It can be tough to get a job with a criminal record, especially after you’ve tattooed the word “notorious” in all capitals across half of your face. Details like that tend to outshine the customer-service skills on your résumé.
Nevertheless, ex-convict Puk Kireka, 31, is putting on a happy face after landing a gig as a personal trainer thanks to a viral plea for help.
Kireka is a member of the Mongrel Mob, an infamous — some might even say “notorious” — biker gang in New Zealand. He also has a not-so-subtle nod to his gang affiliation permanently etched into his skin: the black tattoo with red lettering reflects his gang colours.
Kireka is determined not to go back to jail for a third time, and to do that he needs a job.
The ex-con’s girlfriend put out a plea for help last month in hopes of finding someone to hire him so he can start a new life.
Her plea went viral after rapper 50 Cent posted a photo and a headline about Kireka on Instagram. “I wonder why he can’t get a job,” the rapper joked in his post on June 10.
The post took off, racking up more than 320,000 likes and drawing sympathetic readers to Kireka’s story from all around the world.
One of those sympathetic readers was Robbie Gale, a gym owner in Kireka’s hometown of Hawke’s Bay, N.Z.
Gale says he was inspired by Kireka’s plea, so he stepped up and offered him a job as a personal trainer.
“Everyone judged Puk at first glance without taking the time to get to know the real man underneath the mask,” Gale told Stuff magazine in New Zealand. “I think if we all commit to helping just one person in their life, we could solve a lot of the problems that exist in our society.”
Kireka’s girlfriend, Waiora Tareha, has also raised more than $1,300 through crowdfunding to help pay for his education as a personal trainer.
She says 50 Cent’s comments were hurtful, and that her boyfriend is being “unfairly judged” because of his tattoo.
“No one wants to see someone they love talked about negatively by strangers who have no knowledge of their upbringing or their true selves,” she told Stuff.
Kireka has previously acknowledged that his tattoo can make life difficult.
“I know it will be hard to get a job with my tats,” he told the New Zealand Herald in June.
Kireka has reportedly spent five years in prison since 2008, including a three-year stint on violent charges. He’s become an avid rugby player since then. He’s also an exercise enthusiast and father of three.
He said he “will always be a mobster” but he wants to show others that they can improve their lifestyles.
“I was into meth before my last stint in jail,” he told Hawke’s Bay Today, the local newspaper. “But I kicked the habit while in prison and I’ve been drug-free for the last four years.”
Kireka has posted several photos and videos from his new workplace on Instagram. He also publicly thanked his new boss, Robbie Gale, for giving him a second chance.
“Much love to this man for reaching out to me and giving me an opportunity,” he wrote.