Ex-inmate's road to redemption

  • 18/03/2018

The statistics are grim. Over half of Māori inmates will be re-imprisoned within four years of being released.

But there's one man who's determined not to go back. Today Romata Kenny is a free man, but he's not free from his past.

He wants people to understand the value of giving former inmates like him a second chance.

When he was 21, Mr Kenny was imprisoned for five years on charges of cannabis distribution, possession of weapons and violence against women.

"I thought I was tough and scary, but I was far from it. I was just a little fish going into a shark pool really, with just sharks. Everyone was just sharks in there."

But it was one of those sharks - a gang member - who helped steer Mr Kenny back on the right path, encouraging him to study while in prison.

But after his release Mr Kenny nearly fell back into a life of crime after he was turned away from a course because of his convictions. With no financial support from WINZ, no job and no training he went to the pub to drown his sorrows when fate intervened. 

"When I got to the pub there wasn't no pub. It was closed down. I started getting really angry, but then I looked down further where the pub is and there was the wānanga."

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa opened its doors, signing Kenny up for a personal trainee course. Mr Kenny now runs a kick boxing gym in Huntly where he offers classes for at-risk youth alongside his partner who he met while studying. He also speaks at schools throughout the Waikato hoping to keep kids on the right track.

Talking to Three's The Hui, Mr Kenny now he wants others to understand the importance of giving former convicts the chance of redemption.

"If you call someone an idiot enough times he's going to always think he's an idiot. So it's the same with the prisoner - if you just hold him out and exclude him, he's just going to feel excluded and become that outcast and scumbag that you think that he is because he's got no option to."

The Hui