Duo bring lessons of mistakes, murder and gangs to at-risk youth

Petani Fa’avae and Saimone Latu say they have walked a criminal life, but the former gang associates that have both served life sentences for murder now hope to use their experiences to help vulnerable youth destined for gangs.

Fa’avae knows he’s caused pain and out of respect for his victims, the last thing he wants to do is glorify his past life.

"It’s not something I’m proud of. I have a lot of remorse for what I’ve done."

But he believes his experience means he has a lot to offer when it comes to tackling the gang problem.

“Giving back to the kids is rewarding as well, just ensuring they don’t end up on the same path I did,” he said.

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“I ended up in prison for 13 and a half years as well at age 16. I got out when I was 29 so spent a lot of formative years of my life in prison."

He says for many, the problems start at home.

“People who are emotionally hurt are more likely to hurt others.”

Saimone Latu agrees and says it's time for a new approach within the justice system.

“It’s a matter of letting the kids know their inner greatness and letting them know what options are available out there for them besides gangs.

"For a lot of them, it’s just knowing how to talk to them.”

Latu says a community approach is needed that combines specialists such as psychologists, youth and community leaders along with those like himself who vulnerable kids can relate to.

“Gold chains, flash cars and a little bit of money is cool but what about when the enemy is coming at your house with guns?" he says.

"All the time you lose from your family when you are in prison you can never get it back - it’s gone.”

Latu says it was God that helped him make the change.

For Fa’avae, it was guilt. His family suffered the consequences of his actions.

“I’m realistic: we aren’t going to help everybody and not everybody is going to be supportive of what we do," said Fa’avae.

"We are going to have some people who criticise us and that’s OK, we are not strangers to adversity but we believe this is worth fighting for; we both have kids of our own.”

Tongan leader Pakilau Manase says many in the community are concerned about the recent spate of gang violence.

He says they're working to develop targeted school programmes with the aim of delivering the men's message to at-risk youth.

“We are bringing people with lived experience... for the welfare of our communities," he said.

"The reality is our kids are joining gangs - we need to know why.

"We need to address that.”