I remember coming back from lunch and how, as I entered the lift, several patched gang members came leaping down the stairs, followed by other, differently, patched men. The lift doors shut, and when they opened again on the first floor, more men faced off with knives, between me and the office door. I froze, couldn’t move or speak or push the lift button – I just froze. The office door opened, and the small, greying, assistant director said, “Get the hell out of here, or I’ll suspend your benefits.”
I remember the desperate young mother who called me a “fucking pakeha bitch” when I wouldn’t give her instant money, asking her to fill out a form first.
I remember the day the order came to never give our names to anyone, after a fellow worker received viciously abusive phone calls at home, and things thrown at her house, while she and her children hid, frightened, waiting for the police to arrive.
I remember the weeping, abandoned women. And the elderly widow who, never having been allowed by her now deceased husband to handle any money, was found living with piles of unopened, unpaid bills, no electricity, discovered when a neighbour reported her for fossicking in rubbish bins for food.
I remember the doctor who told me to stop talking about suicide, to pull myself together, and to stop upsetting my mother or he’d send me to Tokanui and “make damn sure you get electric shock treatment.” I remember feeling totally abandoned by the whole world.
I remember, later, working as a nurse aid at Tokanui, chatting to the pleasant couple weeding the gardens who I later discovered were there for having killed their infant son while driving the demons from his soul.
I remember the influx of weary women at the end of the school holidays, who had used up all their stores of energy, and just needed to sleep.
I remember the delusional, the depressed, the displaced.
I remember the sadness, the anger, the despair, of those who, for whatever reason – circumstance, chemical imbalance, loss, inability – were unable to participate in the riches of Godzone.
I feel the enormous grief of those who have lost family, friends or workmates in Ashburton. I feel the deep desperation of a man whose life has gone so terribly wrong. I cannot blame anyone, but we are all responsible.