Face tattooed gangster turns life around
A Kiwi Mongrel Mob member with a Notorious face tattoo has spoken in-depth about how he has spent the past few years trying to transform his life.
In an hour-long live chat with Robett Hollis for his website robett.com, Puk Kireka explained why and how he left the Mongrel Mob behind, and found a new life purpose as a father and fitness trainer.
Kireka, famous for his "Notorious" face tattoo, joined the Mongrel Mob in 2008 but says he had been on the wrong path from a very early age.
He had two stints of prison, totalling five years, before he decided to change his life and pursue a career as a fitness coach.
Chatting to Hollis on his live YouTube show, #robettLIVE, Kireka credited his three children and his partner as the inspiration for turning his life around.
The former mobster is the father of three children - a 12-year-old boy, a 10-year-old girl and a six-month-old girl. He admits he was not always a good role model, especially for his two older children.
"Having these people come into my life and showing me what's possible if you do it right," he told Hollis. "I was going nowhere on this side ... Not being a very good role model and father for my children. They're the biggest drive in my wanting to change."
Kireka, who famously went viral when he was called out by US rapper 50 Cent for his face tattoo on social media, says his third baby changed his perspective on life.
"Baby number three has definitely been ... 'this is it' sort of thing. You're either going to do it or not. She's been a big wake-up call. My headspace is different, everything I do and think about now is way different to what I did two years ago."
Kireka says growing up in an abusive home and living a "rough" childhood contributed to him joining the Mongrel Mob.
"When you watch Once Were Warriors, it's not just a movie, it's true life. I've seen that s*** happen, many times," he told Hollis.
"It all just comes down to the people that are around you. You tend to follow what you see. If you see it from a young age and it looks good, and if it's all you're seeing, you want to start living that life.
"I believe that if my mum and my dad had been builders or things like that, I might have grown up to be a builder, but unfortunately no, they weren't. They were ... drug and alcohol abusive to us, my dad left when I was seven years old and ... yeah, so I had no role model in my life," he added.
"I lived in a neighbourhood where crime was high, everyone was on benefits, no one was really working, all the kids used to be out on the street late ..."
He says the "seed was planted" from an early age and he could never see a way out of that path.
"I didn't choose to be born in the family I was born into or to be surrounded by the people I was surrounded by from birth."
His father left when he was seven years old and he had to suddenly become a father figure to his seven siblings.
"My son is becoming a young teenager now. For a long time I used to take him to gang functions, dressing him like a little gang member. He's starting to be attracted to this side of life and I'm pulling him back, letting him know that it's all right to have friends but you don't have to do what your friends do.
"It just reminds me of myself," he said.
His plan is to spend more time with his son, "keep getting inside his ear" and hopefully show him a path he was never shown at the same age.
"My way of thinking when I was 20, I just thought Mongrel Mob, that's my world, it's all I see, I would never associate with anyone outside of that circle, I didn't know how to. I just knew how to be a gang member, I was really good at it," he said.
"Now at 30, I look back and I think, during that decade, I spent about five years of that in prison, that's been another wake-up call for me too. The only thing I really got out of that was criminal charges and jail sentences."
Kireka says he doesn't feel like the those 10 years were a complete waste because he met a lot of good people, "brothers for life".
In fact, he says his "Notorious" face tattoo is a tribute to those friends he's made for life, inside the gang.
"I tattooed my face to remember them, they're my brothers for life. I did not think about or care about what people would think. I wanted to wear this proud. There's no undercover. I was in it for life. I was proud to walk around with this on my face and let everyone know it, this me, and I don't care what you think. That was the attitude I had," he said.
He knows the same tattoo that saw him go viral also looks threatening to people and has, in fact, stopped him from being served in some places.
Still, he doesn't regret it - it stays as a visible reminder of his past struggles and the man he used to be, even if not a reflection of who he is now.
So who is he now?
Kireka and his partner have launched an online fitness coaching business and he says he found his daily gym visits to be an outlet for his emotions.
"The gym has been my biggest outlet for everything, pretty much. If I didn't find fitness, I probably wouldn't have made any of these good decisions I've made. It was the outlet for me to clean my mind and become healthy. Plus, it helped me get over a big time meth habit. It sort of helped me rehabilitate myself," he said.
He's gone from talking to fellow gang members about beating people up to now talking to fellow fitness enthusiasts about calories and fitness goals.
This story originally appeared on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.
Originally published as Face tattooed gangster turns life around