Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis told the story of Sam, a 60-year-old man who spent almost 50 years in a gang, at the Criminal Justice Summit today.
Mr Davis relayed the experience of the man who had "enough of the violence and enough of the P".
The Criminal Justice Summit aims to bring victims of crime and justice experts together, to look at reforming the justice sector.
Sam had joined a gang at just 14, with Mr Davis describing it as "a new family he would remain with for the next 48 years", after he was taken from his family at age 10 and put into a boys' home.
"We took that 10-year-old boy, scared and confused... we threw him into the system and it spat out a broken young man with nowhere to turn but a life in the gang," Mr Davis said.
"In the end, we punished a child whose only crime was being born into a family of 16 children, then we sentenced him to a life of crime.
"It's our fault he spent nearly half a century in a gang. If you think Sam is the exception to the rule, you are wrong."
Mr Davis spoke of the over representation of Māori in prison, along with New Zealand's high incarceration rate.
"This is personal for me.
"I look around this room and I see Māori... and I know you feel this too. These are our people I'm talking about."
"As Māori we need to take care of our own, rather than closing our doors. We need to face up to and free ourselves from the violence that many of our people, our whānau struggle with"
"I've had whānau in prison. I grew up in a street where a number of people living there went to prison. These guys were my mates."
Mr Davis said he wanted answers in how "to reduce the scale of this problem and the sheer waste of human potential".
Mr Davis brought the speech back to Sam, who went back to the boys' home to visit as an adult.
"It was when he was standing outside the gates that he finally broke down and offered his forgiveness.
"He forgave the men who took him away; the boys' home that broke his spirit; the government and the people who turned their backs on him.
"He forgave us," Mr Davis said.
"What are we going to do?" Mr Davis said finishing his speech. "What are we going to do to deserve Sam's forgiveness?"