National | Prison

501 deportee provides inspiration through successful podcast

In the past 12 years, David Obeda (Ngāpuhi, Kuki Airani) has gone from co-founding a notorious jail gang from a maximum security prison to documenting the stories of reformed prisoners – including his own.

“I was able to turn the worst thing that ever happened to me, into the best thing,” he says.

The 32-year-old, who first moved to Australia at 14, now hosts a podcast (TFS or The Fresh Start) that has built an impressive following on YouTube and Instagram - Sharing the stories of many 501 deportees.

The idea came to Obeda during his early days of returning home to New Zealand in 2019.

“One of the boys from Sydney who had also been deported, was on Instagram and sharing his mental health journey, and it was so foreign to hear someone speak about his personal struggles and personal truth... So to see him do that, triggered something in me to do something similar as well.

501 deportees

The deportation of 501 individuals from Australia to New Zealand presents significant hurdles in their efforts to restart their lives post-prison, Obeda says. Some of the major challenges include securing stable housing, finding employment and accessing essential services, which are exacerbated by the lack of local familiarity and resources.

“When I came back to New Zealand, it was a bit of a culture shock. Most of the guys that come back have spent their whole life in Australia... Most of us who come back to Aotearoa grew up in Australia and don’t have a lot of support here.

Such large-scale deportations highlight the need for comprehensive support systems and cross-border collaboration to address the reintegration needs of affected individuals effectively.

According to 2020 figures from the Sentencing Advisory Council, the reoffending rates are high in Victoria, where Obeda moved from New Zealand at the age of 14, with 43.6% of prisoners released between 2018 and 2019 returned to prison within two years.

A voice for change

Entering the system at the age of 19, Obeda served three consecutive sentences in Melbourne’s maximum security Port Phillip Prison - Resulting in spending most of his 20s in prison.

“In total, I served about seven years... My last charge was recklessly causing serious injury, and just across the board - stealing cars, robbery, assault - those were the main charges.”

While in prison, Obeda co-founded the G-Fam prison gang which built a reputation for initiating violent crimes, fights and riots. Members were largely Islanders and Māori.

Now, having been baptised as a born-again Christian on October 17, 2021, Obeda sees his podcast as a form of ministry.

Obeda has been home for five years and uses his social media presence as one of his main source of income.

He is constantly inundated with messages of praise and gratitude from viewers of his content, which he says confirms that he is on the right path.

“I’ve had messages from people crying out for help and just not knowing what to do. To be honest, a lot of the messages that I get are actually from mums, who have children who are incarcerated. And for me, my mum was my rock while I was in prison, so I empathise with them.”

He hopes that the TFS podcast can open other doors of opportunity, such as men’s groups and wananga.

“I’m hoping I can go into counselling or working on one with people. Through all of this, I have learned that I am a good listener and people feel like they can open up with me.”