Two Mongrel Mob members are hoping to change gang culture from the inside out after a lifetime of crime.
Karl Goldsbury and “Baldy” have both served plenty of jail time but are now working with Tē Tuinga Whānau Support Services to help reduce gang harm.
They are even working alongside police gang harm reduction co-ordinator Damien White, who said both gangs and police understood that “not every gang member is a criminal”.
Young people who didn’t have any convictions were often joining gangs — police are now focused on finding ways to “keep them on the straight and narrow”.
White said Goldsbury and Baldy were playing a big part in that.
Drugs, firearms and violence saw Goldsbury put behind bars for nearly 20 years of his life.
It’s been two years since he left jail — his longest stint of freedom since becoming an adult — and now he’s trying to make a difference by reducing gang harm from the inside out.
“We didn’t realise the power that we can have over other people, to be role models,” Goldsbury said.
“We’re active gang members at the end of the day, but we have jobs, working in a space where we’re helping other whānau.”
He works full-time showing other members and those soon-to-be members there is life outside of the world of crime.
Goldsbury started on his path to serious crime by selling dope but wasn’t born into the gang, saying he connected with the Mob boss as a father-figure in a way he didn’t connect with his own father at the age of 13.
“Next thing, the meth came along. I used to always hate it.”
He tried it once and there was no looking back, he said, and he had hidden his use and manufacturing from the boss.
“I’ve hurt a lot of people, I’ve affected huge communities.”
His last stint in jail was after he set his P manufacturing site on fire in Katikati: “I ruined that community.”
A turning point was reached in the father-of-five’s life when he accepted his actions and the impact they had on himself, his family and the community.
Waikeria Prison’s Te Tirohanga programme (formerly Māori Focus Unit) also gave him the opportunity to directly connect with his whānau.
Since leaving prison, Goldsbury has completed a social-work course and is using his time to pass his knowledge on to others.
“Everything’s hard when you’re a gang member coming out of jail,” he said.
Finding a job was difficult and there was scrutiny from every direction to fend off.
He was taken in by Tē Tuinga Whānau Support Services director Tommy Wilson to work with youth and other members.
Now, there was pressure – a good pressure – knowing his actions would affect others; from colleagues to families and communities being supported by the trust.
Working alongside police, they knew they needed to toe the line, which was good, he said.
He has made his first mortgage payment on his first house with help from his mum, and also bought a motorbike and car with his own wages.
“When you start to help yourself, people around will start to help when they see you’re not full of shit.”
On Tuesday, they went to a youth justice facility to begin working with a boy who was going to be a gang member.
They visit him, and others, twice a week, teaching them how to be a “good gang member”.
“If he’s going to be what he’s going to be, he might as well be the best version of it,” Goldsbury said.
A good member was someone not causing harm to their families or the community, not involved in crime, someone with morals and manners.
Baldy said that for him, entering the Mob was the result of his environment where his grandfather, father and brother were members, and his sisters had married gang members.
He said gangs themselves were not bad but instead the individuals that “go off and do their own thing”.
He said this was his first job, and he could now afford to pay rent and put food on the table, but needed to adjust to having a lower income than when he was offending.
“I went from a V8 to a soccer mum van, it’s cool as – I’ve got my freedom.”
Gang involvement is a cycle, he said, and he needed to break it to be a good role model for his sons.
Colliding with authority was not the way to do it.
Baldy got to this point in his journey through Karl’s support. Both were in jail at the time, and wrote to him about changing their ways.
“I’m a family man … I don’t consider myself a gangster.”
He wanted to come home, and needed positive people around to help him make better decisions and be able to contribute.
And this was now what he was helping pass on to others, steering them away from “poor decisions”.
There are three things crucial to helping someone – the person needs to want to change, be vulnerable, and be honest with themselves.
The pair are working with young men in youth justice who will be in the gang and have already started talking to people inside jail.
They were selective about who they chose to work with – the member needed to want to change and be influential.
Police gang harm reduction co-ordinator Damien White has dealt with Goldsbury a lot over the years, but they have now “gone full circle” and work together in gang harm prevention.
Police were coming along on one side, the gangs were coming along on the other, and the two are now meeting in the middle towards a common goal, he said.
He said Bay of Plenty police had supportive leadership within the agency to implement the new prevention approach, which included working alongside good leaders who had changed their life, while still being active gang members.
“Previously, Corrections and police would put all these conditions on them, conditions not to associate with one another, not to live in a certain area.”
White said this was “setting them up to fail” as it took them away from their support.
They now work with people in the community who were doing the work in the community and not dictating how it should be, leveraging off the appetite there is now in gangs to change.
“It’s understanding that not every gang member is a criminal.
“It’s building up resilience in our community to stand on their own two feet … not to survive on offending or handouts.”
White said it was working, and they were now also going into prisons to speak to people before they were released.
Minister for Children Kelvin Davis met with Tē Tuinga Whānau staff yesterday to hear about their work, and said their efforts were an essential part of Oranga Tamariki’s strategy to allow youth and their whānau to stay connected to their communities.
He said it’s important to consider working with anyone who can potentially make a positive impact on the lives of the young people Oranga Tamariki work with.
He said Oranga Tamariki was often guided by their trusted partners. Many youths have come into contact with gangs and having people to talk about real lived experience could be empowering.
Wilson has put in a request for funding for five houses to accommodate former prisoners who are in gangs and want to reform.
A spokesman for Davis said the first step for the trust is to meet with Corrections.
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