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July 29, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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From Grad to Bad

Just two months after finishing the final papers of his undergraduate degree, Tilden* found himself in a cell in Rimutaka Prison, facing charges against his name that could land him with a 14-year sentence. Six months on from his arrest, and still yet to enter his plea of innocence before the courts, Tilden reflects on his experiences with justice.

What happened when you were first arrested?

There was a loud bang as the door opened and then about ten armed offenders came in.

Shit. Did you have any idea that it was coming?

Nope, complete surprise. There was lots of yelling: “Put your arms behind your head and lie on the ground! Put your hands behind your head and lie on the ground!” I complied with that and then had my arms cable-tied very tightly behind my back. Then they took me outside and gave me a yarn, and said that I was under arrest. I was forced to take off all my clothing—that was bagged up as evidence to be tested, and I was put in a white painting jumpsuit that made me look like a criminal.

Next, they took me to the station and I had a chappy interview me there for about three hours, before they finally gave me some water and some food. After that I was taken to the holding cells at the bottom of the police station where I stayed overnight. The next day I was taken out to Rimutaka prison at about 7 am, after having some Weet-Bix and some tea.

Were you able to contact anyone during that time?

After I’d been questioned I contacted my parents, I was allowed to call them. They got hold of a lawyer for me who I talked to the next day.

How did your parents react?

They were shocked, but they were instantly supportive and they helped me 100 per cent of the way through. They believed me 100 per cent when I told them I had nothing to do with it—that’s part of the reason why they were so supportive.

How were you feeling during the whole process?

To start off with I was a bit shocked, obviously. After that I just kind of wanted it to be over because I was going out for dinner with my girlfriend that night, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wanted to help, but at the same time I didn’t want to be there, and then after a few hours of questioning, when they brought up that they’d found some [incriminating evidence], I was shocked and then started saying, “No comment, no comment, no comment.” I realised that I was in a fuckload of shit, and it was pretty gut-wrenching.

Once you were in prison, was it how you expected it would be?

To a degree it was. I never expected to go to prison and it was quite a shock, but it was what I expected.

What were the other prisoners that you met there like?

I was on segregation the whole time, for my own protection. But I had chats with the guy next to me at night; he was young, he was Māori, he had a kid, he’d been done for aggravated assault and shoplifting. He was a good dude, just institutionalised. I found that after a day and a half, even I started to talk like them a bit. When Mum and Dad picked me up they were like, “You’ve got to stop this immediately,” and I was like “Sorry,” but you just [puts on voice] “start talking like you’re in prison, aeeee.”

How long were you there for?

Had a weekend visit; couldn’t afford my room after that so they sent me out.

So ever since then you’ve been in and out of court hearings?

I’ve had about two or three court hearings. Mostly I’ve just been waiting for the police, who have been up to fucks. I still haven’t got my laptop back; it only takes them a day to clone it, but apparently I don’t need it. So, six months later…

So your experience with the process of justice so far hasn’t been that great?

The process of justice is abhorrently terrible—it’s the slowest, most ridiculous thing I’ve come across in a long time. The number of times I’ve had to get my address changed, or my bail conditions changed, and they’ve said, “Turn up to the courthouse on this day to sign it,” which is fine. But then I turned up in Auckland the first time, and they were like: “No, what are you talking about? There’s no reference here.” They call Wellington, and Wellington says, “We sent an email,” and Auckland’s like, “Nah, you didn’t,” then I had to get a number off someone, call someone, then an hour later finally they sign a piece of paper that says it’s alright.

The last two times I’ve had to get a new bail bond signed they’ve tried to chuck in that I can’t consume alcohol, and I’m just like, “No, that’s bullshit—it’s got nothing to do with my charges,” but they just write it up on the charge sheet. Then I have to go down to the court, get a new one, print it out, wait around.

Every Monday I have to sign a piece of paper at the police station; if I forget to do that I could get arrested. That’s a lot faster, but it still has to be between 12 and 4, and I used to work from 12–5 on Fridays, and I used to have to report on Fridays as well. I went there at five minutes to 12 and told them I had work, and asked if there was any way I could sign in five minutes early, and they just said, “No, come back in five minutes.”

If you want your day changed you have to get it signed off through the courts or something like that; I’ve already done that three times.

How would you say the experience has changed your perspective on the police?

It hasn’t changed my view on the police much; if anything, I think they’re more thorough than I thought they were, but at the same time, I feel like sometimes they decide what they want, for example, “We want to arrest some drug-related people,” or, “We want to find some burglars,” and they just don’t stop until they get it.

So it’s just a matter of achieving goals that they’ve already set?

It feels like they can’t just back down and say, “Okay, this guy has nothing to do with it.” Instead they just catch the first fish, don’t care what fish it is, and throw it off to the courts and then the courts have to deal with it—and they wonder why the courts are all being fucked. I did not know the courts could be that slow and useless. It’s amazing.

Has it changed choices that you’ve made or goals that you have now?

Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely changed me. I’ve vowed never ever to go back to prison—not that I ever planned on going to prison. I’ve changed my life. Even though I had nothing to do with the illegal activity, and am 100-per-cent innocent, the experience has definitely changed me. I live in fear of going to back to prison.

In terms of the case against you so far, do you feel that you have been treated fairly?

I don’t know. Nothing has been treated at this stage, nothing’s happened. I haven’t given my plea yet. Next week I give my plea of not guilty. So we’ll see how well they take that. And it’s six months since it all happened. I mean, I fully understand, I want them to be in-depth in their decision of justice, but at the same time, what am I supposed to do, just put my life on hold for six months? How am I supposed to apply for jobs when they ask, “Do you have any impending charges? If so, please detail.” All they have to do is google my name.

Do many people know about the charge?

Soon after, quite a few acquaintances or people that I hadn’t seen in a while who I saw were like: “Fuck, are you alright bro? I didn’t expect to see you, I thought you’d be in prison. Fuck, are you alright?” I kind of got sick of it after a while. People know, but I feel like it’s already been so long that people have moved past it. They ask me how it’s going and I tell them that I haven’t even been to court yet. But their lives go on.

Has it affected how people act towards you?

Definitely, and definitely my employers as well. I was in line and should have taken my duty manager’s licence so I could start managing at this bar, and they said I have to wait until the court case is over. I need to find a new job. I told them I was innocent, but I’m just going through this shit. They were understanding, but at the same time they don’t want to try and make me a manager in case it backfires.

Has it changed your perspective on how other people get themselves involved in these situations?

Kind of. The buzziest dude I met was this guy called Rangi Whitecliffe, who at one time was in the top ten of New Zealand’s most wanted criminals for burglary. He had been charged for over 100 or 400 counts of burglary. He had the saddest life story. He was the product of rape; he was raped himself when he was 11 or something; he went to this child institution that was apparently in the news because they molested and mistreated all the children; he was given shock therapy and shit like that. He was covered in tattoos and he said his favourite one was the one on his leg that he’d done himself when he was seven—it was a hill and some seagulls and a tree. I felt so sorry for him because he had just been on a big P binge or whatever and he was quite happy that he’d been arrested because he was like, “I needed a break, just going back to prison for a bit.” He said it himself, “I’m institutionalised, I don’t know how to act out there with all this crazy shit going on, and there’s all these drugs, and I’m quite happy back in prison.” He’d been in all the prisons in the country; he’d run a gang at one point. He knew enough people that prison was a great place for him. Only just last year he’d got $25,000 out of the court case from when he was a child and molested. He was smart in that he’d given it all to one dude who he trusted, and when he got to prison the first thing he did was call that dude and say, “I’m in prison, send $100 a week, chur bro.” $100 a week in prison buys you heaps of shit.

Did you have much experience of how prison politics work while you were there?

Not the politics at all, but basically they’ve got a tuck shop you can buy from once a week—you can get chips and noodles and shit like that. I also heard from my cell neighbour how if you have nicotine patches (because they don’t let you smoke anymore), you soak tea leaves in them, and you can make tea baccies and you roll it up and smoke it. I asked him how you light it, and he said you get the radio and open up the back and cross the wires and make a spark. I was like, “Fuck,” and he was like, “Yeah, I got stoned yesterday,” and I was like, “Faaaaaaar.”

Do they get money to buy things with or does it all come from an outside source?

It gets given to them. They get money in their account, and you can buy TVs and radios. My neighbour listened to The X Factor really loudly and went, “Yeah Jeremy!” I just thought, “Wow, prison is shit.” I had a book, so that was alright.

What book?

I dunno, some shitty book they had. I didn’t have anything to do the first night, but then I had a book and a Sudoku. The first night I did push-ups and sit-ups because I was getting ready for prison. Gotta get buff, G. That didn’t work, but I wasn’t the smallest person, so that’s all right. John* was the smallest person. I was worried about him.

Did the people you were arrested with have different experiences?

Nah, they were all similar. Mark* was scared shitless. Not that I wasn’t scared, but I definitely didn’t let it show, because I figured there was no point showing weakness in prison. But at the same time, we just saw and heard from people; we never actually encountered them, apart from in the holding cells and waiting rooms.

Was the fear based on stories you’d heard before going into prison?

Yeah, it was just assumptions, and being surrounded by violent people. That was the thing; at the end of the day, we figured 50 per cent of these people are violent criminals, whereas we were being accused of a non-violent crime. We’re not violent people.

Are you worried about the outcome of your case?

I’m not, but at the same time I don’t want to get my hopes up. I’m still considering the percentage chance that I may get fucked around by the law. But I feel I haven’t done anything, and looking at the evidence, there’s no evidence of me doing anything incriminating, so I struggle to see how I’m going to get fucked around. But, you know, I gotta keep my options open.

What would you be doing now if it hadn’t happened?

Realistically, I don’t know. I feel I would be in Wellington, working. But at the same time, I don’t know. I’m renowned for being a sack of shit so I may still just be in Dunedin working. But you get the idea, yeah. I would probably not be in Dunedin, but seeing as I cannot legally travel to Wellington, I’m putting that on hold until a later date. And I don’t like Auckland, but you knew that.

Yeah, fuck that!

And Christchurch is lame.

Yeah, not many choices left.

You deleted your Facebook page as soon as the name suppression was lifted. How much else have you had to do in terms of protecting your identity?

I was more immediately worried about my parents and my brother, because I have an unusual last name and they were worried about the repercussions, so they told the necessary people they thought should know. They wanted them to hear it from them, so then they could tell them I was innocent. It has kind of affected my relationship with my brother, to be honest. I haven’t really talked to him since Christmas and Christmas was shit, because it was quite soon after it happened. My parents say there’ve been no real repercussions for them, because they immediately told all their close family friends and all the necessary people at work. I’ve just got heaps and heaps of support from people, which is good. But at the same time, that’s what they do, you know? They support you or they fuck off. Just finish with that, eh? People support you or they fuck off.

——

* Names have been changed.

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  1. Keep your chin up mate. It sucks because stigma is a mother f’er. Remember that you, as a person, are awesome and create your own world. The stigma and condescending looks only hurt when you let it. Use this story to create a reality by which others look up to you.

    Patience as well… Take your time and don’t try to rush any of it. You have to let go and let the process take place. It doesn’t mean stay passive, always be active and always fight but don’t force. Time is going to heal heaps of it.

    If you ever want to chat, look me up mate.

    Ant

  2. keep doing the same thing, ... says:

    Interesting read. Thanks for doing the interview. Scary thinking about how this experience would be for someone less confident and assertive.
    Coupla things other people might be interested to know:
    – if you’re arrested and don’t have someone to call to get you a lawyer, you can get a free phone call to a Police Detention Legal Assistance scheme lawyer (http://www.communitylaw.org.nz/community-law-manual/chapter-3-legal-aid/other-criminal-legal-aid-schemes/#c5922)
    – people in prison can only spend up to $70 a week
    (http://www.corrections.govt.nz/working_with_offenders/prison_sentences/being_in_prison/access_to_money.html) I couldn’t find any average spend info, but expect it would be much lower.

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