Gang shackles define life on the Ford Block

By Simon Collins

Being born into a Ford Block gang is like being born an Israeli or a Palestinian - there seems no way out without betraying your brothers.

"Several family members were a part of it," says a man who grew up in a gang. "It was around all the time. It didn't matter if you had a patch or not."

Now 36 and a father of seven, the man aims to stay out of trouble.

But when his 25-year-old brother turned up during a Herald interview after being cut across the head with a machete, the man felt obliged to exact terrible revenge against the rival gang members who inflicted the injury.

"The Block's going to be hot tonight," he vowed. "I'll go and catch them. That's how it is down here - touch one of mine and I'll touch 10 of yours."

The man, who was in and out of jail for 15 years in Rotorua, moved to Auckland in 1999 and stayed out of jail for six years. He and his family moved back to Rotorua last year, and he was back inside within weeks.

"I love this town but I don't love what it does to people, how the people are," he said.

"They say you can take yourself out of Rotorua but you can't take Rotorua out of you. Because there's a lot of Rotoruans up there in South Auckland. We leave here for a better life, but they have taken Rotorua lifestyle with them - all the drinking, the parties and stuff."

The gangs are not unique to the city. Jackson Te Pairi, a Rotorua driving instructor, 45, grew up on a farm and then in Murupara. In both places his father and his friends drank and got into fights every weekend.

Mr Te Pairi was sexually molested by an uncle, who was about 15, every night for two years from about the age of 5. He learned later that molestation ran in the family and the uncle had probably been abused himself.

Mr Te Pairi's father would come home drunk and sometimes beat him for no reason.

When he left school and got a job pruning pine trees, Mr Te Pairi found himself working with Mongrel Mob members, and became a fully patched Mobster at 16.

"You are accepted in there. You go in there with warts and all," he said.

"You grow up being sexually abused and then getting slapped around and given a hiding by your dad, then getting beaten up by the cops. Who can you trust?" he asks. "It's hard to find people you can trust, let alone talk to, except people in the gangs."

But joining a gang means going to war. Rotorua was then a Black Power stronghold, and when Murupara Mob members went into town, the "Blacks" would pick them off and attack them.

Even within the Mob, members would pick fights with one another.

"I remember watching this guy pull a fencepost off a fence and he's into his mates. It was just, 'There goes Arthur ... '

"To this day I reckon none of them know why the Blacks hate the Mongrel Mob. When I was in the Mob, I didn't know why," Mr Te Pairi said.

Rotorua social worker Glennis Dennehy, who wrote The Girls in the Gang (2001), said many young men in gangs, and well over half their girlfriends, had been sexually abused before joining.

Only one of the women she interviewed came from "a nurturing family". Most had experienced family violence.

"Often they moved to gangs because this guy was a big strong protector and had his mates that supported him," she said.

In the Ford Block, locals say gang patches are seen less these days. Sure, a house at 36 Ford Rd was burned by the Mongrel Mob recently to punish a family with Black Power connections. But the youngsters are forming looser groups called "West Side" (west of the city centre) and "East Side".

A solo mum off Ford Rd has seen groups of teenagers, some as young as 14, fighting other groups with batons at night. A man in his early 20s lost an eye and suffered a fractured skull after one street battle a month ago.

Some escape only by moving to Australia. Jackson Te Paihi found God. His new partner invited him to hear her sing in church, and he became a Christian.

Whether it is a church or perhaps a supportive workplace or a sports team, every gang member needs to feel that he belongs somewhere if he is to get out of the gang ghetto.

The Ford Block's Sunset Junior High School tries to get in early with "adventure-based learning" such as hunting trips or placements with the Maori arts and crafts institute Te Puia. Teachers hand write personal notes to parents when their children have done well.

When deputy principal Ann Edhouse told one mother that her son had been given a special certificate for achievement, "His mother sat there in tears and said, 'I've never heard anything good about him for years'."

One-armed retired Pastor Dan Rangi and his wife Betty run holiday programmes for children who have "nowhere to go and nothing to do".

"Love is a greater way," he said. "If we can show love to the kids, a proper constructive love that is hands-on so they can see another possibility, then there is no rebellion."

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