If you have ever been scammed by a good story you will know exactly how I feel.
Last weekend I was heading home from Auckland and stopped at the BP garage up on the Bombay Summit to gas up the car and get a coffee to keep me awake. I needed a kick start after a big night out at the Madonna concert, and walking the Remuera Golf course during the day to watch our own local golfing legend Josh Geary come very close to taking out the NZ PGA open.
Just as I went to back away from the BP garage, a rather distressed Maori father holding his young baby with a broken arm was right in my face at my driver side window, pleading for some money to put petrol in his car so he could get down to his Nanny's tangi in Murupara.
I bought the story hook, line and a very heavy, hard luck sinker, and filled up his car as well as giving the other two kids in the car a few bucks to get them down to Murupara where the supposed tangi was to take place.
Well who wouldn't believe a distressed dad trying to get his whanau down to a tangi right?
Not to mention the very pregnant Mum sitting sheepishly in the driver's seat.
As I went to pay for the petrol the alert attendant pulled my empathy chord and yanked it right back into the real world.
"You didn't buy their hard luck story did you mate?" pointing to the white Honda station wagon in bay six, next to my wagon.
Before I could even utter the word yes and try to reverse my card payment, the white waka pulled out, and instead of heading south to Murupara, they did an exit stage right in the opposite direction, heading straight back into Auckland, where they more than likely had just come from to find suckers like me.
Turns out - according to the Bro at the Bowser - I was not the first to fall for their hard luck story.
In fact, they had been working both garages up on the Bombay for the last two weeks, with a very high success rate.
For me, culture is everything. It connects them back to where they belong and, the earlier the connection, the less likely they will offend later in life.
Not that this made me feel any better, watching them head off to score their next fix courtesy of my gas and gullibility.
The thing I found hardest about this scam was the way this whanau used their little girl with the broken arm, a pregnant wife and their Nanny, who would I am sure have been broken-hearted at the degree of desperation they had gotten themselves into.
When I see the rising rate of unsolved burglaries in New Zealand, I am more than convinced that a lot of this desperation is driven by raging drug habits, and the solution lies in connecting these lost, desperate people back to their culture, their marae and their whanau.
In our line of work, at the coal face of desperate whanau, there are a few things worth considering when it comes to the demographics of those who come knocking at our door. Remembering our door is almost the last chance cafe, before the next door that opens down the corridor of offending will be to a prison cell.
Firstly, and most importantly, we do not see clients presenting themselves for help who are connected to their marae, their church or their sports club and all of us, when asked at a hui on Friday with senior Corrections and MSD managers, were able to say confidently we had never had a client in desperate trouble, who was fluent in Te Reo Maori.
Why, was the question many have asked - as they did last Friday. For me and my staff, the answer is when you know who you are and where you are from, you know where you are heading in life.
The same can be said for our non-Maori clients who have been disconnected for one reason or another
So, what part can culture play in turning around the troubled youth we have in our society today, especially those who have Maori whakapapa (lineage)? For me, culture is everything. It connects them back to where they belong and, the earlier the connection, the less likely they will offend later in life. The chances of them ending up as a desperate whanau, scamming gullible, gas-giving suckers like me are hugely reduced.
It starts with parents who kick start their kids on who they are and where they belong on this crazy planet called Earth, and the sooner they start, the better the outcome for them and their communities.
- Tommy Wilson is a Tauranga author and writer.