‘It’s like disappearing’: what it’s like to go to prison in NZ | True Justice

New Zealanders love true crime. But real life isn’t that straightforward. True Justice is a five-part podcast series that shares the stories of those who have been through our prisons, and advocates for a more just justice system in Aotearoa.

In the first episode of True Justice, we hear about what it’s like to be arrested, held in the cells and sent off to prison. For many, it can be a fundamental rupture to their lives.

Jess came from a good family, where there wasn't a lot of drugs or alcohol or violence.

But when she hit her teenage years, she started to struggle with mental health and self image. And she turned to drugs to escape.

“I guess it just goes with the territory,” she says. “You know, doing criminal stuff when you're using drugs. And that just became the only life I knew, really from the age of 15.”

She ended up battling a meth addiction, and this landed her in prison a couple of times on remand.  And then eventually she was caught selling meth. 

This was actually the wake up call she needed. She went straight to rehab after that arrest, and by the time her court date rolled around, Jess was in a good place - six months clean and sober. 

Because of this, her probation report recommended she serve home detention instead of prison time, especially because she’d taken the initiative and gotten clean on her own terms. 

So, she went and lined up a support house to live in while she served her home detention.

“I went to the supermarket and got all my food, put it in the support house freezer and fridge,” she says. “You know, I really thought I was going to get home detention and didn't buy some boots I liked because I thought ‘They won’t go over the [ankle monitoring] bracelet’.” 

But when she went into court that day, there was a different judge filling in.

“And my lawyer said: ‘You're fucked.’”

Jess says she felt like the judge present on the day “did not care”. 

“He knew nothing about addiction, or anything like that. And so it's pretty much guaranteed I was going to prison for a while.”

So Jess went up on the supply of meth charges. “And I got given four and a half years, that day in prison. So it was a real shock. And I was wearing my dress, and I didn't have any other clothes packed.”

“I remember going into the prison in the Chubb van, looking back at Auckland city being like, oh my god, four and a half years. It's quite a lot to swallow, when you aren't expecting it.”

To hear more stories from people who’ve been to prison in New Zealand, listen now to True Justice, a five-part podcast series that shares the stories of those who have been through our prisons, and advocates for a more just justice system in Aotearoa.

Where to get help:

  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community. 
  • Alcohol Drug Helpline: call 0800 787 797 or free text 8681 for a free, confidential text conversation
  • Alcohol Drug Māori Helpline: 0800 787 798 for advice and referral to kaupapa Māori services
  • Alcohol Drug Pasifika Helpline: 0800 787 799 for advice and referral to services developed for Pacific people
  • Alcohol Drug Youth Helpline: 0800 787 984 for advice and referral to services for young people