What is normal nowadays? I didn’t know any different than my childhood – staying away from home all weekend, the old man was drunk 7 days a week walking round in his undies and singlet – that was my normal. He was a chronic alcoholic, and not a nice man nor a good role model. That’s probably what I was lacking, a person that I could actually look up to and go – wow. I’ve just never seen that, really.
My father ended up dying as a result of his addiction, and I also lost two brothers, all within the space of 6 years. My older brother actually died in front of me. It all sent me spiralling out of control, and I started drinking at the age of 13, and got onto drugs at 14. Parties, working, buying and trading cars, some devious stuff. As the years went on, my drug use got a lot worse. I mostly stopped drinking, because I wasn’t naturally a hugely violent person, and I could see I was starting to turn out like my father, and I didn’t want that. So alcohol decreased, but pills increased, because I still wanted that numbness. And then I ended up sticking the needle in my arm, and that led to big time offending to pay for it. In 1988, myself and some friends were short of money, and had to do something pretty drastic. So we went and committed two robberies in a day. I was sentenced to two years.
Back then, I was affiliated with White Power. At that time, the prison was quite Mongrel Mob, Black Power. So obviously that wasn’t going to be a good outcome, and I got a pretty good beating. It was full on. The cells were shared, so I was locked up with my co-offender. And at that time there were about 10 people I knew that were in jail including one brother. So we were able to look after each other. If you go to jail and don’t know anyone, you’re in the shit, really. The saying is, ’more lambs to the slaughter.’
Throughout my time, I was just stoned, there were probably only about 5 days when I was actually clean. There wasn’t much security in that era. I remember the screws come in to check one day, and I looked down, thinking – jeez, I’ve got two joints in my hand. We were just stoned all day. I worked in there, and got fired for the only time in my life, for smoking pot.
I remember lying on my prison bed, thinking, ‘this is just a complete fucking waste of time.’ But actually, when I look back on life, prison probably actually saved my life. I was going down a path of overdosing otherwise. I was still using, but not as full-on as I would have been on the outside. On release, my brother picked me up to go straight back down to Timaru. We got absolutely ripped to pieces on the way. I had wanted to make a change when I got out of jail. Did I? Nah. Went back down to Timaru and got arrested after about 3 or 4 days of being back, but it was just a fine. I decided I needed to get away from Timaru if I was going to actually make any kind of change. My father had been a horsey person, so through his contacts I got a job, and ended up moving to Christchurch. But alcoholics attract alcoholics, and druggies attract druggies.
My turning point came in 1994. We got raided by the police. I wasn’t home at the time, but there was a summons on my bed. So I jumped my big V8 Falcon, no rego or warrant. Went to the old police station. My flatmates were also addicts, and they’d been the ones selling. I did the whole druggie victim act, saying – look, I’ve just got this job, I’ve only been there 6 months (the job was delivering firewood. Didn’t have my licence). And I said – look, I don’t want to go back on the dole. I’m making a living and trying to better myself. You know, just all that druggie bullshit. So the copper says – look, I’ll go away and talk to the copper in charge, and we’ll see what happens. It’s just shit charges, really. And he came back and said – it’s going to be your lucky day, it’s not worth us pursuing it, doing all the paperwork to get you to court, because it’s just going to be a slap on the bloody hand. So we’ve decided we’re not going to pursue it. But then he said – I want to say one thing to you – “you’re just a fucking loser.”
That’s exactly how he said it to me. And it impacted me, because no one had ever confronted me. And ironically, that was probably the turning point in my life. So that was in 1994. I didn’t clean up immediately, but in September, I was flatting with a druggie woman. I’d moved 9 times in one year, just because that’s what druggies do. It was a Sunday, and she had a V6 Capri which had just had the engine done up. So she suggested a long drive, and I suggested going to see my family in Timaru for lunch. We had 2 or 3 joints on the way, but I didn’t want to get too stoned in front of the old girl. ‘Coz I like my mum. So we got down there and my two brothers were there too. They’d both just gone through recovery. One was 5-6 months clean and sober, and the other one a year clean and sober. We’d all done time in prison due to drug stuff.
So we’re all sitting round the table. They knew I was stoned, but the thing that really stood out for me was that they were laughing! Actually having a good time, and a bit of banter. I’d never seen that before, never seen my family having a bit of a laugh.
That night I sat in my room and looked around. I had two pictures on my wall, some clothes on the floor. I had this shitty old Duchess thing, and I had a double bed. And up until about 6 months before that, I’d had a Mark III Zephyr, a V8 Falcon, a BSA motorbike, and a houseload of furniture. And basically, it just all went up my arm. So I remember sitting on the edge of my bed, thinking – I can’t do this anymore. I am so over this shit life.
And suicide came into my head. And then my mum came into my head. Because you know, she’d already lost two boys. And her husband, (even though they were already separated by the time he died). So she’d lost two sons, and I thought – I can’t do this to my mum.
Up to that point, I’d never asked anybody for help in my life, because (me being an addict), if I’d asked somebody for help, it would mean I’d owe them. And I didn’t want to owe anybody anything. I rung for help early the next morning, the Monday, and I said – I’m fucked, I need help. I was at that crossroads – either to end it or recover. If I carried on using, I was just going to die anyway. I was just over it. I think I was 28 or 29. And ironically, the stats suggest that for a male offender, the usual age when the light switches on is at about 29 years of age. It was true for me, anyway.
It was actually quite easy to give the junk away. I got full-on stuck into NA [Narcotics Anonymous], and I’m lucky enough that I’ve now been clean and sober since 1st of October, 1994. When I look back now, it’s ironic because I’ve actually had three jobs working in the prisons since my release. So I’ve seen the two different slants of life, really.
Do I have any regrets about my past? Absolutely. I hurt a lot of people, but in saying that, there were some good times, I’m lucky I’ve come through that and am out the other end, and I’m blessed to be working with people that have gone down that same journey. I’m passionate about seeing people make change for the better. So that’s why it does sadden me when I go out to the prison, I used to say to them – what an absolute waste, you’re sitting in this room. But they’re there for all kinds of different reasons.
I’m the first to say, you’ve got to have prison, there are some incredibly nasty people that need to be locked away. But I don’t think everybody should be in prison who is. When I went to jail in 1988, there was really nothing in the way of programs. I’m really pleased to say (and I’m not a National supporter), that now there’s actually no reason why people can’t better themselves. There are now so many programs in prison, A&D [Alcohol & Drug program], literacy stuff, all there for the taking.
I tell the guys to suck everything out of the place while they’re there, because when they get out to the world again, it’s different. All of a sudden, there are bills and rent to pay. If you want to make change, this is probably not a bad place to start. Some people in there don’t want to make the change, though. You’ve got to get to a point in your life where enough is enough. Otherwise you go straight back to old behaviour. That’s what I love about people in recovery, they already want to change their old behaviours. All you need to do is pick the phone up. You’ve got to have that willingness to say – I need help. I often say, they’re one person, but it affects 50, 100 people. I’m a firm believer that if you want to break that cycle, you can break that cycle.
Now I’ve got my own 16-year old boy. I wanted to be the father that I wanted my father to be. That’s not all plain sailing, I left his mum when he was one. I remember driving out of the driveway and thinking – I’m not going to be that father. I wanted to be a 7-day father. I have him every weekend, though, which I love. I’m not a full-time dad, but I just do the best I can do. He’s never seen me needled or drunk. I’m just doing the best I can.
The prison system continues to grow, and I find myself working with kids of prisoners I used to work with. We’re doing something wrong, and I don’t know how to fix it, it’s not just about throwing money at it. Having good relationships is a huge part of it. Mentors, role models, not necessarily parents but someone. Particularly for boys. I’m not excluding girls at all, because they have needs too, but for boys it’s a big thing to have a role model.