Flowers for hope in prison

Saturday 5 December 2020 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National


Flowers for hope in prison
Minister of Corrective Services George (Maggie) Angene at the prison compound in Arorangi. 20112427.

Cabinet Minister George “Maggie” Angene is open about his troubled past and time spent in prison, even though he’s now the Minister of the institution that was his home on and off for 34 years.

As you enter the drive of Arorangi Prison, the colourful smiling rows of terevete (coleus) planted on both sides of the neat tar sealed road greet you.

Minister of Culture, House of Ariki, Punanga Nui Market and Corrective Services George (Maggie) Angene, also a former inmate, planted the flowers.

He was first imprisoned at the age of 15 and lived the next 34 years of his troubled life in and out of the institution.

“My life is a bad story, a sad story and a happy story; like the good, the bad and the ugly.

“I’ve been there, done that. There are still people out there who still judge me and criticise me, but…”

Today he is troubled no more. Under his watch, the prison has had a noticeable makeover inside and out, a stark contrast from his days inside.

The Prison Services superintendent Teariki Purua and Minister of Corrective Services George (Maggie) Angene at the premises during Mire Tiare week. 20112426.

Why plant flowers?

“In my time (in jail), there were no flowers to give hope,” Angene says.

Flowers show the health of the islands and the beauty of the people, he says.

A plant whisperer, each time he planted a flower, he would ask for it to grow beautiful and strong and to share that glow with the people inside.

“We are taught that the prison is a bad place, we throw people in there and forget about them. No,” Angene says.

“We make the outside look nice, then we go inside and talk to the boys, to make them feel better about them. To try and build a new flower in their life, in their heart; to give them hope.”

And he believes 100 per cent that the people doing time inside have planted a new bright flower within themselves.

Also a builder, when a house was completed, he admired the women who would beautify their home with plants and flowers.

“That’s when I see the beauty of a house, with the flowers it makes the house feel alive and healthy.”

Inside the protected prison compound coral edged shapes are planted with beds of terevete.

The heart shaped terevete flower garden at Arorangi prison. 20112429.

The heart shape represents a love for the people inside, the star is to shine upon them a light while they are sleeping and the diamond signifies the future of their life after prison, Angene says. Signs of “Respect and Honesty” are displayed inside and smoking inside the prison was prohibited a few months ago. A large room has been renovated as a church for daily bible classes and an outdoor visiting area with barbeque tables was constructed to accommodate visiting families.

In the main yard there now stands tables and chairs.

“In my days, we used to eat on the floor….”

Today the maximum security block is clean and tiled.

He described “maximum” as filthy and shocking during his time, saying: “a pig pen was nicer.”

Angene was not a model inmate, he would look for trouble at any time, and initiated fights.

Leaving school at the age of 12, he couldn’t write, read or speak English.

In prison he asked a boy who was crippled for help to teach him how to write - there started his education into the world of the English language.

At the time too, he was not a believer in the Christian faith.

He would tear out pages out of the Bible, destroy it and used pages for paper to smoke tobacco.

“I would smoke the bible, that was my life in there then.”

At one period he was locked up for three years in a maximum cell and spent 25 days in the “dark room” – five days straight, a break, then another five days with a quarter of the food ration.

“They think what they’re doing, you will come down, they will break you, but no, it makes you go wild.”

One day in the dark room in 1992, he accepted God.

“That was when I changed my life.”

MP Angene busy at work, offering assistance to his constituents in Tupapa-Maraerenga. 17021509

At the age of 40, he walked away from the prison gates for the last time.

He had accumulated 17 references from his last 13-year sentence and says: “God was my last reference, because my heart is with God.”

Returning home to Tupapa Maraerenga, he struggled back into society.

“Nobody trusted me, they would say, ‘nah it’s George Maggie, he’s going to go back in there (jail) again’. But they didn’t know I changed my life.

“It was hard for me, because they knew me and wouldn’t trust me.”

But he had his wife Piti who had waited for him and stood by him.

“My wife is one of the strongest women in this country, some women would have walked away from a husband like me. But my wife stayed, to look after our kids…”

Angene did not have a house for his family, his wife and kids.

“We lived in a shack, my wife and our kids, we didn’t have a concrete floor, we had mats.”

With perseverance and his faith in God, he picked up work and built his house in 2001.

“I give thanks to God, for giving me this chance because that’s what I asked him. ‘God give me one more chance, show me your power and give me one more chance, I feel sorry for my wife, my kids’.”

Angene gave up alcohol 27 years ago. “This thing alcohol, I will never touch it again.”

At the 21st birthday party for his twin boys, a friend offered him a drink, he refused.

Celebrating his first election win as the candidate for Tupapa Maraerenga (receiving the highest ever number of votes) he was offered another drink that again he turned down.

“I never promise to anyone, but I made a promise to God. I promised God, I will never touch alcohol again. The moment I take a drop down my throat, you take my life.

“I put my life in his hands.”

When he sees people drinking, he says: “I remember what I told God, to take my life if I touched it again.”

Cabinet minister George (Maggie) Angene. 18071352

Angene has openly spoken of the state of the prison and his passion to make it a better place to help rehabilitate the “boys”.

“I said in Parliament don’t treat people in jail like pigs, we are human beings like everyone else, like you.”

He knows rehabilitation is key and is important for when the inmates return to society.

“I’ve told them, when you are in there (prison) you have lost your freedom, it has been taken away…”

Reflecting back on his life in prison, he has this advice for inmates.

“Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

In a twist of fate, the current superintendent Teariki Purua was a warden at the time Angene was an inmate.

“There are wardens who were there when I was inside and who are still working there,” he says.

“I respect them, they respect me.”

Not long ago he learnt his grandfather from Manihiki and a great grand uncle Dick Brown were politicians.

“Now I’m a politician…. my heart and my life is for the people, not about money.

“When you campaign, you say vote for me and I can help you, that’s what I do, help the people.”

Angene was raised by his grandmother Mama Maggie Brown Angene, who passed away in 1983, when he was 23 years old.

“Because I got no mum, no brother, no sister, no father. They left me behind with my grandmother. That’s why I call myself George Maggie, in honour of my grandma Maggie,” he says.

“She was the one who really looked after me, that’s why I carry and use her name. I really miss her. I wish she was here so I can share where I am with her.”