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ManUp: Turning Gang-Men into Family-Men

Opinion Piece

14th June 2022

The media have been using this photo a lot again lately as the out-of-touch National party harp on about banning gang patches.

This photo throws back to when ManUp united many of the gangs on the steps of Parliament back in December 2018 as we protested against Kelvin Davis and this Labour government who were blocking ManUp from helping prisoners, particularly gang members. Is it any wonder New Zealand now has a massive gang problem on its hands?

The media are only too happy to infer by using this picture that ManUp is also a gang. But know the difference. The ManUp club, “Tu Tangata Riders’ is a motorcycle club...not a gang. A gang is “an organised group of criminals.” A club is “an association dedicated to a particular interest or activity.”

ManUp has the proven ability to help and unite gang members, regardless of their affiliations. ManUp was founded by Apostle Brian Tamaki...a man of unity who knows how to peacefully bring people together from opposing backgrounds and loyalties, to bring about positive change in their lives. ManUp has countless stories of thousands of ex-gang members, across multiple gangs, who are now reformed and making positive contributions to their communities.

Take the story of Toko Kopu, ex-gang president for the Mongrel Mob. He spent 40+ years in the NZ Justice system and served 15 years in prison. You name the crime, he likely did it. He gives multiple firsthand accounts of how useless the current programmes are inside our prisons. From the outside looking in, we might think those programmes don’t work. Toko knows for a fact they don’t work. He’d done them all just to ‘tick the box’. It wasn’t until he met ManUp that he finally was able to make dramatic changes in his life and leave the gang life. He now has restored his relationships with his family, helps other men through ManUp and operates with no government funding a rehabilitation home for men, ‘Mana Atua Recovery Home’. The irony is, while Apostle Brian Tamaki was imprisoned for ten days at Mt Eden prison for simply speaking on a microphone, this same man of his, Toko Kopu, was turning up at the prison gates to pick up men who were being released from Mt Eden, who were desperate for change and had committed far more serious crimes. Amid this unjust and corrupt imprisonment, our people were still being change agents outside a thankless justice and corrections system. We’d just love to reach more of these men before they are forced to return to gang life upon release from jail.

Other the past week National’s policy roll out to correct gang behaviour has been nothing short of pathetic. They’ve reverted to the tried and failed policies of the old guard...a consorting policy, banning insignia and social media policy, and police power to disperse gang gatherings. It’s obvious to all they are desperate to ‘vote-snatch’. Are National really that incapable of dreaming up a fresh thought? Or are they really as stale and pale as everyone says they are?

Chester Burrows, an ex-National MP, once attempted in Whanganui to ban gang insignia, but 13 years later he admits that it never worked. Back in 2018, after having learnt his lesson the hard way in Whanganui, this same Chester Burrows sought out the work of ManUp, he went on the road with us in Northland, and he praised the firsthand changed lives work we were doing among gangs.

Yet, Kelvin Davis banned ManUp from the prisons, back in 2018. He slapped the ManUp gift horse in the mouth. ManUp was offering a FREE programme in the prisons to help with rehabilitation. All ManUp requested was access into the prisons to meet with the men and facilitate the ManUp programme...a programme that prisoners were crying out for. Kelvin instead promised that his $98 million plan to tackle high rates of Māori recidivism through rehabilitation programmes would’s been an epic failure...where’s any evidence that Kelvin’s super-expensive programme has made any shred of difference with those who need it most...yes, those in gangs!

When Apostle Brian Tamaki was in prison for ten days earlier this year, he was kept in isolation from all other prisoners...prisoners that were crying out for his help and the ManUp programme. The inmates that were released over these ten days often stopped and told Tamaki’s supporters camped outside how the inmates were so hopeful, that with Apostle Brian inside they might finally get ManUp’s programme that they’d long been desperate for. A lot of these men want to change...they just don’t know how to make the changes on their own. If officials were really interested in rehabilitation, why would they deny men this right to access rehabilitation services?

Daily the ManUp team receive prison mail from inmates crying out for change. On the day Apostle Brian Tamaki was finally released from prison the inmates tell us they performed a rousing haka. They respect this man and the fact that he, and the ManUp programme he has created, could help them if given even half a chance. But Kelvin Davis and this Labour government could give a damn.

Instead, we’ve seen this government cuddle up to the gang leaders, trying to buy their compliance. That’s not what gang members need. That’s not what they’ve been asking for.

ManUp has proven that ‘straight up the guts’ talk, cutting to the heart of the issues in each man, real talk, helping men to heal from hurts in their lives, and the call for men to ‘Man Up’ to their actions and shortfalls, is the solution to changing these gangsters.

When will politicians wake up to the fact, that they do not know how to fix the gang problems escalating in this country? They know as much about how to fix gangs as a hog knows about Sundays.

The key to fixing our gang problems is by changing the gang members, one gangster at a time.

And still...ManUp waits by the phone, waiting for the opportunity to finally be allowed into the prisons to help some of these gangsters who so desperately want to change. Nice job’ve got blood (and bullets) on your hands.


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