How kaupapa Māori helped meth addict Mark Lang turn his life around and become an artist

Ten years ago, Mark Lang's life outwardly looked great - in 2014 he was living just outside Whangarei enjoying a well-paying job as an engineer. 

However, he had a methamphetamine addiction to such an extent he was regularly getting a hit in his lunch break.

His engineering skills were being used by local gang members to adapt equipment to produce P on a large scale.

"My addiction started just through the workplace, methamphetamine was quite rampant," Lang said.

His addiction drove him to socialise with, and then work for, local gang members, who operated a clandestine lab.

Unwittingly, Lang had been caught up in one of Northland's largest-ever methamphetamine schemes. 

When it was busted by police, Lang ended up with a 14-year jail sentence, even though the judge recognised his offending was driven by his addiction and not profit.

Locked away, Lang found he had reached rock bottom. 

He vowed to do everything he could to gain early parole, which meant turning away from drugs even though they were available in prison.

"The meth devastated communities, just ripped families apart," he said. "I didn't want to be a part of that anymore."

Lang's journey to self-discovery and rehabilitation accelerated when he was moved to the Hawke's Bay prison in 2016. There, he took advantage of the kaupapa Māori programmes available to inmates. 

These programmes, rooted in Māori principles and culture, proved instrumental in his healing process.

"I completed Mauri Tū Pae, I completed Tikanga level one, level two," he said.

"Delving into some of those spiritual Māori programmes that I did made me see my worth. It made me realise, hey, I can restore my mana and my mauri." 

Lang discovered a newfound passion for Mahi Whakairo (carving). Through carving, he not only found a therapeutic outlet but also a way to reconnect with his Māori roots. 

This rediscovered connection to his heritage gave Lang a renewed sense of purpose and a way to repay the community.

"I felt a sense that I owed the community back and I had my dues to pay," he explained. "So anything needed to be done, I'd put my hand up." 

Carving is a therapeutic outlet that helped him reconnect to his Māori roots.
Carving is a therapeutic outlet that helped him reconnect to his Māori roots. Photo credit: The Hui

Upon his release five months ago, Lang returned to his hometown Takiwira Dargaville. 

With the unwavering support of his family and the community, including local businessman Dion McCormick, he established his own art studio which opened in September, showcasing his own work and that of local artists.

"It's exceeded my expectations," Lang shared with pride. 

He said he's now committed to staying on his path of sobriety and growth and is focused on his art and his future.

The title of his exhibition says it all: Ao te Pō - translating to 'lighten the darkness'.

Made with support from Te Mangai Pahō and New Zealand on Air.