Hamilton man Justin Nanai says he did time with former Corrections minister Taito Phillip Field.
By Te Karere's Bronson Perich.
After hearing of Taito’s passing last month , he spoke with TVNZ about his association with the former MP.
Justin Nanai served five years in Spring Hill Corrections for violent offences. He was part of the very first Vaka Fa’aola (Pacific Focus Unit) cohort.
He ended up being shacked up with 40 of the most violent criminals in Spring Hill. To him, that proved the programme was being set up to fail.
It’s not everyday that a prisoner gets to meet a former Government minister. So Nanai certainly didn’t think he’d ever end up doing time with him.
All that changed when Nanai was in the process of transferring from one part of Spring Hill to another.
“The irony was I didn’t think I’d someone of his calibre would end up in the same walls as us,” Nanai said.
The man in question of course, was Field.
Securing early releases, furloughs and preparing for parole hearings were all in a day’s work for Taito, Nanai says.
He credits Field with helping a friend of his being released to see his dying mother before she passed.
Field’s experience as Associate Justice Minister proved invaluable with helping his fellow inmates secure parole.
“He knew how to play that game. And he played it to his advantage to help us,” Nanai said.
Some prisoners spend their time learning the law and volunteer their skills. But Nanai says their results are mixed at best.
“So you get some boob lawyers that are onto it, but their knowledge is limited to an extent,” Nanai said.
Such was the extent of his service, Nanai says that not a single prison gang spoke ill of the Samoan high chief. Nanai says every gang inside respected him.
Despite his bad experiences in the unit, Nanai doesn’t hold Taito responsible. Instead he praised the former MP for his service to Pasifika in prison.
“He was still serving the community to an extent,” he said. “It was just on the wrong side of the fence.”
A future community leader who visited Taito in jail also said the former MP was an advocate for fellow prisoners.
Tofilau Esther Tofilau is chief executive of the ASA Foundation, which supports vulnerable families in South Auckland. She volunteered for Taito when he tried to launch the Pacific Party after he was ousted from Labour.
Tofilau recalled one such visit to Spring Hill.
“When I visited him with his wife Maxine, he was reminding her to make sure to help a fellow inmate on his upcoming release to help find him work and a place to stay,” Tofilau said.
“He had a true serving heart for people.”
Taito was the first Pasifika MP and was an MP for Labour from 1993 to 2007, but he was later expelled from the party. And in 2009 he was convicted on 11 charges of bribery and corruption.
Born in Apia in 1952, he died on September 23 this year.