As told to Liam Ratana. Image by Ben Thomson.
I was born into it. Growing up, my father was a gangster. All of my older cousins and other boys from around the hood were too. I remember when I was just a kid, me and my cousin were playing on the trampoline at one of the gang pads. They used to have playgrounds set up outside, so that the parents could get on it inside. Anyway, there we were chilling on the tramp and we hear this massive "thud" noise. I spun around and saw a man laying on the concrete, he had just been chucked out of the window of a two-storey house. Luckily I only saw the aftermath of it, my cousin saw everything. Another time at one of the pads, one of the men there took a disliking to a lady there. She eventually got her teeth smacked out, all for something she had said. It's always been a part of my life, but it's only now that I fully understand that.
My friends and family started getting nice clothes and gear. Driving flash cars, designer labels on everything. I grew envious, and realised that I wanted a piece of the pie too. The opportunity was there for me to go along, and so I did.
I was once asked to be a getaway driver for a robbery, I couldn't even drive.
It all started when I was just a kid, getting paid $50 to just sit in the car was an appealing proposition at the time. Then I started moving up. I remember I was once asked to be a getaway driver for a robbery, I couldn't even drive. They told me I was going to do it anyway. A few years later, I was slanging to customers of my own. Scheduled meet ups etc. I started having money and nice things. All the cool clothes and other material stuff. It was how every poor kid had always wanted to live. It wasn't particularly difficult business. You have your regulars, schedule meet up times and places and it's generally enough to keep you going. $300 a point, $1000 a gram. It's pretty profitable when you can get your supply for cheap.
But in saying that, you're either in, or you're out. There's no two ways about it. By that I mean you either live like a dealer 24/7, or you don't bother at all. It also depends on what you're willing to risk. The deeper you go, the greater the risk is.
I remember one time I was at my house standing at the stove cooking my dinner. My dad snuck in the front door, which had been left open, without me noticing. He walked up behind me and whispered, "Bang, you're dead". He told me that I was lucky that it was only him and no one else. That made me realise that I always had to be careful, no matter where I was or what I was doing. It's a lifestyle choice and you either embrace it fully, or get out.
The everyday people who might have been after me were definitely a lot scarier than the prospect of the Police knocking on my front door.
Another thing is that violence earns respect. You must be ruthless and methodical. Take no prisoners, ask no questions kind of shit. Everyone was a potential threat to me and I had to always be ready to go.
It wasn't that I was paranoid. I was more cautious than paranoid. The everyday people who might have been after me were definitely a lot scarier than the prospect of the Police knocking on my front door. I was set up once by my own childhood mates. It was fucked. I'm lucky that I was tipped off, otherwise I might've been killed. Someone was paid to beat me up and rob me of everything. I was just about to go and meet up with him, when I was told what was going on. Apparently, they ended up doing some other guy over anyway. It's sad, but I've now lost a majority of my mates from when I was younger. Most of them are now either in prisons, or run with the gangs.
But I became a parent and had to stop. I didn't want any potential partner or child of mine living at risk every day. I know people who would kill for a smoke. I've seen people roll past my old houses at night like they were about to start shooting at me. Kiwis don't realise this, but people go missing in New Zealand. They stay missing too. We live in a small country and it isn't hard for people to find out things.
Some people don't realise that there's another way than gangs, drugs, and violence. They grow up in it, not around it. Family, friends, even parents are profiting in some way from it. From that, comes the curiosity and desire for more. It's sad but true. Now I'm working full time. I was lucky I saw another way, a legit way out of the game, and I took it. I've saved my family, and myself from an uncertain future.
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