A former gang P cook is the inspiration for a new children's book to raise funds for a house for prisoners in Tauranga.

Proceeds will also go to Pillars, the charity that supports positive futures for the 20,000 children of prisoners in New Zealand.

The proposed house for former prisoners will be run by local social agency Te Tuinga Whanau which currently houses homeless families in nine houses across the city.

The agency's director, Tommy Kapai Wilson, is the author of the book, Daddy's Home.

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Wilson was inspired by Arataki man Bruce French, a Greasy Dogs gang member who served time in Waikeria Prison after being busted in a raid by the Armed Offenders Squad in 2002.

After a 2-year prison lag and being out 14 years, French, who has since obtained a degree in social services, will work with Wilson and his team of social workers, firstly to mentor young offenders, and ultimately working at the house for prisoners.

French still wears his gang colours and says now he uses them positively, trading guns for bouncy castles.

"I don't see it as a gang, but a hapu. We do a lot of things in the community. I teach carving at Maungatapu school. But the colours have influence. As a patched member, I can connect to former prisoners better than, say, a person who has never had anything to do with prisons."

French said staying connected with his family - in particular his three children - daughters Kenzie, 2, and Nikitta, 6 and son Dre, 16 helped him through difficult years when he battled the stigma of being a former prisoner.

Tommy Kapai Wilson, the author of the book, Daddy's Home, with former prisoner Bruce French he inspiration behind the new children's book. PHOTO/Andrew Warner
Tommy Kapai Wilson, the author of the book, Daddy's Home, with former prisoner Bruce French he inspiration behind the new children's book. PHOTO/Andrew Warner

He is committed to helping other prisoners and gang members. As well as working with Wilson, he is working with Hinewirangi Kohu-Morgan to help Black Power and Mongrel Mob prisoners connect with their families.

Hinewirangi Kohu-Morgan runs workshops for Maori prisoners at Waikeria Prison. PHOTO/ Andrew Warner.
Hinewirangi Kohu-Morgan runs workshops for Maori prisoners at Waikeria Prison. PHOTO/ Andrew Warner.

Kohu-Morgan, who writes and runs workshops in Waikeria prison, says she aims to help offenders see themselves first and foremost as "beautiful Maori men."

"I tell them, put your signs away, I don't want to know what patch you are from, what substance you took or dealt in, I want them to find themselves, and learn to be a beautiful father and good partner."

Connecting with their families and community is a responsibility we all share to help prisoners rehabilitate she says,

"People should be outside the prison gates to welcome them back to the marae."

Kapai said that it was time the Government spent more money on rehabilitation of prisoners than building more prisons.

The author spent time with prisoners from Waikeria Prison and as research for the book asked them to make a wish list of what was key to them not offending again.

"Family came out top of the list for everyone . . . when prisoners come out often, they feel they have no hope, so the support of whanau is essential. Research shows that there is 40% less chance of repeat offending by people that connect with their whanau."

Bruce French and Kohu-Morgan were both present at yesterday's book launch at the Bethlehem home of Bay philanthropist Paul Adams who is patron of Te Tuinga Whanau.

Also present was Lou Te Keeti, Tauranga's $10.3m Powerball winner who talked about his own family member who was in prison,

"He is doing his time...but the biggest casualty is family...when his downfall occurred it was most traumatic to his children."

Te Keeti supported the sentiment behind the book about reconnecting families being key to a prisoner's rehabilitation.

The book tells the story of a little girl who dreams of the day that her father comes home from prison and all the exciting things they can do together to make a fresh start.

Verna McFelin CEO of Pillars says it will be a "meaningful tool" for children of prisoners.

Kapai aims to encourage children to read the book with their parents in prison, enabling an emotional prompt for inmates to reconnect with their children and whanau.

"I have had grown men in tears telling me this book would change their life in prison".

Givealittle page
A Givealittle page has been set up. A donation of $10 will provide one book per child and $2 from every $10 donated will also go to the charity Pillars and another $2 to Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust which provides advocacy, information and support for reuniting families.

Details on the Givealittle campaign can be found at -
https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/whendaddycomeshome