New Zealander with 'notorious' face tattoo is grateful he's finally got a job
Published Monday, July 8, 2019 11:37AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 12, 2019 9:31PM EDT
Having rapper 50 Cent mocking you for being unemployed wasn’t the greatest feeling in the world for one New Zealander.
Last month, famed drug dealer-turned-rapper 50 Cent posted a screenshot of an article about a former inmate who said his biggest hurdle to landing a job was the black and red “notorious” tattoo that covers most of his face.
50 Cent sarcastically wrote on Instagram: “I wonder why he couldn’t get a job.” The subject of the rapper’s mockery was 31-year-old Puk Kireka.
Since 2008, Kireka has been a member of the Mongrel Mob -- an organized New Zealand street gang made up of 30 chapters, some of which are connected with drug dealing and a handful of murders.
While he was deeply involved with the gang, Kireka had half of his face inked to honour his “brothers who’ve passed away.” He said the tattoo carries a lot of meaning to him but “doesn’t expect a lot of people to understand.”
“When I first got the tattoo, everywhere I went, everyone would just be staring at me and looking at me like I wasn’t even a human sometimes,” he told CTVNews.ca via Instagram.
Kireka has been in prison twice – serving three years for violent crimes and two years for extortion -- but he said he hasn’t been back since 2016.
Since then, the father of three has been trying to turn his life around. He’s stopped using methamphetamine, landed a spot as a player on the Tamatea Rugby Club, and joined a 13-month fitness program with the team’s head coach Levi Armstrong.
“There, I fell in love with fitness and sports and made me want to get a career in it,” Kireka said. He soon enrolled at the Eastern Institute of Technology in Napier, New Zealand, where he’ll start a four-year degree in sport and exercise science later this month.
But the problem was he had no way to pay for it. Last month, his story went viral with several local news outlets reporting how Kireka hadn’t been able to find a job.
KIREKA’S NEW BOSS OFFERING TO PAY FOR HIS SCHOOL
He was widely mocked on social media but one local business owner Robbie Gale had a different response.
Gale told CTVNews.ca over Facebook he was inspired by Kireka’s determination and offered him a job as his personal trainer and a labourer at a local construction firm.
When Gale reached out, Kireka said he felt “pretty excited. I didn’t know what to think at the time.” And, as an act of good faith, his new employer even agreed to pay for his first year of tuition.
Gale told Stuff magazine the gesture was all about having Kierka’s long-term success be an example to other gang members.
"I have invested in Puk to teach him skills that will not only change his life but that of his future generations," Gale told the publication. “I think if we all commit to helping just one person in their life, we could solve a lot of the problems that exist in our society."
Kireka said he “felt real thankful that he (Robbie) had come into his life at the right time. I believe that everything happens for a reason.”
Since last week, he and Gale have begun training and will attend five gym sessions a week together.
Kireka is grateful for the steady work because, after being rejected so many times, he was in a “place in your mind where you feel like nobody is going to help you.”
When pressed by CTVNews.ca if he’d remain with his gang, he said he wasn’t going to renounce his membership any time soon. But he hoped his example of walking the straight and narrow will inspire others to stop their criminal activities like him.
"I will always be a mobster but it's important to show we can have better lifestyles,” he told The New Zealand Herald newspaper. “I want to bring some of the others on board this better lifestyle.
But Kireka admits that he probably wouldn’t have landed his job without his story being mocked by the likes of 50 Cent.
"Well now, I’m kind of grateful for it all,” he laughed, adding he doesn't regret getting his tattoo -- even after everything he's been through.