Tue 17 Jan 2017

All Change for Zaine

Each student who climbed the stairs onto the TSB Showplace stage at the WITT end of year graduation ceremony on Thursday had a story to tell.

It’s unlikely any will have been more compelling than the one Zaine Rogers can talk about.

His Level 3 Farming certificate was reward for an extraordinary and rapid turnaround in his life and life-style.

Whangarei born Rogers has recently signed a contract to work on a farm at Toko through to March. He’s been there for several months already as part of his study through Land Based Training.

He didn’t get to climb the stairs on Thursday. He was busy – at work.

This time less than six months ago the  21-year-old, who presents immaculately groomed in fluoro orange Nike trainers and T-shirt, was a dishevelled unkempt recently enrolled WITT student with little in the way of targets and less in the way of confidence.

His background was one of drugs and violence, his first picture as a baby with his dad was taken in prison. These days he hands out balloons for WITT at the Stratford A and P Show.

His course tutor Adrian Edser of Land Based Training recommended he visit the student support team at WITT and it was here he met regularly with one of the members, Mel Loft. 

It was a life changing recommendation, though Rogers barely had the confidence to go through with the initial appointment, Loft recalls.

He pretended to want help using a telephone to open the conversation, and then sheepishly added he had been sent to talk to her.

“He was in a low mood, head down, scruffy and unkempt, he hadn’t eaten or slept properly, he was anxious… he was volatile and negative. He wouldn’t make eye contact,” she recalled.

To say Zaine Rogers was brought up on the wrong side of the tracks is an understatement.

His home was in Northland. He became familiar with the drug scene at a young age and saw family members jailed.

Nothing was “ordinary”.

His 16th birthday party was an example. He was upset to see ‘P’ at the party.

“Lots of people came and were drinking and I said I wanted no P there on my birthday.  I picked up my Jim Beam, skulled it and began crying - all the others were doing drugs. I left in a truck and crashed it down a bank – I might have fallen asleep… I remember the truck rolling, grinding like a skateboard and it crashed into a post.

“Aunty pulled up and said: take your seat belt off and get the `f’ out. I went back to the party and passed out… they stripped me naked and shaved my eyebrows

For his 21st he tried to do it right and wore a shirt and tie and went out.

“But they still drew a face on me and in the morning I grabbed lipstick and drew on the guy that did it.

Go back to his first birthday… there is a picture of him with his dad. It’s taken in Mt Eden Prison, where he took his first steps watched by his whole family.

He is fiercely protective of, but can be less than complimentary at times, about his family life, and gets short shrift from Mel Loft.

“He sees a picture of a boy in jail. I see a chubby well-dressed child,” Mel Loft says. “And your mum always encouraged you with education,” she tells Rogers.

Rogers, Mel Loft points out, can also thank his parents for his manners, (“Dad told me manners take you a long way”) but he remains prone to dropping f and c-bombs into conversations. And there are expressions which make the listener chuckle.

 He recalls how police visits to the home were not uncommon.

“We’d be rolled, bowled and arseholed.”

 “I’ve seen a lot of violence. On my 17th at Moerewa the Cripps came to an unveiling and it ended in a fight.’’

He lived with a girlfriend and helped raise her baby for three years and he worked on fishing boats, but the relationship ended.

“The baby would call me dad. That felt good, she still asks about me.”

When he escaped life in Northland it was to come to Taranaki, and New Plymouth, where his mum now lived.  He was on probation and wasn’t too concerned about the prospect of getting into more trouble.

“I thought: what’s another 200 hours?’’

Then Probation staff encouraged him to enrol at WITT to do a Land Based Training course. All the same, there seemed little prospect of a change in circumstance for Rogers – until his meeting with Mel Loft at the start of August.

“He was hanging around with the wrong people and in a cycle of coming to do his course, and getting stoned. He didn’t care for authority; he thought he was bullet proof. He fed off poor associates then made poor choices,” she said.

He also had a brush with the law and was sentenced to community work and handed a six month driving ban by a judge who told him “wake up, grow up and get your act together.’’

 Mel Loft recalled:  “he came here and got trespassed from The Warehouse. Then there was a warrant of arrest for him for lots of tickets on a car, so we sorted out the problem and arranged to set up an AP.

The regular meetings proved cathartic. 

“At first it took every bit of courage for him to come and see me each Wednesday. It was very emotional for him at times but he never missed an appointment.

“So it’s been a rapid change, at first focussed on sleep hygiene (subs: correct) and nutrition… then recognising the patterns of behaviour which suppress trauma.”

He is also seeing a dentist to repair the damage caused to his teeth by has past exposure to meth.

Rogers made a list of things that were “crap” - suicide, death, bad memories, he thought about the roles and responsibilities of family members, people he loved who had died, people in prison, drugs, alcohol, and difficulties with dealing with government agencies.

Under the watchful eye of his tutor, Rogers blossomed on the Toko farm while dreaming of becoming a share-milker.

“He built a relationship with Adrian and I think he will be a life-long friend, Adrian is a role model for him,” Loft said.

His involvement with his tutor sparked a change in both how he cared for himself and his attitude to people.

He jokes that he still feels like running when he sees a policeman, yet one day when he was late for PD he was given a lift there by a passing police woman who recognised him. She even gave him her card.

He remains in regular contact with both his mum and dad. He doesn’t agree with everything they have done, but he wants to impress them.

The young rough diamond is on a journey, but has a long way to go and a lot to learn.

Edser says when he started at Land Based Training in April he had seven students on the course and the calibre was high. They have all found work as a consequence of their course work.

Zaine Rogers was initially seen by Edser as a student at risk of not completing the course.

“But there was something there to work with, I believed. I didn’t want to lose any students, so I gave him an insight into life.

“He has seen there is a big world out there, and has been introduced to people he might never have met or associated with in a positive way. He has seen that the world is his oyster – the point is that he chose to listen, and I’m very proud of him.”

Melanie Loft says Zaine Rogers understands a little Maori but doesn’t recognise how special his culture is.

“Akerama is my marae, Ruapekapeka the maunga, Ramarama the river and Ngatokimatawhaorua the waka,” Zaine Rogers says.

He might have forgotten the name of the waka initially, but people are remembering him.

Aside from helping at an A and P Show he has been in demand as an inspirational speaker to his WITT peers.

Most days, Rogers carries a folder with him. It contains family memorabilia, a reminder of where he’s been and where he is going.

He hasn’t time to play sport because of his work, but plans to enrol at the Tutaki gym in Stratford and would like to box.

He also pays tribute to Land Based Training and WITT.

“Without their help I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now. Adrian has been someone for me to look up to. He has been both a tutor and a role model – and I’ve built a strong relationship with him and Mel.”

Mel Loft, who has since left WITT to work for the Department of Corrections in Wellington, has worked with dozens of troubled youth and enjoys celebrating the successes.

She believes Zaine Rogers shapes up as one of the best at beating the odds.