Tama Wilson’s daughters know it all.
“Everything’s been talked about,” he says of a tale of drugs and crime that would shock Ned Kelly, let alone three girls aged 16, 14 and 7.
“Some of their questions have been tough but I’ve been as open and honest as I can. I’m not going to sugar coat it for them.
“It was rough for them. They were at an age where seeing your dad on TV being taken away by the cops affected them massively. I’ve had a lot of work to do there … but they actually want to spend time with me again.”
Little more than two years ago, Wilson found himself in handcuffs as police raided the Upper Coomera home he was sharing with three drug addicts and a dealer.
During the previous six months, he had led a gang that attempted at least 40 ATM robberies from Tweed Heads to Logan, netting more than $280,000 and earning himself the right to a lengthy stint in prison.
However, on the day of his sentencing Judge Julie Dick let him walk with a five-year suspended sentence.
The reason? From the moment Wilson was arrested, he had proved time and again that he not only wanted to get clean but clean up his act.
“Once those handcuffs were on, I thought ‘Finally’,” the 42-year-old recalls. “I felt relief because I was in that holding cell and couldn’t score anymore. I couldn’t dig a deeper hole.
“From that day forth, I thought ‘Right bro, we’re going to do what we can to rebuild what’s left of you’.”
Wilson is sharing his story as the face of the 2017 Gold Coast Red Shield Appeal, the annual fundraiser for the charity he believes saved his life — the Salvation Army.
“I’ve had so much help from people who owe me nothing, who didn’t even know me,” he says of the likes of the team from its Fairhaven Recovery Program on Mt Tamborine.
“Now I want to do exactly what’s been done for me … instead of being the kid who was found in a rubbish tip, maybe I’m here to help people who feel like they’re still in one.”
The rubbish tip Wilson refers to was the one in New Zealand where he was found more than four decades ago in a pair of nappies, left there by his adopted mother in the wake of her husband’s death.
Like all of us, Wilson is a product of his upbringing and his was a nightmare.
A ward of the state before he could walk, he spent the first 16 years of his life in 21 different boarding homes, respite care, boarding schools and detention centres. He was in jail at 17. He was back inside before he was 21.
Then, at 23, came his first shot at salvation — a charitable Kiwi couple who took him in, guided him towards an engineering course and, most importantly, a different view of life.
Next came Lisa, the woman he would not only marry but make a mother.
By the early 2000s, their little clan was living on the Gold Coast and Wilson was soaring in his job in the marine industry. In 2003, this very paper told of him being awarded Most Valuable Person at Gold Coast City Marina’s Christmas bash.
Then it all came crashing down.
This article was originally published by the Gold Coast Bulletin.