Joe Harwood spent his childhood trying to figure out where he belonged. Now it looks to be performing on stage, thanks to his new-found pathway studying music at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
The 27-year-old Certificate in Māori Performing Arts tauira will make his debut next week providing entertainment at the Tāmaki Makaurau graduation - Te Puawaitanga.
The annual celebration will see nearly 4000 tauira receive their tohu at one of the eight scheduled ceremonies over three consecutive days.
Next year Joe plans on graduating too, but for now he’s happy exploring his musical talent that came through tough circumstances.
“I always had a passion for music but I first learned how to play the guitar in prison. For 15 hours a day confined in our cells, that’s all I did.”
He asked musicians inside to teach him songs. His “thrive” was to one day show off to his uncles who would always tell him to leave the guitar alone.
“I didn’t know my parents growing up. My grandparents were alcoholics and into partying. I’d see them happy and then I’d see the flip side, the violence, drugs and addictions.”
At 19 his partner delivered still-born twins and then took her own life. Unable to cope he eventually ended up in Mt Eden prison for six months.
Life did not improve following that experience and soon after he was released he was back inside again for aggravated robbery.
“I had lost all sense of self. Stealing, taking things that weren’t mine. In a nutshell I was walking through hell.”
After serving almost two years he got transferred to Paremoremo following a fight because he wouldn't steal from the kitchen. At Paremoremo he eventually earned back the privilege of kitchen helper before his release in 2015.
Turning over a new leaf in Mangere, he started busking at the town centre to help out at home.
He'd heard of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, but didn't know the campus was just down the road until he entered himself into an Open Mic Day run by Kaiako Lisa Cave.
She approached Joe about enrolling for a Certificate in Māori Performing Arts straight away.
“I said ‘yep, where’s the paper?’ and I signed it right there. It’s cool, I just like jamming and learning new things like how to read music and diatonic scales and performing, getting recognition.”
“I love entertaining people because not only does it help them it helps myself.”