Sunday follows a father’s journey to meet face-to-face with the Mongrel Mob member who killed his son.
Across the tip of Shane Harrison’s nose reads the word MOBSTER. Just above that, in letters that span from each of his cheek bones, ROGUE. DOGS LIFE over his eyelids. FORD on his chin.
Harrison’s skin is a tapestry of a life lived violently - a Mongrel Mob Rogues member since he was 16.
He’s unforgettable, unmissable, and for most of his murder trial, his victim’s father believed he was unforgivable.
Seven years ago, Shane Harrison and Dillin Pakai were found guilty of murdering 25-year-old Sio Matalasi during a stoush between rival Mongrel Mob members in Wellington.
Sio, who had a young son and a new baby on the way, was not a gang member. However, he was friends with several members of the Petone Mongrel Mob chapter who lived in a nearby flat.
He stepped in to try to help his mates and was shot at close range by 18-year-old Pakai. It was 43-year-old Harrison who had ordered Pakai to start shooting during the confrontation.
During the three-week murder trial Sio’s father, Iafeta Matalasi, raged.
“I was angry there was a partition between me and Shane Harrison,” he said.
“I was really, really furious. I just saw red right in front to me and all I wanted was to get this man that hurt my baby, do to him what he did to my son and do it with my bare hands.”
His burning anger was made worse when Matalasi spotted Harrison’s young son sitting in court.
“I thought, ‘why does that guy have the right to have a son?’”
But on the day of sentencing, he stunned everyone with his victim impact statement.
“Without any reservations, Shane and Dillin, I forgive you, I have forgiven you,” he read in court.
To the judge he said: “I beg with you to let Shane Pierre Harrison and Dillin Pakai go free.”
This remarkable change of heart, he said, was inspired by his son.
“It came from a higher power and, Sio, he was telling me, ‘dad, nothing you can do can bring me back. Nothing’.”
Since that day, Matalasi has wanted to meet Harrison face to face and confront the man who is halfway through his 13 years in prison.
He’s finally been given the opportunity through a restorative justice meeting.
This is a process where offenders and victims meet to discuss the impact of the offence and how to right the wrong.
The conference is run by trained facilitators and only takes place with the consent of both the victim and the offender, and after an extensive assessment of both parties as to their mental and emotional readiness for the encounter.
While preventing reoffending is not the primary aim, there is international and local evidence that restorative justice reduces recidivism.
Data from the Ministry of Justice published in 2016 shows for offenders who participated in a police or court referred restorative justice conference, 34 per cent reoffended over the following 12 months. This is in comparison to 39 per cent of otherwise similar offenders who did not participate in a conference.
The exact number of these conferences aren’t kept. However, a 2014 change to the Sentencing Act led to a tripling of cases being referred by court to restorative justice organisations for assessment.
Prior to the change, around 4000 cases were referred for assessment, but by 2019-20 that had risen to just over 18,000.
The conferences most commonly take place before sentencing, making Matalasi and Harrison’s encounter in prison particularly rare.
Restorative justice facilitator Mike Hinton knows just how long in the making this meeting has been.
“[Matalasi] always asked for this meeting and has wanted to take it on. It’s taken seven years to get to this point now. It’s a long time, it’s a really long time,” Hinton said.
While he knows the healing power the process can have, Hinton doesn’t believe its primary purpose is achieving forgiveness.
“It’s about people hearing and listening to each other. Having an understanding that the person I’ve hurt, or the person who hurt me is a person, not a number on a page, or a name on a court document.
“I think forgiveness can be a bioproduct of the conversation.”
Restorative justice centres around the victims and allows them to be heard and valued, in contrast to the often-alienating process of the traditional legal system, Hinton said. It also provides another approach towards rehabilitating offenders.
“Our justice system is working really, really well for what it was designed to do. It’s punitive,” Hinton said.
“We like to think of ourselves as a compassionate, caring society, we’re not. We have a blood lust for punishment, for locking people up, incarcerating them and hurting them. Our rates of incarceration are climbing, we’re building more prisons.
“Why not provide opportunity for people to heal? Why not provide opportunity for people to listen?”
Hinton believes restorative justice conferences are still uncommon because of the lack of resources and funding. “We’re certainly moving along in the right direction. I’d like to see more.”
Matalasi has wanted to meet Harrison since the day he forgave him in court. After seven years, the meeting finally went ahead at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison early last month.
SUNDAY’s Tania Page was alongside the two men as they came face-to-face for the very first time, as they attempt to rebuild their lives.
Watch the full story in the video at top of article.