Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Mob man seeking political role

Former gang member-turned-youth mentor wants to help his community as a councillor.

Ex-Mongrel Mob member Warwick Godfery now guides young people to keep them out of gangs. Photo / Alan Gibson
Ex-Mongrel Mob member Warwick Godfery now guides young people to keep them out of gangs. Photo / Alan Gibson

The words inked across Warwick Godfery's forehead - Mongrel Mob - leave no uncertainty about the hard road the Kawerau man has walked.

Now, after seven years as a patched Mob member - and more than 20 helping the most vulnerable in his stigmatised Bay of Plenty mill town community - Mr Godfery is making a bid to become one of the country's few elected councillors with former gang ties by standing for the Kawerau District Council.

Kawerau-born and raised, Mr Godfery, 49, joined the Mongrel Mob as a "young fella", swapping a promising boxing career that had already netted him several prizes including a national Golden Gloves title in the 1980s for a life of drugs and crime.

"I got out when I met my partner and had children ... You don't want your children living a life like that," he told the Herald.

While family life encouraged him to leave his gang life behind, he said those years left him with an unforgettable insight into corners of society he felt were often neglected.

Mr Godfery has since devoted his life to helping others, and through his role at Te Wananga o Aotearoa ki Kawerau mentors young people to keep them out of gangs and in work.

He said boxing had once again become a passion - and also an effective way to work with his students, many of whom work up a sweat at regular training nights for second-chance learners. Police have applauded the programme, and local fight nights have been put on to raise money for anti-violence charities.

Mr Godfery acknowledged that Kawerau - often in the press for the wrong reasons, the most recent case being a double shooting that resulted in three arrests - had its issues to tackle.

"Drugs, alcohol, these sorts of things are just symptoms of things like unemployment - and three generations of unemployment is not unusual here," he said.

"You could say that being in a gang has given me a pretty good understanding of some of the distractions that are facing the young people of today, but more importantly, the solutions that can help them towards a brighter future.

"I'm well versed in the dynamics of a low-decile community like ours - but I think we can develop more opportunities and initiatives."

There were "gaps" within Kawerau District Council's governance, and some sectors of the community felt marginalised. "There are some blind spots, and my contribution would go towards providing a perspective that may not have been appreciated on the council we've had."

Would Kawerau ratepayers see a problem with a council candidate with a gang history - especially one marked clearly across his face?

"Not our residents," he said. "I do know in our community my work in the last 20 years will speak for itself."

- NZ Herald

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