|David Appleton wrote this intriging piece in 2005 for
a Student rag called CRACCUM whilst awaiting
further incarceration. He was formerly guitarist for a
punk band in Auckland (New Zealand) called THE
FOG (mid 80's). They released the one 7" ('Fatman
With A Big Dork'), then they threw David out, and
changed their name to ROBERT and released an LP
using some stuff he'd wrote. They then went on to
become SPERMBANK 5. Last whereabouts of David
was he was back in prison or detox - for failing to
comply with detox-court imposed restrictions. He's
been homeless for about 3 years and his lifestyle is
slowly taking its toll on him. His old mate Martin
whose a punk who now lives in London sent in this
scary and brutal insight into Prison life in New
CRACCUM ISSUE TEN - 23 MAY 2005
THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO INCARCERATION
WELCOME TO THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
David Appleton. There's no point in hiding his identity any more.
David is our homeless writer. So far this year we've published three of his articles; through them steady readers have
begun to develop a sense of who he is. Two weeks ago he told us he might be going back to prison. We don't have fixed
contact with David; basically, if we see him, things are okay, and if we don't... He hasn't returned since he told us about
the likelihood of re-internment. What follows here is the last work David wrote for us. It is a three-part piece he scribbled
with a pen and paper up in the Craccum offices over the space of a week, throughout most of it sipping cask wine from a
plastic cup. Once you've read this work, please get angry, please think about the fact that David is now back at Auckland
Central Remand Prison.
IN THE LATE 1980'S I MOVED TO DUNEDIN, attracted by affordable housing and the possibility of owning my own home in a financially practical way.
My partner and I soon connected with a social community of diverse but fun people, Dole bludgers, artists, tradesmen, fishermen and students among
them all mingled up in a remarkably heterogeneous social environment. The Labour government of the period gave unprecedented access to loans for
first-time home owners through the "Housing Co-operation Scheme", I soon saved up the two thousand dollar deposit to purchase a home to the value of
$42,000. A sweet home was selected, an hour's drive north of Dunedin on State Highway 1: half an acre, beautiful gardens and mature fruit trees - and a
modest but immaculate 'cottage,' meaning two double bedrooms and a huge, open kitchen, dining, lounge area. Plenty of outside buildings, including
garage, sheds and carport were a bonus. An immaculate skateboard ramp had been erected on the front lawn. As a founding member of the 'Dunedin
Skateboard Club' and constructor of seven plywood ramps for the Dunedin City Council this was like a dream come true. The place thrived, cool visitors
were always there; people traveling from Chhstchurch to Dunedin and vise-versa would stop in to skate, stay over, or have their vehicles checked (I am a
renowned and versatile mechanic)
A National government is duly elected, and one of the first things they did was to sell my mortgage to a finance company intent on making a quick dollar.
The mortgage document that I had signed and agreed to was flushed out the window. I received a letter in the post saying "please make an adjustment
to your automatic payments. Your interest rate is now 14.9% (far above the market rate). Your new payments will be $171.94 per week." Previously
payments were $54 per week based on an interest rate of 7.1% per annum. I can't work out the accounting of it all, but that's how it was. My partner
decided to return to Auckland and study fashion design at AUT. I had to sell the house. I rented it out, fully furnished, and put it on the market at a price
less than what I had paid and only enough to buy out the mortgage - $29, 000.
I moved to Cromwell in Central Otago to pick fruit for a living. My interest in racing mountain bikes was an important part of this decision as there are
three mountain ranges right there, the Dunstan Range, the Old Man Range and Knobby Range.
I soon took a job with the Department of Conservation, converting the redundant "Pig Root" rail line into a walking, horse riding, cycling and adventure
trail, some 150 kilometres of it. My job specifically was to convert rail bridges to safe general-purpose bridges. The Chinese gold miners of yore had
grown their opium poppies amongst these stream beds, and with my wanderings on mountain bikes I had soon located substantial stretches of wild opium
poppies in obscure corners of the huge Central Otago area. I tried the opium, I liked the opium, and with a little instruction I learned how to use acetic
anhydride to make "bush heroin". I was soon irrevocably addicted to opiates. After a couple of years of utter bliss in summer, when the poppies were in
flower, and most terrible distress, literally living a repeating nightmare, during winter, I realized methadone treatment was a necessity to maintain sanity.
After a very long waiting-list time, I was put on the 'methadone maintenance program", designed to make the use of morphine and other opiates
redundant. I moved back to Auckland to build a new life and find new friends - friends that were not dependant on drugs - a new home, a practical
lifestyle. Once there a friend offered me space to live on his launch moored in the Te Atatu river, just outside the bridge that carries the North-Western
motorway. It suited me well. I had access to a dinghy with a 4HPMercury outboard to blat to and fro from the wharf inside the bridge at the Te Atatu
Shortly after, while visiting a friend, a drugs bust went down. Lots of aggressive cops made a hideous mess of my friend's house. No drugs turn up, but in
my bag were two syringes and two 'butterflies' (injecting needles on a short length of fine tubing). I have used them to inject 'take-away' doses of
Busted - "possession of needles and syringes" is the charge. They were legally bought through the 'needle exchange program", promoted by the Health
Department and sold through ADIO (10 East Street, of K'rd, Newton). They were packaged in a bag stating their legality and where they came from.
At my first court case I had a letter from ADIO explaining that the equipment was legal, sold under whatever act of the Department of Health. Karen
Blacklock, manager of ADIO, was there hoping to speak, The judge would enter into any discussions, but only on a set a date seven weeks ahead for a
When it carne to the question of bail the police objected to my living arrangements, saying that I was "N.F.A" - No Fixed Abode. Remanded in custody.
Down to the cells. I am jailed.
Handcuffed and jammed into the crush and sweat of a "Chubb" prisoner wagon. It's off to A.C.R.R
Auckland Central Remand Prison-Welcome to Incarceration.
The police provide a number of reasons and scenarios for "opposing bail" for people facing relatively
minor charges. The reason, that my flat mate is a "known criminal," had rne incarcerated in the basement of Auckland District Court for four nights. No
showers, no clean clothes no reading or writing material, no access to phone or visitors. This is because all remand prisons are totally full, so
courthouses and police celts fill the overflow.
If you have a flat mate who is a "known drug addict/drug offender" you'd better find an alternative address fast.
Don't try making up a false address. When a judge makes it a condition of bail that you reside at a specific address, police visit the place to ensure you
are not telling porkies before you're released. At present, in Auckland, a police car is in full-time use checking such addresses. With people kept in
conditions that would have the SPCA prosecuting if it involved an animal, I have to ask, "Why is it, again, that New Zealand has the second highest
number of prison inmates per head of population? (Second only to the USA.)
LOVE AND JOY IN 'AUCKLAND CENTRAL REMAND PRISON'
I am exhausted from a long hot day in the cells below Waitakere District Court.
The Chubb van lurches to a halt in the basement of a building. Tall, electrified gates slowly whirr shut behind. Roller doors grind up and down, locking us
into an underground tomb. We are let out into an underground carpark area.
A guard barks: "Name?!! Surname first. First and second name last!"
"Appleton, David, James," I reply.
"STAND FACE TO THE WALL!"
My handcuffs are released. I am led to a holding cell.
Tme has a different meaning, a different context in prison. Prisoners have no control of where they will be or when they will be there. To the prisoner it's
totally random. You may be rushed in groups from holding cell to holding cell with apparent urgency, then left there, without air, 12 men with a 12 foot by
10 foot cell to stand, sweat and bake in. Insufficient air and heat gives nasty headaches all
One by one we are moved through a changing area where we
exchange our clothes for a prison uniform of grey tracksuit top
and bottom, and a pair of jandals. Then to another holding cell.
Any sense of orientation is lost. With no natural light, no clocks,
and no references, you can't tell where you are.
The holding cell, with a door at each end, opens. "APPLETON!" I
meekishly make my way to the open door. "NUMBER FIVE!" "What?"
""MAKE YOUR WAY TO DOOR NUMBER FIVE AND STOP WASTING MY
FUCKING TIME!" How quaint.
I am shown to a room where someone posing as a nurse asks me 15
questions. Old hands know to answer no to all of them, bull don't.
"Is this your first time in jail?"
"Have you ever seen a psychologist or psychiatrist?"
"Have you ever been addicted to drugs or alcohol?"
Failure on three counts assures that I'm sent to the "Special Needs'" unit.
This is the nut house. The men here are largely insane, talking to the wall
and making cigarettes from paper and nothing else.
To ensure we don't attempt suicide we must strip naked before entering
our cells, in which there is a vinyl coated mattress and plastic duvet thing.
No sheets, no pillow. Nice. Homely.
Because of alcohol withdrawal I experience a seizure, i awake in what looks like a military hospital ward. I haven't gone far. I have been moved to the
medical wing. Treatment with benzodiazapine-type drugs would prevent a reoccurrence, but bendoiazapines like valium and rivotril are considered drugs
of abuse, and this is a prison - normal medical ethical protocol does not apply. Ultimately, they would rather you had your seizures in solitary confinement.
Another couple of days and I am packed off to one of the "mainstream units". Thirty-two cells line two walls of a twenty metre by fifteen metre high-roofed
room. The cells are in two layers, top and bottom.
Again there is no natural light and no way of telling north from south. Air is piped in through grills that hum perpetually from the fans. The hum is at first
hypnotic, then annoying, finally infuriatingly invasive.
I have heard it said before; "Just keep your head down, keep to yourself and you will be fine." Well the practicalities are totally different. Trouble will come
to you! Confining a bunch of mischievous men in a space with little to do will always lead to trouble.
There is a pecking order that constantly needs maintenance and adjustment. Just by being new, you will be intimidated, bullied, bullshitted, stolen from -
a ritual through which other inmates figure out your place in the pecking order.
This continues constantly. Whatever you have will be stolen: food, books, writing material, cigarettes if you smoke, phone cards etc. By stolen I mean
stood over. You can let something be taken, or you can get smashed over and it will be taken while you're incapacitated.
There's also the "Harmony Kiss": food in prison is presented exactly as per hospital. A cup and a plastic tray with hollows cast into it are handed to you
then you walk to your table (also delineated by pecking order). If you are out of favour, someone will smash your tray of gruel into your face. Outrageous
laughter ensues and the victim gets to clean the floor in place of eating.
Meal quality is very poor. Money is saved through religious thrift in every department. Calories are at a premium; despite the sedentary lifestyle everyone
loses weight dramatically on remand.
Here's a little story that, for me, epitomises remand prison:
I am on methadone. Each morning a few minutes before all are woken, my cell door clicks (all doors are remotely opened and closed electrically from
"control", a bullet proof glass encased office above one corner of the unit). I make rny way down to control, where a neckband with my identity card is
handed to me. My card has previously been defaced as a way of intimidating me, so my ID photo is simply a black molten lump. Now I'm with a staff
member. He is talking the whole time on his radio to "Central Control" as we are shuffled through corridors and lifts to "Medical". I'm one of the same four
people that are here each morning to drink methadone, after which we wait in a cell for 20 minutes to ensure we're not going to overdose.
One Maori nurse, on duty about once a week, is zealously rude to Pakeha, whilst chatting cheerfully to Maori enquiring as to which tribe, hapu, whanau,
peoples, mukapuna, etc.
I suffer trigeminal neuralgia -a hideous facial pain, like crushing of the bones on one side of the face. Your nerves report to your brain, telling it your face
is physically mangled, as though bashed in with a sledge hammer, I weep and stifle the urge to cry out. Saliva streams uncontrollably from my mouth,
whimpering, sobbing quietly, the urge to run is very strong, but stifled by cell walls. I must see a doctor.
Morning eventually comes, and when I get to "Medical" said nurse is on duty. I say that I need to see a doctor urgently.
Because I have intolerable facial pain that must be seen to.
YOU KNOW YOU HAVE A DENTIST APPOINTMENT IN ONLY TWO WEEKS.
OTHER PEOPLE HAVE SORE TEETH TOO YOU KNOW. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE SPECIAL OR
I point out that I have no teeth in my upper jaw and a "sore tooth" could not cause pain deep in the eye
socket and sinus. No negotiation.
After the usual wait for observation, Nazi nurse comes into the cell. Near where I am sitting someone has
previously scraped a few square inches of paint away. Flakes are on the floor. THAT'S IT - YOU ARE ON
I think little more of her outburst and expect nothing of it. Wrong.
About a week later I am unexpectedly summoned in the afternoon to the "Management Unit". Fifteen of the
more gang-affiliated types are gathered in a room, all on charges, two for fighting, one assault, one
threatening to assault a guard, myself - damaging prison property - and the rest for smuggling drugs or
cell phones into prison.
One by one they are called away. I am last. Called into a small room where a grey haired man sits behind
a desk that I am facing. Two burly guards stand either side of me.
"Put your hands by your sides."
I don't bother.
"You have been charged with deliberately damaging prison property, namely paint. How do you plead?"
"Not guilty," I reply stunned at the lay-up of this kangaroo court.
"I have evidence to the contrary. Guilty. Five days in solitary confinement."
I am led to the pound and put in a cell. A day later and clearly some talk behind the scenes has occurred.
A guard breaks the rules and brings me pen and paper, and something to read - a copy of People
magazine, a desirable item in prison and a clear gesture of kindness.
I use the paper to freshen my maths skills trying to work out ,n from first principals, devising two short
answers, n= _____________, also devising a series of equations for the volume of a sphere in 3, 4, 5, 6..
dimensions assuming mc2 is the volume of a two dimensional sphere.
But now I am out of A.C.R.P and off to my depositions hearing, confident that the police have no case and
the charges will be dropped.
How wrong I am.
WE'RE GONNA ROCK!
To inmates that have been to Mt Eden Prison, it is known as "the rock", probably because it is cold, hard
and built from locally quarried rock - or maybe because we can't help but pretend to be American.
My hopes of dropped charges have been dashed. Police are adamant that I must answer to rny two
charges of possession of needles and syringes. Two charges as I had two syringes and two needles.
So now: a new remand prison and a new routine; a new "culture" to understand.
The staff here are very different from A.C.R.P, Physically much bigger, fat giants of men. These people
are not called guards, they're called 'screws' - monstrous bully boys knocked into place by higher tiers of
even more retarded rejects born of a military lifestyle that is no longer needed.
The boss man, unusually of pale skin, is huge and monumentally ugly. His face hideously disfigured from
a horrendous bout of teenage acne that seems to remain into middle age. His visage is that of plain and
pure warty gristle. He's none too smart and, notably, poorly socialised. As an example, I arrive with a group
of about ten. 'Ugly man' is there, though there is no need for him. He sizes us up and notes a white,
shaved-headed, young man looking extremely uncomfortable. Invading his personal space and bellowing
at the lad, Sir Ugiy demands, "What are you here for?" Meekly his target remarks "A little trouble with the
feds." Smack, he is punched in the face. "The feds, THE FEDS? THEY ARE POLICE! You had best learn
your fuckin manners here boy, by Christ!"
I think I have just learned the special "culture" of Mt Eden Prison.
At the rock you wear the clothes you come in, or if you have family or gang affiliations you can have "visits"
whereby clothes, methamphetamines, TV sets, etc can be arranged to move through the appropriate
channels and into your cell.
I have no such resources.
Prior to my incarceration I had a minor disagreement with a "Fine Officer of The Law," which resulted in,
amongst other things, a broken nose.
My clothes, a knit jersey, jeans, canvas shoes are covered red. Police don't want me to be seen in this
condition in front of a judge. My clothes are taken from me. I wear a t-shirt and dark green boxer shorts, no footwear.
This will be my only clothing for my six weeks in Mt Eden Prison.
Here's the drill.
It's morning and the loud banging of heavy steel doors crashes through the wing. My cell door is opened and I must hurry to wait for breakfast.
I forego the porridge and take the slice of toast back to rny cell.
'Smash' - when you bang 265 pounds of steel door into a granite tomb it makes your ears ring.
It's 8.30am. Out to the yard - half a football field of space - but fresh air and a chance to view the sky. People walk in an anti-clockwise train, but its too
cold for me, I sit in the least blustery corner.
First pink with goose lumps, the cold gets in. Blue, the goose bumps flatten. Other men with jerseys, hats, shoes, socks, trousers and gloves, shiver and
complain of cold. I just go nurnb - first mentally, then physically.
The screws, helpfully, tell me to get my family to bring me some shoes on
my next visit. Going without shoes, you see, will spread disease. I have
neither family nor visitors. Other men in the yard are powerless to help, to
offer clothing is a sign of weakness - the primary failure in the perpetual
fight to maintain position in the pecking order.
12.00pm.We are marched back to our wing to line up for lunch. Today I
am lucky. Two stale, obviously-frozen hamburger buns contain margarine,
part of a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato. Back to my cell to consume this
1.00pm. Back to the yard. Nothing here changes. Black Power types
openly smoke P. The broken light bulb they are using is most probably
from my cell. I have to ask for a new bulb almost daily until the screws just
say no. I've tried hiding the bulb, but it's useless. What am I supposed to
do, screw it up my arse while showering?
5.00pm. Back indoors, lining up for dinner. Don't hope for much. I cannot
tell you the nature of the food, as I will either betaken for an outrageous
exaggerator or plain bullshitter.
6.00pm. Lockdown till the morrow.
Here are a few of the inequalities that are a daily reassertion of one's
place in the pecking order. Beyond the clothing, food distribution, access
to stereos, TV sets and reading material that is far beyond rny social
standing, the basics of living can also pass you by. Blankets, pillows, towels and sheets are distributed according to a man's place in the pecking order.
One time I ask a female screw when I might get a towel so that I can take a shower. How naive I am? "You know there arn't enough towels for everyone.
Use your sheet to dry yourself." This makes rne wonder where my sheet might be.
Six weeks are up. Back to court.
The police have dropped the charges. I have spent 13 weeks in prison, suspected of a crime that holds a maximum sentence of three months.
Now I have to reintegrate with society. Obviously home and all my worldly goods have evaporated during rny incarceration.
I get a "Steps to Freedom" grant from social welfare. $350.
But there are hitches. An incorrect date has been written on the document given to me by prison staff. As such my semi-naked self has to find its way
from the Waitakere Courthouse all the way back to Mt Eden Prison, to a magically incompetent social welfare staff worker gathering and shifting paper.
The hitch means it takes four weeks to reinstate my sickness benefit. My $350 Steps to Freedom grant goes a little weak. Four weeks. Three hundred
and fifty dollars. I need clothing, food, housing, bank facilities, health care.
Of course I have to steal to eat. I sleep in abandoned cars.
Ta to social welfare for my "stand-down" period.
- David Appleton (2005)
While enjoying the hospitality in A.C.R.P the
prison went through a rebranding process.
Prison? Rebranding, you ask?
Auckland Central Remand Prison is currently
New Zealand's only privately owned and
managed prison, although more are under
construction. The management company was
called "Australasian Correctional Management
Limited" (A.C.M.L.), in turn an oflshoot of an
American prison enterprise.
A.C.M.L runs the "holding facilities" where
refugees (boat people if you like) from
Indonesia are held in what is essentially a
prison facility. Negative press, both in
Australia and internationally, regarding
conditions under which children and adults
wait interminable periods behind bars led the
management company to "Rebrand" as part
of a media smoke-screen. This included their
New Zealand operations.
I noticed as soon as the staff uniforms began
changing: the A.C.M.L logo and colours
replaced by "GEOTEC". new logo, new
Quiet questioning of staff revealed that the
signage outside the building was also being
replaced. It's hard to think of a less specific
business name than GEOTEC, but there, it's