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John's Story

"Your senses are working way overtime when you come out, you feel just about bullet proof. Feeling that sharp, you can easily go wrong."

I left school at 15 to work at the freezing works and ended up working there for over 20 years. It’s hard, hurts the soul working there. Probably why I got into my drink and drugs. You don't think of it when you’re younger, you just numb out and have a few drinks. I got into crime when I left school - I raided my neighbour’s garage, took their home brew and stashed it in the sleep out. That year I also started smoking cannabis and breaking into bottle stores. My mum had a couple of nervous breakdowns, which probably affected me. Dad was there for me, gave me a few hidings when I was younger. They fought a lot, though. At 17, myself and a couple of mates were drinking at a car sales place and we broke into the office. We set fire to it and burnt it down. Then, of course, we ran away, then when the fire engines came, we went back to have a closer look. It was silly. We were drunk and, of course, got arrested at the scene. The police beat me up that night, smashed my head against the concrete floor. I took the blame for it. Confessed. And I ended up getting 12 months youth imprisonment. That was my first taste of prison. They put me on medication, some quite strong antidepressants. I got into one fight with a guy, over cigarettes and matches. He started it. I remember when they said I was going home – I was so pleased. I thought, I never want to come back to this place again! I managed to stay out of trouble for a bit, but got caught drink driving. The second time, I jumped out of the police car and went to retrieve my cannabis out of my car for some reason. Then of course I got arrested for resisting arrest, assaulting a traffic officer, drink driving and cannabis. I was 19 then, still at the freezing works. It was only seasonal, so I would get months off in the winter where I would go on the unemployment benefit. Then I could rest up, drink and, as I was living at home, I didn’t have high expenses. Men’s prison was pretty full on. The guy I’d got into a fight with at the youth prison was there, and he put a Mongrel Mob prospect onto my case. He tried to stand over me for my shoes. Of course I wasn’t going to give my shoes over, so he came into my cell and had a fight there. I was threatened that if I didn't take the rap for it, I was going to get stabbed. So I took the blame for that fight. And I ended up getting locked up in cell confinement again. I ended up going out to Rolleston to finish my sentence out there. It was really good there, really easy. I was working on the farm in there and on the sewing machine, making prison gear. It was good to have something to do during the day. Time went faster, completely different to men’s prison. And there wasn’t any fighting. A lot of it’s just bravado, I noticed. And it’s full on – the damage. A lot of them are damaged. A lot have been sexually abused, I didn’t realise just how many until I was in there. They just carry that cycle on and abuse others. I've seen a lot of stuff, aye. Guys that will come over to my unit with broken jaws and stuff. They were obviously stood over for sexual favours or whatever. If they didn't do what they were told, they’d just get smashed. I got paranoid that some of them were going to stab me in the eye. So I got my dad to send me in sunglasses to wear in there. My six weeks felt like six months. Every day was intense. I wanted to be locked up early because I was paranoid someone was going to get me. How much is paranoia and how much is actually real I’m not sure, but I wasn’t the only one to ask to be locked up early. There’s a lot of aggro too, it’s 60-odd men all living together in the same compound. And it’s worse in the North Island because they are all double bunked up there, and one guy said he was raped up there. And a mob would pick on a guy and make him do lots of pushups, take his food and who knows what else. I was lucky because I treated the prison officers with lots of respect and never bad-mouthed any of them. I quite liked them in a way, because they're doing quite a good job. I was in there because I assaulted my girlfriend when I was drunk. I shouldn’t have done that. Always respect your peers. But the staff would play games, sometimes. In my last month, my water got turned off in my toilet, so I couldn’t flush for 2 weeks. They were just having me on, it was just a game. And a couple of times they didn’t unlock me. Then the day before I was getting out, all of the sudden my toilet started working. I guess you get quite hardened to it too. After 3-4 months in there, it feels like a while; 3-4 months out in society is nothing but in there it can feel like forever. In there, I had a good deep look at myself. I tried to get into a rehab halfway house, but then I ended up assaulting my girlfriend a second time and, of course, I got denied bail and went straight to jail. They were looking at putting me into rehab programmes, but I’d have had to go to Otago and, because my sentence was only five months, I wasn’t eligible. If you’re under two years you don’t get to do programmes, there are long waiting lists. I didn't have a TV or a radio, but I did a lot of therapy, writing down in the big AA book. I kept a journal and a diary and all that. Did it that way. Even though it's in jail, it was like a rehab for me. When I got out, I was clean and sober and the very first day I came to City Mission to stay, I didn't go out and get drunk. When you get released, your senses are way over-time. You feel like you’ve been… obviously you’ve had no sex in there. A lot of the men had boyfriends and that, especially the ones doing long sentences, I guess. Otherwise they go crazy. So senses were working overtime, and I was feeling pretty pretty high, but then again, it’s like you're feeling that sharp, you can easily go wrong. You feel just about bullet proof. It would be easy to find yourself back in there, thinking – how did that go wrong? I can easily see why many people end up back in there, because it takes a wee while to adjust. When you’ve been out about a month, the loneliness kicks in. I was hoping to get back with my girlfriend but that wasn't going to happen. After working at the freezing works for 23 years, I lost my job because of paranoia. People thought I had hepatitis, because my ex girlfriend had put out a rumour that I had Hep C. I got a test done and even though it was clear, people didn't believe it. I was on methadone at the time, so even I started thinking I’d got it. So I moved up to Christchurch and was working at my sister’s café. I loved it! It was like I was reborn. I had three lost years. After I lost my job, I’d gone down hill. I blew a lot of money, I got overweight and lost all self esteem. I sold my house, which was probably the best thing to move on. There were too many bad memories there anyway and it was wrecked from parties. And my ex-girlfriend kind of wrecked it a bit before she moved out, and she put a protection order on me. You don't know what you’ve got till it's gone. I went from having a house, car and job, to having nothing. I missed that job big time, just about harder than a breakup. Losing $40,000 a year, you know? That was 10 years ago now. $1000 a week wages to going on the dole. And I missed being a part of something, aye, having something to do during the day, especially when you're on your own. Some purpose. God I missed it, I was broken as. So I moved up to Christchurch and forgot all about it, working at my sister’s café. I healed, and things got better and better, until the earthquake. She lost the business and I ended up getting involved with her girlfriend who I ended up living with and ended up assaulting. Things go in cycles. I’m rebuilding again, I want to go to polytechnic and study cheffing. I’m exploring my opportunities now. A fear of failure stopped me from getting my licence again years ago. City Mission has been good for me, I’ve never really left this place. And I’m in my second year of sobriety. And I’ve kept a flat for 4.5 years, it’s a good wee home and I’ve looked after it. I’m getting my tattoos lasered out too, they were done when I was in my mid 20s. It’s my past and I want it to go. It’s not me anymore. This Celtic one reminds me too much of prison wire. It takes about nine months before they’re gone. Once they’re gone, I’ll feel better, I already do, seeing them start to fade. I’ve got two daughters, to different mums. I’ve sort of lost contact with my youngest, haven't seen her for 10 years, but we’re sort of connecting again through Facebook. I sent her 500 bucks for her birthday. And my eldest daughter’s just had a baby boy, so I’m a grandad!! I’ve only seen him on Facebook so far. My charges have been half a dozen assaults, breach of protection orders and female assaults, one with intent to injure... that was probably my worst one - 10 months imprisonment. I've had 10 drink driving offences and half a dozen cannabis offences, half a dozen theft, at least 4-5 burglary, due to drink and drugs. I haven't been in any trouble since 2012, since before I went to prison. Got out 2013. No trouble... five years, five years! That's me. I’ve grown out of it. Just like the drink and that aye, I've grown out of it. Drink driving and all that carrying on. Got to grow up sometime, learn from your mistakes. I’m 50. The big 5-0 this year. No big deal aye. Still a milestone. God, I’m getting two-thirds of my life now aren't I? First generation, second generation, getting into the third generation since I'm a grandad now. I’m getting into my middle years. Not golden years, but middle years. I feel sorry for the guys in prison. I still go to meetings and see a lot of them. It’s tough, people hang themselves. And it’s crowded, Christchurch Men’s Prison has 1,000 inmates. I saw guys in there who shouldn't have been in there, like drink driving repeat offenders doing 18 months. They’re not hardened criminals, they are just alcoholics. I think we need to worry less about people’s risk to society, and focus more on what is going to help them. Less time locked up and more courses. There are some courses, but a lot of people are so damaged… I think more money should be spent on rehabs rather than chucking it all into building new prisons. Rehab could be a sentence in itself, rather than chucking people into jail. It costs a lot of money too. Thousands are being paid to keep someone in prison. I know some should be in jail, but there are far too many in there. Even drug dealers. I saw guys in there with their first conviction. There are some guys in there who wouldn't even hurt a mouse, and they were doing 3-4 years for selling meth. Never had a conviction before in their lives, and they were doing big sentences with hard criminals, you know? So I think there are far too many people in prison. Especially when you’re young, it can turn you. They end up in gangs and it’s a vicious cycle. On remand, I was locked up 22 hours a day. In the weekends, if you didn't get a visitor, you’d only get out two hours in the morning and that was it. Saturday and Sunday were the worst days. You’d be locked up. Not enough staff to supervise. I’ve got a peer support worker who has helped me a lot – helped me to update my CV, computer skills, just someone to talk to and keep me grounded. I have a new phone and all that too. I’ve only really joined up with the internet world in the last year. Facebook is great to get back in touch with my family.

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