Sam Lotu-Iiga's visit to Arohata Prison has a nervy start. Immediately after entering the reception area of the jail, on the outskirts of Wellington, the new Corrections Minister sets off the metal detectors.
"Must be the false teeth," he says.
He is waved through with a laugh by security staff. After giving the make, model, and serial number of our dictaphones and cameras, and surrendering our mobile phones, we follow a guard down a long, dimly lit corridor in the women-only, medium-to-high security prison.
In a meeting room, a group of prisoners greet Lotu-Iiga with a waiata. He is clearly moved and appears to have a lump in his throat.
After a short speech in Samoan, barely louder than a mumble, he meets the waiata group.
"Hi, I'm Sam," he says. He asks a lot of questions about their day - what time they get up, how many hours they have off, whether they are working. He takes his time, despite Corrections officers trying to shuffle him to the next place.
His relaxed, confident demeanour contrasts with his first, hesitant appearances in Parliament after being made Corrections Minister.
The Samoa-born, Mangere-raised MP, now in his third term in Parliament, has been thrown a $1.5 billion, 4000-staff portfolio.
"It did come out of the blue somewhat," he says about his appointment.
Immediately after taking on the role late last year he was put in the spotlight when killer and paedophile Phillip Smith fled to Brazil - a blunder which Lotu-Iiga could not be blamed for but which he was required to clean up. The crisis made him a target for Opposition MPs, who sensed weakness.
His colleagues admit there was some concern at his initial hesitancy in the House, but they are confident that the Corrections portfolio is in the right hands.
"Just look at his background," said one National MP.
Lotu-Iiga is a highly educated MP who gave away jobs at a top law firm and investment banks to pursue a life in politics.
His path to the Cabinet began at age 3 when his family of five moved from Apia to Auckland.
His working-class, Christian family lived in a three-bedroom house in Mangere that sometimes housed up to 16 relatives.
"My father, in particular, made huge sacrifices," Lotu-Iiga said in his maiden speech in 2008. "The stories he told of having to walk from Ponsonby to Parnell to save the bus fare in order to have some lunch humble me."
His parents were also strong believers in education. After starting him at Mangere Primary School, they sent him off to Auckland Grammar, then scrimped to help him pay his fees at the University of Auckland, where he graduated with a law and commerce degree.
He became a solicitor at Russell McVeagh, then moved to the UK to become a financial analyst. He gained his MBA at Cambridge University and played rugby for the New Zealand Barbarians. After a stint in banking in Sydney, Lotu-Iiga returned home and changed tack to politics.
"We have a Samoan proverb that says 'The path to leadership is through service'," he says.
His roots are in Labour's heartland in South Auckland. But Lotu-Iiga instead chose to run for the conservative Citizens and Ratepayers ticket in the 2007 council elections. After winning the Tamaki-Maungakiekie seat, he caught the eye of National MP Judith Collins and her part-Samoan husband David Wong Tung. Mrs Collins became one of his mentors.
He was also guided by controversial political strategist Simon Lusk.
With their help he won the marginal Maungakiekie seat in the 2008 general election - an electorate which had been held by Labour for three parliamentary terms.
Seven years on, he has risen above his mentor Judith Collins in National's ranks and has taken her former Corrections role.
Party members say Lotu-Iiga is ambitious, strong-willed, and sometimes stubborn. But he is also humble, almost to a fault.
"He needs to blow his own trumpet more," one senior National Party colleague says.
At Arohata Prison, the Herald photographer asks Lotu-Iiga to pose in front of a barbed wire fence. He is unable to decide whether to smile or pull a staunch face and ends up with a bit of a grimace.
Corrections officers give him advice: "Don't put your hand on your hip. You're like a teapot."
His press secretary chips in: "Firm but fair," she says.
The minister is hoping to hear the good news stories within jails that often get overshadowed by cases such as Phillip Smith's escape.
"I want to hear about not just issues but your dreams, your aspirations," he tells the inmates.
Under the leadership of former minister Anne Tolley and Corrections chief Ray Smith, the prison system has increasingly moved away from punitive measures and towards rehabilitation.
Prisoners now have greater access to schooling, jobs training and treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. Lotu-Iiga plans to maintain this direction, in particular the expansion in addiction treatment.
Arohata Prison contains the only drug treatment unit (DTU) for women inmates, which is separated from the mainstream jail. The women in the unit range in age and appearance. Among them is an early-20s, blonde Pakeha girl and a greying Polynesian woman in her 50s.
In a concrete courtyard split by a volleyball net, members of the DTU are doing Zumba, a form of dancing exercise, to the sound of KC and the Sunshine Band's Give it Up. When the music stops, the prisoners high-five each other.
"What's the most significant thing you've learned?" the minister asks one of the inmates wearing dark purple, which means she has nearly completed the intensive addiction programme.
She says: "It's good to learn how to live alcohol and drug-free. Without Corrections staff we wouldn't be able to move forward ourselves.
"It's a privilege to be here. I'm in jail but I'm happy to be here and to make changes, especially in a safe environment like DTU ... so we can get back home to our family."
Lotu-Iiga smiles: "I understand".
Family is everything to Lotu-Iiga, his colleagues told the Herald. One of them also says Lotu-Iiga "knows about tragedy", having lost his daughter Samaria when she was three days old through the illness fetal hydrops.
He once had a cousin in prison, though he won't reveal any details other than the length of the sentence: "Months, not years".
Did it leave any impression on him?
"It made me realise that prison doesn't just affect the individual who is inside the wire," he says. "It is about families who are worried, who miss their loved ones and who hope they come back out and change their lives."
The visit to Arohata is an overwhelmingly positive experience. But the minister's mood shifts a little on the way out to the security gates.
He tells a Corrections officer: "I have mixed emotions. There is always a sense of sadness that they are here in the first place. But I don't want to say that because I want to encourage them."
•Born: Apia, Samoa.
•Family: Lives with wife Jules and daughter Hope in Onehunga.
•Education: Auckland Grammar, University of Auckland (Law/Commerce), University of Cambridge (MBA).
•Jobs before politics: Corporate and commercial lawyer at Russell McVeagh, Auckland. Financial analyst for Bankers Trust, UK. Executive consultant at Macquarie Bank.
•Parliamentary career: National MP for Maungakiekie since 2008.
•Ministerial portfolios: Corrections, Ethnic Communities, Pacific Peoples, Assoc Health.