My experience with the criminal justice system.

From ages 20-25 I was doing graffiti and getting caught and going through the New Zealand criminal justice system.

One person involved in one of my arrests said I was ‘incorrigible’ . It was the first time I’d heard that term, and the term fits.

(of a person or their behaviour) not able to be changed or reformed.

You get a few free passes in the criminal – being educated and white probably helps.

My diversion was used in in my first week since leaving home – when I was caught shoplifting a coffee grinder. I spent three days sweeping graves and vacuuming the crematorium lobby.

I got caught shoplifting gumboots that I impulsively walked out of the The Warehouse wearing. The staff were tipped off by old ladies fundraising outside who noticed that I wasn’t wearing the gumboots when I walked in. I was arrested and when I went to court I told the duty solicitor that I’d just forgotten to pay for them, as  evidenced by that I’d bought $80 worth of other stuff – and he convinced the police to drop the charges.

My third free pass was being caught doing graffiti in either Timaru or Oamaru. I was hitchhiking, and couldn’t pass up putting my tag on a big blank wall in the middle of day.

This lead to several members of the public making a concerted effort to chase me down, and I was arrested, and made to scrub the tag off. I was given a discharge without conviction.

But after that – my arrests started having teeth – first fines, then the fines were commuted to community service. I did two stints of community service (the second being 200 hours) and received a jail warning. My final conviction was a second jail warning and a sentence to a year’s intensive supervision – which involved regularly checking in with my probation officer.

It was at this point, and prior to the actual conviction, that I was committed to rehabilitation – the prospect of a jail sentence scared me – and I was aware that a jail sentence would mean I wouldn’t be eligible for a conviction clean slate, under Nandor Tanczos’ clean slate legislation. So I enrolled in a university course, and arranged to lived with my mum in the case that I the judge decided to impose a sentence of home detention. No doubt this also served to show some efforts at reform in the eyes of the sentencing judge (although the sentencing hearing was all of five minutes).

One of the first meetings I had with the probation officer I think is a profound reflection of the resourcing the the criminal justice system has. The PO when through a questionnaire assessing various social needs – did I use drugs, how often did I drink, did I have debt etc. One of the questions was – did I gamble?. I didn’t use the pokies – but at the time I did play online poker. So the probation officer referred me to gambling counselling. This was – probably the single most effective thing the justice system did for my rehabilitation (aside from perhaps the clean slate legislation) – I didn’t talk about gambling with the gambling counsellor, but was able to talk about anything else.

Experience of community service

I did I believe two stints of community service. I think one was for 80 hours, and the other for 200 hours.

The experience of community service changes, depending on the location. In my experience, Paeroa had a more professional feel about it, whereas Motueka the probies and the offenders seemed chummy – I even witnessed a probie smoking weed openly with some of the offenders.

Community service is usually just wasting time. Sometimes we did things that were clearly of value – mowing lawns for a bowls club, or weeding and laying down weed matting for a marae. But in Motueka for example – the fallback task was going to hill and removing gorse – never at a rate that would completely eradicate it. Maybe I’m being cynical. I’d be curious to see what the state of that hill is now.

The work was never particularly hard or urgent. There was a lot of shovel leaning.

A lot of the people I was on community service with were there for car offences. They’d rack up tens of thousands of dollars of fines for driving warrantless cars or not having a license – and then get those fines converted to community service. The conversion rate was around $50/hr.

Drunk driving was another common offence.

One guy I talked to – said he was on for evading police. He said he was transporting a large amount of meth in his car and police tried to pull him over. Rather than risk a ten-year prison sentence, he boosted it, driving dangerously to escape the police. The police still caught up with him later – but of course the dangerous driving is a far lesser charge than being caught with meth. It’s always possible that he was lying, but the story makes sense to me.

In many respects, I was quite different to the offenders – educated, well spoken, not a smoker. I would suggest, quite a pleasant kind of offender to deal with. But on the other hand – I was very much the same – a young male making short-sighted and irrationally costly decisions.

Experience of the police and the courts.

For the overwhelming most part – my experience of the police has been that they’ve been respectful and professional. Of the 10-15 times I was arrested, I can only recall being handcuffed twice. Once a standard hands-behind-my-back when being arrested during daylight in Dunedin – and another time hands-in-front when they were doing a prisoner transfer to a town an hour away where the court was, after deciding they were opposing bail.

This was to my advantage – on two separate occasions I was able to get rid of drugs I had on my person, once by hiding them beneath the seat – and the other time,  I ate the cannabis with a cop right next to me – as she had turned away. Thirty minutes later, while being booked at the police station, it started coming on.

I have two negative experiences I can speak of. One is – after being arrested by a detective in Christchurch, after he happened to be driving past as I was peeing on a tree – in the police cells, he’d give me these little shoves. It sounds minor – but it felt disrespectful and as if he was egging me on to react to it. 

The other was, having about to start spray painting a wall, a women in a nearby building yelled at me and I took off running. The police caught me – searched my bag, and arrested me. The wall was already covered in graffiti – and they just took a photo of any old tag (not mine – I hadn’t actually started painting the wall yet) and told the court that’s what I’d painted.

This was actually my first conviction. I represented myself at trial – I didn’t win – the judge putting value on the witness’s testimony – who’d said that she’d seen me painting the wall. I imagine I might have gotten off if I did have a lawyer – part of the evidence they’d confiscated was a sketchbook of my tags that clearly didn’t match the photo they took.

Though, the duty solicitors aren’t always good. Their job is just as much to help funnel people through the grinder that is the court system, as it is to help the defendants. I had one experience where due to some kind of paperwork error – I’d turned up to court to find that there was a warrant for my arrest for failing to turn up to court in another town – something I’d arranged to have changed. I’d told the duty solicitor this – and he neglected to mention it to the judge – and entered a guilty plea for it. So I have a conviction for failing to appear in court on my record, which is unwarranted – and is probably far too late to fix now.

How I would suggest improving the criminal justice system.

I have no doubt that in my case, an intervention could have been done at my very first arrest that might have prevented a continuing life of crime. A conversation around ‘what actually are you doing here? – Are you aware of the consequences for your life in ten and twenty years?’. Though – chances are I would have given some spiel about the system and not being beholden to the man or something.

It wouldn’t be the police’s responsibility to do this intervention – instead – what I would suggest is that early diversion and sentencing involves a compulsory visit to some kind of trained therapist or psychologist. Of course – the problem is – I imagine the justice system simply doesn’t have that kind of money.

The alternative I suppose – would to put my community hooks in. This already exists – often community service is done working at an op shop etc, under the direct supervision of the op shop and not probation officers. Presumably if community counselling exists – then offenders could be referred to community counselling at that be taken in consideration at sentencing.

At least in my experience – this didn’t happen, but perhaps it’s getting more common as the case of when my bike was stolen would suggest.

 

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Pre-kiwiburn anxiety

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Friday 27th January, 1:30pm: I’m still in the office though I’m now off the clock. Going to write this as quickly as possible because if I’m going to make it to Kiwiburn before it gets dark, I really need to get moving. As an experiment I want to write and publish this post now, before I leave, and then compare it to how I feel when I get back.

I haven’t been to a festival in years. Like six years. I haven’t taken any psychedelics in the that time either. What’s commonly happened when I’ve been on psychedelics is that I’ve been all ‘This is really beautiful, but I’d be enjoying this so much more if I had my life sorted out’.

Since six years ago – its fair to say that I’ve gone through something of a positive transformation – albeit not without some major bumps on the road.

Where I was six years ago, was that I had just finished a year’s intensive supervision through the justice system, for my apparently incorrigible graffiti habits (I also received a second jail warning), and I was committed to not getting in trouble with the law again. New Zealand has clean slate legislation which means that your convictions will be wiped if you don’t offend for 7 years (providing you haven’t committed some serious offences, haven’t been to prison, and the clean slate applies in New Zealand only).

My convictions have been clean slated. I’m now employed in IT and am on a positive career trajectory. I have other projects I’m working on. My spending habits are for the most part under control. I have fairly healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ve since been diagnosed with ADHD and am generally better at impulse control.

I quit drinking six months ago – and the effects are mostly positive. I’m more energetic, my mood is better,  I save money (though I spend more on pinball now) and I’m losing weight. The downside, is that I’m easily agitated and quite impatient.

I’m starting to feel bored. 

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So, taking psychedelics kind of sounds like a good idea. I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve got my shit sorted (though of course I can always trim away my internet addiction, be a more pleasant person, and generally be more productive), so let’s have an inspiring psychedelic experience?

The context I like to take psychedelics in is at good music festivals. There’s good trippy music, other trippy people, and if that’s too much you can go hang out in nature.

I want to be clear – you don’t need to have drugs to enjoy a festival – but if you want to take drugs – I think a festival is a good place to take them.

Here’s the rub. I live in New Zealand and the police and customs are way too effective at their jobs. New Zealand, being a small country on the corner of the globe makes it easy to police contraband. In recent years there’s been growing discontent about the lack of cannabis at this time of year. Time magazine even wrote an article about it. 

Kiwiburn, the New Zealand equivalent of Burning Man had been on my radar since around November last year. But a combination of misreading the dates, not wanting to go if I didn’t have a big sack of weed to go with, and not having much leave accrued at work meant that I ultimately decided to pass this year.

Until last weekend – when I went to a small outdoor music gathering, enjoyed the music, and really wanting to have a holiday decided to go.

So my decision to go to Kiwiburn is decidedly last minute. I found a ticket, booked and my leave, and now (actually right now as I’m writing this, I feel ok) last night, I’m feeling quite anxious about going. Primarily, I’m concerned that I’m going to go to this festival, and be stuck there, not enjoying myself.

Specifically the concerns I have are:

  • I don’t have a tent. I thought I did, but apparently I’ve lost it. If it rains I’ll be screwed. I can hope/ask for shelter when I get there – but generally I don’t think it’s a good philosophy to rely on the kindness of strangers. I’m a capitalist like that.
  • No drugs. Am I going to be bored/uncomfortable being completely sober in a paddock somewhere?
  • FOMO – Relating to the drugs thing. Feeling like everyone around me is having a good time, and I’m not.
  • Fear of rejection – Because I’m in a situation where I need the help of strangers – I feel like if I’m refused that help that will be confirmation of my unlikableness.
  • I have to hitchhike. Fear of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

A lot of this comes down to my unpreparedness. Given that I only made the decision to go this week, a lot of these concerns would have been alleviated if I’d made the decision to go months ago – I would have had time to find a crew to go with etc.

And this comes back to impulsiveness – I feel like I may be making myself a victim of my own impulsiveness/second guessing myself. There’s comforting and respectable about being deliberate in your actions.

So that’s where I’m at now. Writing this has served to make me feel a bit more anxious, and I’m otherwise trying every mental trick I can to feel a bit better. At the moment I feel a mix of reasonable concern (‘is it going to rain?, where am I going to sleep?’), and nervous excitement. I guess that’s a good way to be.

See you in three days! 🙂

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