“I stopped drug-dealing. I stopped drug-dealing for one reason and one reason only. I wanted *tap tap tap to mean that somebody was at my door to see me.”
This is me. Hi, my name is Mark, but it’s not actually really, my name is something else. I was adopted at birth, at three days old and, by the time I was about seven or eight, I was parentless. My mum and dad had died and I went pillar-to-post, pillar-to-post, ended up at a family home.
These people say to me after about three weeks – ‘cause me being me, I knew my parents and they were gone, so I would go [to the new foster parents] “hey, ‘scuse me”. I couldn’t go… “Stephen” ‘cause I was a boy, he was a man. Respect, aye? So, “Hey, hey, ‘scuse me” and then they must have got sick of that and it must have pandered to their ego too much, because they said to me one day… it was dumb, we were doing dishes, then they says to me, “Oh Mark, you know, you can call us mum and dad if you like”. So I attacked them ‘cause I was quite offended at that. Here’s me thinking, you must be idiots, mate.
So anyway, so then I had a thing with my social worker and I says to her at the time, I says, “listen, mate, you can’t put me in any more of those places, that’s not happening. What I’ll do is I’ll go and be with my people and I’ll come report to you every day”. And by this time I was about 12/13 years old.
And she went, “who are your people?” and I went, “streetkids” – that’s a bit of me.
This is in Nelson City. I’m second-generation Nelson streetkid. You know, there’s only three people in Nelson that were on the street before me. And in this world, that says something. It’s like coming to you and saying, “hi, my name’s Helen Clark”. You know, even though she has no power now, we all know her name. Mine is the same. And I say that without ego, that’s just a fact. So I was a streetkid until I was maybe 20 ‘cause I liked that.
That’s why I’m so deep in this place [Christchurch City Mission], that’s why on the phone I says to you, “ah, they love me, they love me in here”. How can you not?
So streetkid hard, you know I became... I got involved in a bit of crime. Like proper crime, like fraud and stuff. That was up in Auckland. And got trained up by some pretty good criminals on different stuff; people I met in pubs and stuff. By then I was 17, 18, 19. I went up to Auckland when I was about 17.
And even when I came down here, from Nelson, I walked into the doghouse. I don’t know if you remember that place in the square? And the streetkids from Christchurch came up and went, “who are you, huh?” and me, I went “My name’s fat-boy, bro, who the f—are you?” and they went, “NC’s [Nelson City’s] fat-boy?” and I went, “yep”.
In my head, behind the image, I’m going, “yeah! F**k, these people know me!” ‘scuse my language. These people know me! And they did.
There’s power-play on the streets, it’s just the natural conditioning of mankind, aye? You know, if you go to a job and you’ve been there five minutes and you want to act like you’re the king, or the queen, the person that’s been there 20 years is going to go.. “ahem – do you really like working here?” And they’ll have you sacked tomorrow. So, that’s just the natural conditioning of the human condition, as it were.
‘Cause one of the things I did when I was in Mt. Eden was a psychology course. I learnt about the human brain and how to manipulate that shit ‘cause that’s all it’s about, aye?
If you’ve got a keyboard, you can print any word out on that screen, so long as you push the right series of buttons. Humans are the same. But it’s an emotional thing. If you connect with them on an emotional level… like McNamara; he took over the Vietnam forces for America, just before the Tet offensive and when he took them over, when he got offered the position, he said to the president, and I’m pretty sure it was Nixon, could be wrong, and he goes, “Alright, alright, Richard, I’ll take the job, but I’ve got to tell ya, we’re going to get nowhere, unless we first win the hearts and minds of the people”. The Vietnamese people. They never won that fight, but that’s one of the most powerful quotes I’ve ever heard. Because if you can win the heart and the mind of a person, you got it sorted.
So anyway, streetkid for years and then I became a bit of a fraudster, got a bit of jail. Moved from Nelson to Christchurch, then I did the South Island, came back to Christchurch, heard something about this K-road thing [Auckland’s infamous Karangahape Road] up in Auckland city, dangerous, all scary. Really. Though I walk through the valley of death, aye? I thought I’d better go and have a look.
You can’t tell me I can’t do something. I’ll consider it ‘did’. I was useful then, I had life to waste. Now, not so much. Not so much today. So I went up there, had a look, met these people. Had a great time, learned a whole lot of stuff. Did a bit of jail, a couple of years.
I came back here, got busted for fraud again and I was frustrated, did jail again. I thought, ah, man, I’ve got to find a new game! Obviously I’m not good at this fraud thing, as much as I thought. It was just cheques, credit cards, banking fraud… I used to have a t-shirt, they were Westpac t-shirts, a teller I knew gave me one, red collar, white t-shirt. Big, red ‘W’. Me, I took it to the printing shop and got ‘thank you’ printed under the ‘W’, because I was sincerely thankful for all the money they gave me.
So yeah, did all that, had a child up in Auckland. When I came down here again and did that jail, I was thinking, “gotta change my game”. And I was currently playing backgammon and chess with this guy who was in there for dope. And I’ve always liked smoking dope, I mean, who doesn’t, right? So I says to him, “tell me about your game, bro, how do you play your game?” and he goes, “it’s easy, you just buy your amounts, fill it up into 1 gram tinnies, let people know you’ve got them and they will come”. And I went, “is it that easy?” and he goes, “yeah”.
Got out, got some money, bought a couple of ounces, cracked it. Got to the point in Christchurch city where I was getting given 10 pound of weed a week, turning it all into cash in a week. Paying for that, and they give me another 10 pound. There were probably 12 of us in Christchurch at that level. I got quite big. I did that for about 20 years. Bit of jail involved… three months, six months, nine months, 12 months, two years, three years, one year. I’m a gangster. I sell dope and what. I used to say things to the prison officers like, “desensitisation. Your system warns us about it. Well, it works. The more you give me, the less it matters.”
To the point where they put me in jail, they put me in IDU status, which is ‘identified drug user’, the first day I arrived. Hadn’t even tested me, nothing, and I says, “How can you do that?” And they looked at me, plain-faced and says, “Mark, every wing you get put into, the whole wing gets stoned”. And I went, “Yeah! I’m not selfish”. So yeah, I drugged a lot.
While I was in jail, the wife died. Hard times, hard times. It happens. And I got out and I’d lost everything. Like, I’d had a house and stuff. Nothing left. Not even a clean pair of knickers.
I rebuilt, because you can’t keep a good man down, they say. So you gotta just brush it off, carry on. You can read my poems, my true story, but in poetic form.
So then, I stopped drug-dealing. I stopped drug-dealing for one reason and one reason only. I wanted *tap tap tap to mean that somebody was at my door to see me, you know.
First couple of years, you could have sat in my lounge, not a single tap, tap, tap. And this is from 10 pound a week, having people lining up down the street, up my drive, to my door. Lining up... to no-one! It made it real for me; made life real for me; made relationships real for me. You know, like I consider I brought myself up. And I didn’t know how to teach myself discernment. The sincerity of a person. If you came up to me, “oh, I love you” – well, I’d believe it. ‘Cause face value is all I had to go by. So if people say ‘you can trust me’, well, I would. It was face-value, it’s all I’ve got. So that’s one action that taught me a whole lot about people. Even after my psychology course. It sort of, you know how sometimes you can sit in the classroom and you can be taught something, but it’s just head-knowledge. You can’t learn anything, you can’t teach anybody anything. But they are free to learn from you. And there’s a huge difference. It’s like children, eh, we’re busily trying to teach them right from wrong, while we’re busily doing something else. And guess what it is they pick up? The doing. No matter what you say, it’s the doing that they pick up instinctively. And sometimes, you sit in that classroom, and you’re getting given knowledge. And yeah, I understand that. I get that. I get that. And then, a week, a year, 10 years later, I GET that.
Now I work at Kelvin's Furniture*. I pick up and put down furniture. I’m a storeman, there. I love it, love it, LOVE it. Love it more than I did the drug-dealing. And as far as what did I do, I sunk into a really deep depression is what I did. Because when you’re selling that much weed and you’re that popular, “popular” at least at face value, which was what I had to believe. But then I realised, I don’t actually have any friends.
They’re all, at best, there. Because I’m scared to let them in, because I don’t know who I can really trust. I mean, I do, but I don’t. Maybe I’ve learned not to trust my own judgment. But luckily, when I was little, my parents were poor. And this is just a bulls**t story, but it illustrates the point well. And I do that lots, tell bulls**t stories just to illustrate a point, because never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn, right? So anyhoo, when I was little, my parents were poor and all they gave me to play with was words. And that’s not really true, but the truth of it is this, as a streetkid, I met this old fella. By old, I was like 13, maybe, then, and 14. And he was like 25. And he put a dictionary in front of me, and he said, “boy, you can read that, aye?” And I went, “well yeah, of course I can read it”. And he goes, “nah, nah, you can read that and I’m going to come up to you now and again, and check out a word. I’ll ask you where you’re up to, and I’ll choose a word”. The whole thing, I’ve read it. Well, I had to, under the threat of violence… wouldn’t you? Every time he chose a word, if I couldn’t give him a passable definition, didn’t have to be a verbatim one, just passable, I’d get punched in the face. But if I got one, he’d go tap me on the back and go, “buy me a feed”.
They called me fat-boy. I like food. So anyhoo. I got good at that stuff ‘cause it’s all about people-pleasing, aye? People-pleasing is a flaw. Anyway.
So streetkid, then gang member. Before I met my missus, she was in a certain gang. She loved them, aye. She loved them. We had many a fight, many a fight, verbal, physical, many a fight over this connection she had with this group of people that I knew to be – nah. They’re according to the law on loyalty, and all that, it’s bullshit. And I still believe that. And I’m a patch member. But I’m only a patch member, because after she died, when I was in jail I got out and had nothing. And I says to them, “bros, I want one of them t-shirts”. They says, “what for?” I says, “to honour my Queen” you know, because back in the old days, in the old musket days, the Napoleonic days they’re called, they used to have a flag-bearer. And if the flag-bearer got shot, boom, another soldier would grab that flag and wave it loud and proud, because as soon as the flag hit the ground, they lost. That was the international signal for na-na na-na na na. You just lost. And so I took that belief into my little mixed-up brain and I thought to myself, well that’s her flag. Bang. And it’ll never hit the deck. Because I’ll honour that lady. Because she loved me to bits. And I thought she was pretty cool, too.
So yeah, I’ve become a gang member. Still a gang member. Don’t have much to do with them, don’t have to, what are they going to do to me? That’s how I think of it, aye. Unless they’re going to come round and shoot me, don’t threaten me with your bulls**t, off you go.
I’m quite estranged from my children, because of jail. I’ve got three of my own, my blood running through their veins. My partner, she had three, so when she died, I sort of rallied up the troops. And said, “hey, anything you need, any time you need it, this is where you come. Good, bad, ugly, I don’t care. This is where you come. Because if your mother was still alive, this is where you would have come. Because she would have been seated here by my side.” And they all went, “yeah, well she would have”. And I went, “so, you come to me”.
It’s not a very family-orientated family, that I have, but they do exist. And occasionally, I’ll get a pair of socks at Christmas. And if they do get into trouble, they will holler and I will go and I will sort it out. You know, I don’t really care what it takes, I’ll sort that out. Because honour’s important.
So anyway, became a gang member. Since then, sunk into a big depression, ‘cause of the realisation that I had nobody in this city. Like, no one. Like no one that I could call close. I mean, there’s lots of people that if they walked in here, I’d know and I’d go “oh, this is my really good friend, he’s like my brother”. But there’s a phrase I use in one of my poems and it goes like this, ‘image is everything, ego is king, even at the expense of the real thing’. So you got to keep that outer image alive, so that this heart doesn’t get hurt. Because when that gets hurt, all bets are off. I’m going back to jail.
Depression took 2-3 years, off and on. And sometimes I still get a bit lonely and stuff. But I know how to combat that stuff. You just go for a bike ride. Honestly, the sunshine is the best cure. It’s some chemical that’s released, it’s a happiness drug, apparently. Now, if you can roll that in tinfoil, I’d probably buy some.
Anyway, so, got through all that, got a job at XX, and then I got busted driving one of my workmate’s vehicles, so I gave him $400 to get his car out and then quit my job. Because they were good enough to give me a job, I’d never really had a proper job. I mean, I have, but not really one where my heart was in it. And this is probably the scummiest, lowest on the rank job I’ve ever had, but I LOVE it. I love it. I have a passion for it. It’s really important.
So because they’d done that for me by getting me a job, when I got busted driving I knew I had to quit, because I knew how the system works and sometimes it disappoints you greatly. They’ll write your name in the paper and then they’ll go ‘employee of…’ or ‘works at…’ and I thought, I don’t want to soil these people. That name, connected with my bulls**t. So I left. And that was about a year ago.
Got on the synnies, synthetic cannabis and s**t, because I could get it free at that time, it just meant kicking in the door and going, “give”. And people would go, “here you go”. Anyway, so did that. And then just some weeks ago, I rung up, and the guy goes, "it’s Kelvin's Furniture*, Kelvin* speaking". And I went, "g-day *Kelvin speaking, it’s Mark here. Any work?” And he goes, “I’ll see you Monday, mate. Good to have you back.”
The only reason I went back is ‘cause of something he said. ‘cause I said to my boss, “I might have to go to jail here,” and he goes - and this is what got me, being an old orphan streetkid nobody, - he goes, “well, when it’s all over, you make sure you come home”.
Winner, winner. Give that man a chicken dinner, he’s a winner. He got me. You know, he pushed the right series of buttons, just in that one sentence.
And I didn’t get jail, but life took its turns, as it does. You know, ended up homeless and ended up on the synnies, in that order. And now I’ve rung up, got my job back, got a little council flat, got a laptop, etc etc. I’m good to go.
Because I really enjoy writing these poems, because I enjoy the feedback I get, I get posts on the book-face, and all my friends go, (well, friends, all these people on the book-face that follow my things), they’re like, “man, that’s cool,” “aw, was that about me?” me: I have a quick look at the photo – “yes” It’s like Tinder, aye, my own little version of Tinder. Look at the photo - yes, yes, it was about you. … And yeah, that’s my life, right up until today.
And here I am at City Mission. I helped train most of these people. I first turned up here when I first arrived in the city. I awhi this place to return to it the awhi which was given to me from this place. Back when I was a little ratbag. Now, I can come in here, because – as a gang member, as you go to jail, you’ve got two choices. And this is about the dispensation of power, influence. You can take everybody’s chicken, on chicken night, “I’ll have that, and I’ll have your phone too”. Or, you can sit there and make sure that everybody gets to eat their chicken, no standovers on my watch, or I’ll see you in the yard. I’m one of those ones who chooses the second path.
So I when I come in here to City Mission, the staff will go, “That fella’s a bit of a headache” so I say, “Oh is he?” and I go up to him, “Hi bro, what’s your name? What do you do for a living?” And, nicely, because of hearts and minds. Just because he’s your enemy, doesn’t mean you can’t take the time to win his heart and his mind. I’ve met some really cool people like that. Yeah, love that s**t.
Sun Tzu, he wrote a book called, ‘The Art of War’ and he listed the five levels of warrior… the fighter, he’s the lowest form of warrior there is. The other three, I can’t recall, because they’re unimportant. Because you’re either going to fall to the bottom, or rise to the top. In my mind, because I’ve been on the bottom, I know what that’s like, I can go down tonight if I have to. Rising to the top? In some fields, I’ve risen to there, so I know what that feels like. As I say, not many people in Christchurch at the time were selling 10 pound a week.
So this author said the bottom was the fighter. The top guy is the guy that recognises his enemy before his enemy recognises there is even such a thing as a conflict and diffuses it. I try and practice that. I could just walk over and go, “this one?” And beat him up. No, better an arm round the shoulder than a fist in the face. Because you never know, the fella might have his own sphere of influence. He might have something, someone. Well, everybody’s got something, and I don’t mean materialism, I mean he might come out with a phrase that clicks. Anything like that to me is valuable. Because anything material is of little value. If it doesn’t have a heartbeat, ain’t got a value. That’s just my own little moral, how I look at things.
When I was in jail, I wrote my first poem. It took me about three minutes, ok maybe five. And I passed it around the East Wing – which is five year sentences and over. You know – serious criminals. Me, I was only doing three years. It’s kinda deepish. So, I handed it around the wing. There was Islanders, there was Asians, there was everybody in there and they all had a cry. And that’s when I thought, man, I might have a skill here.
I don’t write to process my emotions, no, it’s the result of my thoughts and collecting my emotions. It’s the result of that. The reason I started smoking dope, when I was a little kid, was to slow my mind down. I used to freak my old man out, and my old lady, by saying “I was thinking about this when I was sleeping last night” – ‘cause I was – you know, give me a problem and literally I’ll go to sleep on it and I wake up in the morning, and I would have had a cognitive thought about the issue. It’s like a meditation, I guess.
These are actually quite good, some of these poems. I can write other than just jail s**t. I haven’t published anything yet, but that’s my goal. I checked out one publisher and they wanted $1400. So that they would publish a book of me. Now, to me, no, no, no, no hang on, bro. I’m doing all the work, and you’re going to get a cut of the slice? …. It doesn’t make sense to me. Like, it’s my car, it’s my petrol and you’re telling me how to drive? Not happening, mate, that’s just not ever going to happen, as an analogy to say… Dude, here’s my stuff. Like it? You publish it. We’ll go sharesies. Boom. If you don’t think it’s good enough that you’d make money on doing the publishing side of it then sweet, give me my bits back, and I’ll go somewhere else. Because J.K.Rowling got turned away heaps of times. And she’s now the most popular writer in history, except maybe Shakespeare. And I could be her. I look better and stuff, but I could be her. Because this is good stuff.
My daughter – nah, actually I’ll tell you the truth – I’ll tell you two stories. The story I tell people is this, ‘my daughter came to me one day and asked me, “dad, how do you know if someone is telling you the truth?”’ bulls**t. What actually happened was, I thought of this poem and I thought, that’s not bad, and I call it truth. And it goes like this:
“I hear your words. I see your actions. I sometimes even feel your emotions. But only when all three send me the same message can I believe it.”
Bang. Truth. One of my personal favourites. ‘Cause it’s a good one to deflect bulls**t. “Ah, is that right? I hear what you’re saying, I see what you’re doing, I sometimes even feel what you’re up to, but ah, all three gotta send me the same message before I can believe what you’re telling me.
About jail, what I think is that to repeat the same process over and over again, and expect a different result, is the definition of insanity. And how long has this system that we have in place to ‘combat the crime’ been in place? And has the crime rate risen, or fallen? It doesn’t work!
*Names and identifiers have been changed to protect identities