It’s a massive leap for a man who once was the main debt collector for his gang. Previously charged with attempted murder, he frequently confronted people who owed money for dope, meth, cocaine, and firearms.
“Coming here was a big step. I don’t have strong family ties, so my gang brothers were my only family I thought I had.”
Just 9 months ago, Harlem welcomed his daughter into the world while on home detention. Invited to join the whānau of WWM, it was arranged through his Probation Officer, through Corrections NZ, who now have a greater understanding and respect for the work and outcomes being achieved.
Living predominantly on the streets, Harlem was just 13 when he was first recruited. Doing a lot of the dirty work, it really took it’s toll not just on the people he hurt, but on his own mental trauma of living in this kind of world.
“I got out of jail about a year and a half ago. I woke up in jail one day and thought I am sick of this life.”
Harlem had the love of his partner, who stood by him throughout his jail sentence – for 3 out of 5 years of their relationship. She was also the mother to his daughter, so Harlem had a lot on the line. The first time Harlem heard his father tell him he loved him, he was 22 years old.
“I didn’t want that. My daughter and WWM gave me a reason to do this. They gave me a reason to want to change.”
Waata and the others at WWM have been in constant contact with Harlem, perhaps just a phone call asking what he was up to and inviting him back to the group.
“Since I’ve been here, there’s been a big change in me. I’ve been drug free for over a year now.”
Having lived a traumatic childhood that lacked any form of aroha, he lost his mother to murder at a very young age. WWM encourage participants to share their story, when they are ready to, no matter how raw and terrifying it might sound to some people. No one is ever judged.
“You listen to the stories and you take us at face value. They pretty much draw out everything from the deepest darkest holes in a person – break it down and help you to rebuild yourself. Drawing out the pain and rebuilding it with love.”
Harlem is now helping others that have experienced the hard life that he has, sharing his story so that others can share theirs too. The one thing Harlem wants to do to continue his journey is to help others.
“My whole thing now is that if I can help others, ‘cos of the things I have seen in my lifetime, I want to be the person that picks up people at that crossroad. I want to show them that they have a good man on this side of the crossroad that can help them.”
Love is 24/7 – I just didn’t understand that. Respect is what I’ve seen here – for me this is true aroha.