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Nigel's Story

"My family were pretty shocked, especially my daughter, she was planning to be a copper."

I had moved to Australia to work as a fly-in tradesman in the mines up north. It’s really rough and in the middle of nowhere. I quite liked it, but not many people can handle it. I have three kids, they were all born and brought up in Australia. I’d just visited my daughter in Belgium because she was getting a bit homesick on an exchange programme. But I’d paid a fortune for her to be over there, so I didn’t want her coming back just yet! So I visited her.

When I got back, the government had changed over, funding was approved, so we flew up to the site at the mines, but there was no start date. Work didn’t eventuate for week after week after week, so we got into partying and it got out of hand. I rung up a mate, and said, ‘listen mate, bring me some drugs, will ya?’ he said, yip, no worries, can you make it worth my while? So I said, ‘hey guys, can we make it worth his while?’ They all said ‘yip,’ and that’s how it started. I got caught in that rut and then next minute, the money was pouring in, there were big piles of drugs in front of me and everything’s a blur, I lost track of reality. Because I was on good money, I could buy heaps of drugs and it all snowballed from there.

I was sentenced to five years, three months, full sentence. My family were pretty shocked. And my kids, because my daughter was going to be a copper, the eldest one.

Prison was probably the only way for me to get off drugs. I was absolutely killing myself. So I couldn’t have gone too much longer. I was taking a dozen ecstasy pills a day, popping them like lollies. My eyes shook and I was awake for two weeks. I don’t remember much of that time, it’s all really fuzzy. My first few months of prison I just slept and slept.

Prison’s a waste of life. The prison was in the Northern Territory, Australia and for some men in there, that was the first time they’d had running water, electricity and three meals a day. In the wet season we knew there’d be an influx soon so that they’ve got a dry bed and their clothes are clean. Prison’s easy, but it’s a waste of life.

I didn’t know anything about prisons before I went. I had two jobs in there – I was a foreman for woodwork Monday-Friday, and I was on bloodspill cleanup after fights, which was quite a good job, actually. You get around the whole prison and you get to see the damage first-hand. It’s like Chinese whispers, by the time the story gets around the prison, it’s different people, different outcome. So when we came back after cleanup, everyone was waiting for the real story.

I was classed as a 501 and imprisoned in Darwin, then was escorted by guards to Perth. The detention centre is about an hour out of Perth, so I was even further away from my children, the family would have had to fly over there, hire a car, accommodation and all the rest of it just to pop in for a visit. So we didn’t worry about that.

All you have in prison is a pen, so when filling out appeal papers, you’ve got no resources. They ask for your licence numbers and all, so I just had to write, ‘unable to complete’.

When I went to prison, because of my charges, I was put in as High Risk. Took me a while to earn my downgrade to Medium Risk, and I was sitting on Medium for two years. They said because of my charges and immigration, I can’t get to Low. If I was Australian I could move forward, but being from New Zealand I couldn’t. I realised each prison has their own rules they follow, which are not necessarily backed up by law. One call from a lawyer and I was downgraded to Low, and could move into a Low security area. I’ve got no prison history and didn’t cause any riot-ups or anything. I did all my programmes and counselling and rehab.

So I earned my release and was waiting to be told I could return to my country. Then they packed us up and took us to Christmas Island! 4,000km further from my destination. Being low security, I wasn’t cuffed, but as soon as my foot hit the tarmac on Christmas Island, Serco guards said, ‘You’re now on Christmas Island, you’re now High Risk’.’ I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I’ve figured out it looks better for Australian Immigration if I’m High risk, they can pat themselves on the back, saying, ‘yes! We’ve now got rid of another high-risk 501’. But it looks worse for me to be labelled as a high risk of reoffending. So I fought it and there was a big meeting and all, I said I’d hang around till I’d earned my Low rating again. That changed it, so they kept my rating as low. It’s definitely because I pushed and stood up for myself.

Now I work as a painter in New Zealand and have no desire to get on drugs again. With drugs, you’ve got to want to try to give up, or want to get on it. I regret that I lost time with my kids… my son was five when I went in and we went camping every Christmas, so I’ve let him down for three years. I’ve got some making up to do there. And my girls, of course, but they’re a bit older. I’ve got a lot of making up to do with my son.

It was easy to find a job. I’m a tradesman and good at my job. I went back to someone I’d worked with before moving to Australia. He said - yeah, I remember you, come and start on Monday. Then when I came on Monday, I said ‘mate, just before we get started, just between you and me, I’ve just come back from prison’. He said, ‘right, you over it?’ I said ‘yeah’. He said, ‘right, we’ll carry on then’. Told me to keep it quiet, but as I work with people for a while, I tell them my story. It’s not a big secret for me, it’s only if it’s going to stuff me up somewhere, then I won’t mention it, but otherwise I’m more than happy to tell people. With my accommodation, I specifically played the whole interview thing away from - why did you leave Australia?

I just want to keep moving forward and I’ve got my son coming next week, hopefully he’ll stay for a while. I had a real good upbringing in New Zealand. Mum and dad were awesome and I quite like Christchurch now. Every time I’ve come back in the past it’s been dreary, cold and depressing, but it feels like a hip city of the future now and I quite like it.

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