"When I was growing up, I had no idea statistically my eldest brother was in trouble, but with 50 per cent of male Māori born after 1978 being incarcerated, his fate was almost a coin toss," says Bridgette Tapsell.

Having been in the corporate world most of her working life and in the last 12 years building up a respected PR agency, Tapsell says people are surprised to learn of her experience with what is one of our nation's tragic problems, the high rate of imprisonment of Māori men.

"I will never forget those years of visiting my brother in prisons all over New Zealand, you get to see a world most don't. As a family member of a prisoner it is disheartening to see them go back in again. You feel utterly helpless, nothing seems to help. And of course we are so aware of the victims of their crime and wanting to prevent that cycle of re-offending."

With her brother on one path, Tapsell embarked on another, earning a degree in journalism and starting her own company in the Bay, Village PR & Marketing, handling publicity and branding for businesses.


Yet despite her flourishing agency, Tapsell had a growing disquiet about her wider life purpose and how to integrate that back into her business.

"When you see your people hurting with social problems, it gnaws away at your conscience and you want to help.

"After a lot of reflection I saw a common thread throughout my life, that I often spoke up in situations where others would be too afraid. My moral compass and my mouth seemed very connected! So I decided to expand on this premise, using it as a launching pad for a new direction.

Te Tuinga Whanau. Photo / Andrew Warner
Te Tuinga Whanau. Photo / Andrew Warner

"In my business this attracted a new base of clients who really were speaking up for some of our more vulnerable, whether it be affordable housing, the creation of hundreds of jobs in poor areas with visionary projects, or compassionate medicine."

It was at this time the businesswoman also started to write a fictional novel.

"I started writing a book called Hangi Pants [www.hangipants.com], posting the first five chapters online and got a bit of a following via word of mouth."

The genre of her novel is completely fresh. Her friend coined it 'iwi-otica'.

"It's the Deadpool of the teenage sex world, with a Māori twist. Irreverent, daring and huge fun to write. I really thought I'd get in a world of trouble from the kuia, but the response has been the opposite, they've loved it."


The essence of Hangi Pants, which loosely means one who sleeps around, is a novel that addresses issues of shame.

"When people read these chapters they feel there is nothing they can't tell me, and that's what I want, to bring Kiwis to that place where they shove shame to the sidelines and stop being so damn scared to say their truth, in case they offend someone."

She has now finished the book and has an interested publisher. Already, she has given two public readings in Rotorua and Auckland and intends to take it into prisons.

Her social conscience has been something she has been honing since she was young.

"In my 20s I had trained as a social worker but felt I was too young to make a difference and needed some life experience. Fast forward 30 years and I'm now ready!"

She has recently joined the board of Te Tuinga Whanau, a local social agency that provides transitional housing and support services for homeless families, with a focus on women and children.

A new goal for the agency is tackling prison statistics by supporting prisoners who leave prison with the same support services of housing, help with health and budgeting and employment.

Te Tuinga Whanau. Photo / Andrew Warner
Te Tuinga Whanau. Photo / Andrew Warner

Agency director Tommy Kapai Wilson wanted to bring new blood to the board. For Tapsell the timing was perfect.

"When Tommy asked me to be on the board, it was an easy yes."

She joins existing board members chairman Dr Bruce Bryant, Te Puna local and former court registrar Beth Bowden and Dr James Arkwright. Bay philanthropist and business man Paul Adams is patron.

"Being on the board is a humbling experience as I'm surrounded by veterans of the governance world. Bruce, Beth and James are fiercely smart, dedicated and making a huge difference to our community by making decisions that will alter people's lives for generations to come."

For Tapsell, being able to contribute to supporting families in crisis is part of her own healing.

"When I grew up I experienced a very terrifying period of instability in my childhood, which contributed to my brother losing his way. Thankfully he is back on his path, with a degree under his belt he now runs his own business."

That raruraru in her childhood left a motivating scar.

"Life experience has taught me that you can change your 'intergenerational story' with education, determination, an economic base and loving people helping you. That's where TTW step in — they provide housing, education, food and they push the limits of what aroha means."

Tapsell is excited to be involved in the agency's latest project, supporting prisoners when they leave prison. The agency has been gifted a house in Bethlehem, Tauranga, which will house up to four men when they leave prison.

Kapai Wilson says it is not a halfway house, and the men will stay for up to six months while accessing support services.

"Research shows that if you can connect people back into their whānau and communities when they have served their time, there is less chance of reoffending."

The house, which will officially open on Tuesday, will not accept any offender against children, and will only welcome men who agree to fully engage in the programme, says Kapai Wilson.

Tapsell agrees that communities need to play a role in rehabilitation and, ultimately, forgiveness. "I only wish there were organisations like TTW around for my brother, but now I can do my bit and pay it forward. There is huge risk to the community if we all don't all come together as one to solve these very complex human issues and there is huge reward if we do."