When Paora Raharaha was just 6 years old he was stealing lollies and hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Six is a young age to start a life of crime and Paora admits "things just grew from there".

The Paeroa boy first appeared in court not long after his 16th birthday. He was back soon after, this time being sentenced to prison.

"I went in for just under a year for the first time and I got out in 2012, and then I didn't change. So I went back, did the same stuff and then I found myself back in jail two months later," he said.


There are more than 10,000 people in Aotearoa behind bars and thirty percent of them end up back inside within 12 months.

Paora was one of them - the second time he was locked up for four and a half years. He was released from that stint in May 2016.

"I told the boys a couple days before, told them that I was getting out. They didn't believe me, until the day I was packing up my gear.

"But I appreciated everything - my freedom, hanging out clothes, things I didn't like doing, mowing the lawns, making my first dinner, all those things, even just driving in the car. So after that I thought 'this is it' and since then I've just never looked back."

Back in Paeroa and with a strong desire to change, life on the outside wasn't easy. And it took personal commitment, tenacity and more than a little luck to not fall back into old habits.

"When I decided to walk the straight line, it was harder than I thought too. I was applying for jobs and I was getting turned away because of my criminal record. After the first, second, third time I thought about going back to my old life just because that's all I knew.

Paora found the solution within himself.

"That's when I thought I'll just run my own business, and since then I've just never looked back."

The 25-year-old decided to set himself some ambitious goals; to study, to become a personal trainer and to start his own business.

He now devotes much of his time to helping the community. At the same time, he is helping himself.

"It feels really good. You know, the main thing is staying out of jail and being with my family, especially my daughter, because I miss her. Yeah I missed quite a bit of her life."

An important part of Paora's journey has been reconnecting with his ancestral past. He's also maintained a surprising connection with his previous life - staying in touch with some of the police officers he encountered along the way.

Police Officer Esau Uiese first met Paora when the boy was 16 and knew him as "a good sportsman" who went down the wrong path.

"You hardly find anyone that will come out and will do all these things and Paora is the only person that I've dealt with in the past that has come back to me and thanked me," Uiese said.

According to Esau, Paora has come a long way and he's happy to see someone turn their life around.

Paora puts it down to others' hard work.

"All the people that helped me out and Esau was one of them, even though I was doing my crime and all that sort of stuff, he was still there helping me out. He only wanted the best for me, but I didn't. I was in my own world."

Paora wants to inspire at-risk youth to keep active and out of trouble. He hopes it will prevent them from going down the same path he did.

"I think a lot about these kids going into court at a young age and it's not really good for their future. Honestly, I feel for them. I have a lot of love towards them, no judgment from me. I know what it's like to just go through all that stuff.

"So I try and help them if I can if just by talking to them, showing them that this is what happens if you carry on down that path."

But Paora believes society has a part to play too.

"They're really hearty good workers that just want to work. They just want to work! So giving them that second chance isn't only good for the employer, but for the people coming out of prison, their families, the wider community and everyone else.

"Everyone deserves a second chance no matter what you've done. Without second chances they're going to fall back into the same cycle and do the same thing.

And it's his own "second chance" which has enabled Paora to change for the better - later this year he will graduate from a business management course, and for him there's no turning back.

"I've got way too much to lose now, having my goals there and having things to strive for - that's something."

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