scheduled on the Saturday to give a korero at the speaker’s forum. I’ve called my theme: “The Dissolution of Maori Gangism and the Rise of Whanau Ora”. On my patch-free way through the River City no doubt the fact that the knight mayor has been given an optional H for Christmas will give me good cheer. If you get the chance have a look at the little programme on my work on Findlay Macdonald’s ‘Talk Talk’ – just click this link.

Next year I’m going to focus on establishing methamphetamine recovery initiatives, treatment centres in whichever form communities want. I saw a story in the New York Times about a Californian surfer called Darryl Virostko. He is highly regarded having won the Mavericks “Men who ride mountains” competition – the Super Bowl of surf- three times. Meth hit his community like the waves on which they ride and he was caught up in the maelstrom himself – ‘meth was gigantic’ he said, ‘everyone had sores all over their face. With meth you are moving at a million miles a minute. Once you start using its not something you can stop overnight”. But he has stopped, and he has used surfing as his conduit. Virostko’s nickname is ‘Flea’ and so in conjunction with a local rehab organisation (the MM and Sallies co-operative partnership model again) he has established “Fleahab” where he helps those coming off methamphetamine to succumb to the ‘higher power’ of Tangaroa, the ocean, and to replace the high of meth with the endorphin rush of strenuous physical activity.

At home we are going to draw on the spiritual power that seems to emanate from Otatara and we’re planning to run celebratory concerts on a monthly basis for whanau who have beaten meth addiction. We’ll kick this off in February with Maori Motown (with a message) held on the night before the big Mission concert.

So, the year has ended. Thanks to all who have helped support the kaupapa, and to those who have given words of encouragement through the feedback to the blog. God’s blessings to you and families, and may words of love be the first things you hear and speak on any given day in 2010. Arohanui. D

Tags: CART  Denis O'Reilly  Maori  Methamphetamine  Mongrel Mob  Salvation Army  

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