Image by Vela Oma.
Paul Wood was sentenced to life in prison for murder at age 18, and began his adult life negotiating the social dynamics of some of New Zealand’s toughest prisons, including the maximum security wing of Paremoremo (“Pare”) Prison (now Auckland Prison).
Paul Wood’s website is here.
Produced by David Hay.
This episode was brought to you by Parachute. If you’re looking for high quality bedding, and want to support the podcast, visit them here. Use the offer code “LOVE” at checkout for free shipping.Playlist
Artist – Title – Album
0:00 Jupiter Jax – Armed For Peace – Visions
1:38 Max Bondi – Monopoles – Convolution
3:19 Pan Sonic – Unknown (Thread Remix)
4:57 Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Flight – Never Were the Way She Was
7:14 Jan Jelinek – Palmen Aus Leder – Tierbeobachtungen
9:01 Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Flight – Never Were the Way She Was
10:44 Dead Drums – A Thousand – Human Hair EP
12:50 Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – With the Dark Hug of Time – Never Were the Way She Was
13:50 Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – In the Vespers – Never Were the Way She Was
14:57 Gregory Whitehead – All About Squid – UbuWeb / PennSound Archive
16:51 Paintings for Animals – Sun Psalms – Thee Body ov Worship
18:09 Paintings for Animals – Sun Psalms – Thee Body ov Worship
21:28 Wastelanders – The Beginning – Cosmic Despair
22:09 Kyle Bobby Dunn – Ending of All Odds – Bring Me The Head Of Kyle Bobby Dunn
28:07 Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Flight – Never Were the Way She Was
33:48 Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – And Still They Move – Never Were the Way She Was
35:06 Jupiter Jax – The Deepest – Visions
Can you describe your drug-induced state?
Oh… How to describe a fucking morphine high…? Morphine at the present is a painkiller, it’s something that numbs you. When you shut your eyes, it’s like you hear noise, like a… I wanna say like a yawn, and… Yeah.
Let me tell you about prison. Let me tell you about the attitude around emotional weakness. When people used to come in from the courts they’d be carrying their little plastic bag – whatever clothes they had with them when they’d come in – people would start kicking the doors and going, “Hang yourself!” That would be the welcoming you would get coming into the prison. And some people died.
That was the general attitude in prison: you either harden the fuck up or kill yourself. It’s not a place where the normal emotional spectrum is accepted or is functional, and for psychological survival you do need to harden yourself. If you maintained the usual empathy or compassion that most people would have in society you just couldn’t deal with what you see, you just couldn’t deal with the heinous things that go on in there. So you harden yourself emotionally, you become callous. You develop that attitude. You know, harden up or kill yourself.
I think that’s one of the reasons that I’m so prone to breaking down now if I see acts of goodness, or acts of kindness. If I see callous stuff… I’ve seen so much of that; that doesn’t surprise me, it doesn’t shock me emotionally. If I watch Extreme Home Makeover, or Undercover Boss, I’m in tears every time.
* * *
Once the verdict came in I remember just feeling really angry, and feeling that I hadn’t been guilty of murder, that I should have been convicted of manslaughter. I remember at that point thinking to myself, “Okay, this is your new life.” I just needed to forget about my old life, forget about the old world and just accept that this is my new reality, the de facto world.
Something that people don’t realize, particularly in the early phases of imprisonment, you don’t tend to sit there going, “Oh, what I’ve done is so wrong. Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that.” People tend to wish they hadn’t been caught, and they often resort to protecting themselves and not having to deal with the reality of what they’ve done by making themselves the victim in the situation. Either judge the jury, the police, you know… Everyone else is to blame, and I was certainly well in that myself. So I hung out with people who taught me what the prison values were, about the ideas of escalating violence, about the normalization of extreme violence, as well.
Tell me about fighting, you mentioned before…
Yes. From as early as I can remember, you know, you had fights to see who was the toughest in your class, in your year, in the school… That was just how things happened. You know, I don’t ever recollect being a bully, but I definitely recollect always being prepared to and keen to fight. I don’t know, it was just such a big thing being perceived to have balls when I was growing up, you know? To just not back down from anything, or anyone. It got me into trouble on numerous occasions, but also it was something I think that got me a lot of respect from my peer group.
I want to emphasize that I don’t come from a violent home. My parents weren’t violent, but us, boys, certainly were. I remember one instance in particular… I think it was the first time I ever realized that violence wasn’t necessarily a normal thing. I remember getting into a fight with my older brother Andrew. Andrew maybe had changed the channel on the TV, and then I had got up to fight with him about that, because basically the toughest person controlled what was on TV, it’s just the way it went. I think I would have been about maybe ten at the time. There’s no way I could beat him physically; he’s four years older than me, and I remember going straight to the knife drawer and grabbing a knife out. Richard had a kid staying at our house at the time, and he’d been sitting in the lounge, watching all of this develop, Andrew and I in a sort of Hollywood-style knife fight, circling each other, and me launching at him. I’m pretty sure in fact it was only even a bread knife, but I remember this kid running out of the room, crying, and I remember both Andrew and I just stopping and just wondering what the fuck just happened. And then I remember mom sitting me down later that night, and just saying, “Not everyone is as violent as you boys,” and I remember that being a real shock to me. Yeah…
Did you do well? I mean, in prison, was that an environment that you were successful in?
Yes, I think I adapted fairly quickly and fairly well to the prison environment, perhaps too well in some respects. I was always trying to be the best I could be, and unfortunately in a prison environment that’s not in a positive direction. I felt that, you know, they wanna say I’m a fucking murderer? I’ll show them bad…
One of the things you have to understand about prison is that it’s all about form, it’s all about respect, and in order for people to be perceived as having form, to be honorable, to be compliant with the value code, they can’t let people get away with anything. So if there’s any disagreement, or any perceived slight, then what people do is they attack the person who’s responsible for that, or is perceived as responsible. If you’re the victim of that, then what’s required of you in the prison code, if you don’t win that fight then you need to go and tool up, you need to get shank, you need to get a club, you need to do something and you need to attack that other person and escalate the violence because as soon as some people perceive you as being victimizable, then other will as well, and that is a life that’s not worth living in prison, I’ll tell you that much.
I believe I’m 12, going on 13 when my mom first got sick, and I just remember being confronted this idea that she could die. Looking back on it now, that coincides with the period when I started hanging out with other anti-social people. I’m anti-social, yeah… I mean, I supposed that’s a fear, a reflection of people who did crime and got into fights, but they weren’t bad people, it’s just how it was. I think that was my way of coping with the world, to sort of distance myself from the family in some respects.
I had a lot of fun in those days. I started selling drugs when I was about 13. An older guy, whom I knew through martial arts, I remember him pulling out an ounce of weed, and telling me that he’d give me this and I’d just have to give him 300 bucks in a couple weeks. I took the weed, and it just gave me this idea of this easy life, this easy money… I didn’t see the value in anything else; I thought that you got an education so you could get a job, but what a mug’s game… Who would want a job? And you feel important, and capable, and special maybe. It also made me feel that I could get away with lots.
I remember when I was in the Wellington prison, Mount Crawford, I still had this idea that I was some kind of tough guy. In the subsequent years, when I got up to Pare, it became really apparent to me that I was not a bad motherfucker in the least. Pare is where you get sent when you get kicked out of other prisons. It’s where just about everyone’s serving very long sentences, decade-plus, life sentences, 20 years plus, and that creates a really different environment.
I remember walking down the landing. The landing is like a line or a strip that goes between the blocks, and I remember just walking past and hearing some massive, big, black guy, who spent a lot of time in the gym and was just a huge dude, full facial tattoos, just yelling out to me, so angry, “I’m gonna fucking kill you, you white cunt!” And just being like, “Fuck…” I was 20 at this time, and I thought myself a grown-up and an adult, but man… I was not prepared for the intensity and the insanity of that place. Whereas in other prisons it might start with a fist fight, in Pare a lot of the time it would just be straight to a stabbing or a clubbing.
I remember one time watching one of the guards go to unlock a door, and watching an inmate pull out a length of steel, it used to be the handle on a mop bucket. People would snap those off and then sharpen up one side of it and turn it into a really substantial blade. I remember watching this inmate walk up to him and pull out this knife and go to stab him up under the ribs, and I remember watching the guard just turn his hand just in time to get stabbed through the hand, instead of up under into the ribcage, and then proceed to run around and fight on the floor. The guard then got stabbed multiple times more before the breakup occurred.
I remember on one occasion, this would have been when I was 14 going on 15 maybe, breaking into the Karori Mall, and I remember thinking, “I’m gonna rob the store that sells all the lottery tickets, all the cigarettes.” I remember climbing up on the roof and I remember hitting this window with reinforced wire in it, and cracking it, but shortly after I did that I remember hearing footsteps on the roof.
The roof had a variety of different architectural features, which means it wasn’t just a flat roof, and I remember looking up over the top and seeing flashlights and cops walking around on the roof, and I remember thinking, “Okay, I’ve gotta get out of here, but they’re gonna recognize me.” So what I did is I took my T-shirt off and I wrapped it around my head like a road worker, and I waited until they were really close to me on one side, and then I ran up a steep incline on the roof on the other, and just started sprinting, with them chasing me.
There were a number of verandas on the roof which got lower and lower towards the ground, until it was only a story high. When I got to the end, I just leapt as far as I could, and I jumped right over the head of a cop who was waiting below. I hit the concrete in the car park, I rolled and I got sprinting. While this had gone on, my friends who I’d been drinking with had been over at the library, and they’ve been yelling and shouting, cheering me on as the cops were chasing me around on the roof. I subsequently heard from them that the police were looking for a light-skinned Polynesian, so my disguise had worked. Yeah, and I think that sums up my attitude at the time, I thought it was like a game of cat and mouse, I thought it was entertaining.
* * *
I was out in the yard with a guy who was from the cell next to me. We had just finished smoking a joint, and as we were just walking up and down having a chat down in the yard, there was a Black Power guy in the yard as well. As we walked past him, he pulled out a short weight bar from a dumbbell – without the weights on it, just the bar – and swung the bar at the guy who was next to me, who was closest to him. Fortunately, he managed to put up his hand and block it from his head, and it broke his arm. I remember at this time going to the guy I was with going, “Okay, let’s go take him, we can definitely take this guy.” It’s two of us on him, I’ve fought people with weapons before; you know, wait for him to swing, then go on, right? The guy I was with had been in Pare for about eight years, he knew the place well. He said to me, “It’s not him we need to worry about, it’s the rest of his crew all tooled up inside, waiting for us to come back in that we need to worry about. We need to get in now, we need to tool up and we need to be ready.
As soon as we could we got into the block, we got magazines, we taped them to our bodies so that hopefully our organs wouldn’t get penetrated when we were stabbed. I got two socks and put two DD batteries inside them – the big batteries – to use that as a cosh or a club. This is the kind of stuff you learn in Pare – you need to use two socks, because if you use one it will often tear and the batteries will fly out. The guy I was with went and got a long shank that he had made out of some grating. I was just waiting with this fucking cosh in my hand, ready to cave this guy’s fucking head in. Within about half an hour the guy who had attacked us in the yard came into the cell and this Black Power member said, “You guys are fucking lucky. I will fucking fuck you up if you ever smoke weed in front of me again and don’t offer me some.” And then he left.
The guy who had been hit with the weight bar told me, “Okay, we’ve gotta take this guy out. We can’t let this stand.” So the plan he came up with was to wait for this guy to be coming out of the showers and for me to distract this guy and for him to come up behind him and stab him in the throat. This was a normal solution, this was a Pare solution. This was in line with what you do and how you behaved. It never occurred to me to go and speak to the guards, or to ask to be moved anywhere. That wasn’t even on my horizon, not even on my radar, but I knew that this was just going to be just the most serious escalation.
I was really of two minds about it. I didn’t want to be involved in it, but I also knew that if something didn’t happen in response to this, then my ability to survive on a day-to-day basis would be seriously jeopardized.
I remember going and talking to a guy I was friends with, who I knew from the Wellington prison. He said to me, “Man, you’re just a neutral. There’s a whole gang of these guys in here, you can’t do anything. You don’t need to do anything. Don’t think less of yourself for not backing up in this situation, there’s nothing you can do here. There’s not reasonable approach for you; you just need to let this go.” And that’s what I decided to do.
For about the next three or four months that I was there, I would go down into the dining room and I would see them talking and looking at me, and I would know that they were talking about me every day. I would be awake and I would be peeking out, and I would just be waiting for this attack. Every night at about four o’clock when we’d get locked up and the bars would close, I would literally just physically for the first time be able to relax, and just not have to worry about being attacked. I was just lucky I wasn’t there for long, and the only reason I wasn’t there for long is that I applied under the official information act, to be able to look through my file, my prison file. When I looked at the form that had been used to move me to Pare, I noticed that under the reasons stated for my removal, they said I was from Auckland, and they were moving me back to be closer to my family, which meant they’d filled out the form fraudulently.
Let me tell you the fucking relief that I felt when I knew I was leaving Pare – I didn’t tell anyone because I did not wanna get attacked just before I left, so I kept it under total down low. Then I remember seeing the guy that attacked us with the weight bar, when he saw me leaving the block and realized I was leaving the block, and I saw the look of shock and disappointment on his face that I was getting away from this situation.
I just want to talk a little bit about how that experience changed you.
I think one of the things it taught me is that I just… I wasn’t someone who felt comfortable with the level of violence required to really be at home in that kind of place. At this period as well I was still having a lot of nightmares about my things, and… You know, just the whole thing.
One of the seminal experiences I had in Pare was actually talking to a guy, Ken. He was a super smart guy. I remember him one day in the yard with a heavy metal ashtray and a tennis ball, and him asking me, “If I drop these at the same time, which will hit the ground first?” I remember thinking, “What a stupid fucking question. Of course the fucking heavy ashtray is going to hit the ground first.” He dropped those and they both hit the ground at the same time. I remember being blown away, like you’d be blown away watching a magic trick. Then he explained to me this idea of gravity, and that it’s not actually the weight of the objects, it’s the pull of gravity, which is the same on both of them, which makes them hit the ground.
I’d always been someone who liked to think I was right about everything, I was very righteous as an individual. I’d always imagined that the world was the way I perceived it to be. Now here I was starting to question my views a little bit, question what I thought about things.
I remember getting a call from dad, just to say that mom’s been diagnosed as being terminally ill. I was living out of home at the time. The people I would live with were professional criminals, that’s all they did. We were dealing drugs, fixing stolen goods… Basically, if there was an opportunity to make money from it, then that’s what we would try to do. I started getting involved in intravenous drug use, to shooting morphine, and to converting poppies into opium, into synthetic heroin, shooting that. I used to go through the registered medical practitioners listed in the phonebook and they’d normally leave their doctor’s bags in their cars overnight, which would have pharmaceutical-grade morphine, and pethidine and other things in them, so I’d just break into their cars and steal those. Again, you know, it was just an escalation, and as I found harder and harder drugs that would dull any pain, or any upset, or any hurt I was feeling, then that became the drug of choice.
Did you feel guilty about what you were doing?
I don’t think I did at that point, no. You know, I’m not sure I spent much time contemplating the rights and wrongs of what I was doing, but I do recollect that I thought that perhaps other people just didn’t have the balls to do what I was doing.
I used to read a lot of books about other people who were doing very hard prison, people in the Russian Gulags, people in Leavenworth, in maximum security in the U.S. … Within those books, sometimes those people would mention the books that they were reading, and some of those were philosophy, and that’s where I really started questioning my own ideas about the world. The fundamental questions in philosophy are – what exists and what’s real? What can we know about what exists and what’s real, and then on that basis, how should we act as individuals? How should we act as a society? How do you justify your behavior? What are the assumptions? Do those assumptions hold up? And more and more I just found myself in a position where my assumptions weren’t holding up.
That’s the thing people do – people who engage in crime don’t walk around going, “Ha-ha-ha, I am an evil genius, or an evil person who’s just going to engage in this bad behavior!” What they do is they rationalize and they justify if to themselves. But I think the uncertainty in my beliefs that I gained from my education was crucial in respect of me no longer being able to engage in that type of behavior, no longer being able to just think, “I feel that I’m right about this, therefore I must be.”
And, you know, I did experience a lot of vulnerability in other respects, in my later years in prison. For example, rejecting the idea of engaging in violence meant that I was vulnerable to potential attack from people. Let me give you an example. I was walking past someone who had just been at the office, a middle-aged guy and as I walked past, I heard him go, “You fucking white cunt!” and I turned around and looked over my shoulder, and he said, “That’s right, I’m talking to you,” and he started approaching me to attack me, and I remember putting up my hands and saying, “Oh man, you’re the tough guy. You’re the tough guy, my bad.” I remember thinking about that afterwards, laying in my cell and thinking, “I know I’ve done the right think,” but also there was a part of me that was going, “This is just you being a fucking coward.” There were times when I wondered if doing the right was really just a justification for not stepping up. It’s hard to get past those ideas and those values when they’ve been a part of your life for a long time.
What do you think the worst thing was that you did, prior to the killing? Anything you feel bad about now?
Yeah, fuck yeah. I feel there are heaps of things like that, but what stands out in my mind as the most despicable thing that I’ve ever done, the most absolutely fucking heinous thing that I’ve ever done, was when I was stealing morphine sulfate tablets off my mom, when my mom was terminally ill with cancer, so that I could feed my drug habit. You know, fuck… I’ll never be okay with it. Oh, fuck…
Mom died two days before new year’s, two days before I was arrested for murder.
What happened on New Year’s Eve? Talk me through that day.
I woke up, I got high straight away, shot morphine… I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I remember getting contacted about scoring some more and I was keen on that; I was always keen on that. Then the person who I’d been scoring drugs off, who was connected to Boyd, who was my victim, came around and said, “Sorry to hear about your mom. If you wanna score some more, it’s no hassles. I’ve just gotta go and run an errand though, so is it okay if Boyd comes in and hangs out here while I do that? I was keen as, you know. Boyd was not someone who directly dealt drugs with your or hung out with your, or anything. He was the biggest morphine sulfate supplier in Wellington, and he was the top man in respect to this stuff. I said, “Yeah, no problem.” So Boyd came in and started talking to me and started to say, “Are you happy with the drugs you’ve been getting, and the price?” and I was saying, “Yes, absolutely,” I was really grateful for that. And he started saying, “Well, you owe me for that,” and I said, “Yeah, no, I really appreciate that.” And he said, “Well, I want to watch when you and your girlfriend have sex.”
Now, I know it’s fucking weak of me, but I didn’t want to argue with him at the time, I didn’t want to just say no to that, but I was weak and I said, “I’ll go and ask her.” Then I went into the other room where Tracy was, in the bedroom, and I said to her, “Fucking Boyd fucking wants to watch us have sex, I’m gonna go and say that you’ve said no, okay?” And she said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure.” She wasn’t into it at all either, and I went back into the other room and I said, “Oh, sorry man, Tracy’s not into it,” and I thought that that would be the end of it. But that’s when he came over on the couch and said, “Well, we don’t need to involve Tracy then,” and started like, going to put his arm around me. At that point I told him to fuck off and stood up to get away from him, and we started scuffling, I suppose… And there was a baseball bat in the house, and I grabbed the baseball bat and I hit him, I went to hit him in the face… And I got him around the head, but he put up an arm to block it as well, and he grabbed the baseball bat, and we started struggling with the baseball bat, and he was a lot stronger than me, and I was in real bad shape. He started to overpower me, and I yelled at Tracy, “Tracy, get the gun,” and at that point he dropped the bat and started to run out through the door down the hallway. And I pursued him, and I hit him with the bat, and I hit him again, and I hit him again, and I hit him again, until he fell, and until I broke the bat against the wall trying to hurt him.
The reality is that he would have ran out that fucking door, had I not chased him with that bat, but I chose to chase him with that bat. I chose to beat him to death. I’ve had the opportunity to change, he’s never going to get that opportunity. Whether he would have or not is not even relevant, he’s just not going to get that opportunity.
His sister contacted me on Facebook a while ago… And, you know, I looked through her profile and there were pictures of her and the family at Christmas, and you know, Boyd wasn’t in those pictures. Well, that’s me. That’s fucking… That’s my actions.
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Paul Wood was released in 2006, after serving 11 years of his life sentence. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees while in prison, and received a PhD in psychology 6 years later. You can find out more about him, including a link to his TEDx talk on his website, whatsyourprison.com.