The story of Toko Kopu.
I was born and bred in Otara, my mum was a godly woman and did her best to raise me and my 7 brothers and sisters in church, but my Dad was a heavy-handed man and would beat me and my siblings often. One time when I was 8, he beat me over the head with a piece of wood, and when I was 12 he beat me with a hammer to my head. His violence conditioned me for a life in the gangs and I headed to the Mongrel Mob as soon as I could.
I followed my brothers into the Mob when I was 15 in 1976. I took on 5 grown men to win my patch. Just like many other young men, I joined the gang because of the bad treatment or neglect from my Dad.
I worked my way to the top and became Mob President. Life in the gang involved perversion in all it’s forms, violence, drugs, and alcohol and crime. Barking like a Bulldog was a sign of gang loyalty. It was all about who could bark the loudest and bite the hardest. I was one of the best. I used to bark in my sleep, my wife would tell me, “Heel, dog, heel”
Because I had left school so early, my school was the NZ justice system and jail. From the age of 12 I had been raised in Boy’s homes or Youth Detention Centers. Intimidation, violence and abuse was the normal treatment and I was used to it.
As a patched member of the MMM, it was important for me to be the toughest and strongest, weakness wasn’t an option. My anger would come out unchecked after I had been drinking. I was a chronic thief and spent my time pinching cars, shop lifting, committing armed robbery of businesses or banks.
Prison was my normal, I was in and out for 34 years. Doing crime, getting caught and doing the time. As soon as I got out, I was a looking for the next opportunity to get back into prison. There was no teaching for me in jail as to how to improve myself; I was stuck in the mindset of how to make money through the gangs. I’ve been on Police ‘dangerous threat’ watch lists and spent over 40 years of my life in the justice system.
I was working as a security guard at a local pub in Mangere in 1982 when I met my wife, she was the younger sister to my brother’s partner. I won her over through my confidence and charm but after initial happiness together, my ugly came out in full force, I was under pressure in the gangs and was drinking heavily.
On the drink I became very violent and would beat my wife for no reason at all other than she was there.
She would fight back and threaten to leave me, but I would always find her and made her swear that she wouldn’t tell anyone. I threatened to hurt her family or to burn down her family home. It was really a Once were Warriors type of life. I was Jake the Muss and craved the reputation, not even my brothers in the gang could stop me when I was in a rage.
I remember one time I had beaten her so bad that she blacked out, I had broken her collarbone and dislocated her elbow. I felt such hatred for myself; I was so sorry I had hurt her. I tried to clean her up as best I could, even made her breakfast, but the way she looked at me that morning told me she hated me. She had had enough and was going to leave me.
That frightened me, ‘cause I didn’t want to be alone. I persuaded her to marry me. Our ceremony took place in Paremoremo Maxi Prison in 1985, 6 of my gang mates from the cells came to witness. My daughter was born while I was in prison, I missed the first 8 years of her life.
When the Mob began to get into running P, I started earning ‘mega bucks’. I was heavily addicted – both to taking Meth and to selling it. It got really ugly in our gang meetings, all the brothers high and paranoid. Some of my friends died.
2010 was my last lag, and at the end of that I had decided I needed to look for a change. I had taken my daughter into the same mess I was in, drug running, crime and gangs. She despised me because of what I had taken her and her Mum through.
My turning point was when I was introduced to Man Up, I was coming off a high, my wife and her friend told me about the programme, and I went along. It turns out the couple that were running this group were the same couple I had patched into the Rotorua Mob some 10 years ago!
I saw a lot of other men like me or who had been like me, I wanted that change.
When the call came to respond, I was up there quick. I wanted positive. I started going regularly and allowed myself to change. My relationship with my wife and daughter has been restored, I’m over 2 years free from drugs and alcohol.
Man Up helped me break free from the prison cycle.
I don’t even think of how to do crime anymore. I also got connected to Jesus through Destiny Church and I’ve never looked back. He is my weapon of choice now – prayer is my power. It’s a fight, in some ways its harder than in the gangs, cause this enemy is hidden.
I know where my help comes from and I’m giving my all to this.
Through Man Up and Legacy, we have been able to transform all the 36 years of pain and abuse into victory, our marriage has been restored and we are able to help so many young men and women stuck in the cycle of the courts and prison through the work of our 3 residential homes.
I was awarded Man of the Year for Man Up in 2017. I want to try and be a mentor to those young people. I can see myself in each and every one of them.
Stay focused. Stay on the true path. Tu Tangata.