Has there ever been another figure as colourful or as potentially brilliant as Arthur Taylor, one who has spent nearly 40 years in prison and who is so unbowed? I can only think of the difference between chalk and cheese to the very quiet prison escaper George Wilder from the 1960s. George was immortalised in song by the Howard Morrison quartet and a small nation where television sets were then few followed the police hunts for Wilder with interest, no doubt more than a few willing him on - the lone man against the State. Wilder was not a serious threat to anybody and his offending was minor - his escaping on the other hand kept many in the country enthralled. This quiet man gone bush trailed by a police force occasionally finding an empty bach where George Wilder had broken into and spent a few days, cleaned up and left. If you wanted a folk lore 'bad guy' who was harmless but determined George Wilder was your man. I don't know if he is still alive but at some stage he blended into the bush and land and we heard no more of him.
Arthur Taylor on the other hand is nothing if not an unbowed extrovert of near genius. In his recent interview with Lisa Owens he was nothing short of a surprise. He had to fight the Justice authorities for the right to be interviewed, as he had to be removed from maximum security solitary confinement, for the right for prisoners to vote, and to smoke. He started out by saying that the Minister of Finance Bill English had a trickle down policy, while he, Taylor, had a trickle up policy - if you helped those at the bottom of society, preserving their rights, sense of worth and equal place then you benefited all. Refreshing stuff, an absolute surprise coming from a maximum security prison inmate with perhaps the most substantial legal record and law authority on the NZ Bill of Rights Act and all the law peripheral to that in this country.
Speaking of his wins he explained, to the ill prepared Lisa Owen, that his appearances in Court on his own behalf and others weren't greeted by a welcoming bench as might prevail in the mind of some, he went armed with the law, his law books to his left hand under familiar touch - he assured Lisa that he knew the Law and his rights (all of our rights) of access to the Law. Coming from a law breaker, willing to help others lawfully that was an impressive opening. When I say Lisa was ill prepared she didn't seem to know which hat she was wearing, enterprising reporter, or the mandatory spokes person for victims. She didn't really know what to make of Arthur Taylor. No whining from Taylor but his personal story was that of one who could be argued as a victim.
Taylor spoke not with regret, or by seeking any sympathy what so ever, of having a very close and loving family from which he was removed at the age of eleven for wagging school. He was put into custody with criminalised youth and soon eventually became criminalised himself. Taylor was refreshingly frank about this. He didn't labour how much being taken from his family impacted on his life, but anybody watching the interview was able to decide that for themselves - Taylor was not asking for pity, even to be understood, he was giving the facts in a way that seemed to remove the 11 year old boy as an actual child torn away from his family. Lisa Owen spoke to him about that and he agreed that he had been apologised to by the Government for that (decades later, it was hardly a rescue mission, but rather a belated reaction to a policy that damaged many young people and their families.) What amends those were to Lisa's mind was vague. It was almost suggesting that the 34 to 38 years in prison, many in solitary confinement, was a separate issue - some would agree with that, some wouldn't. Just because Taylor did not use that as an excuse wouldn't mean that in more enlightened times many of the public understand the bonds of family result in children growing as responsible citizens.
As Lisa continued this line of reasoning it was difficult to not consider that she was pushing the victim's barrow against somebody who could be considered a victim himself. On the other hand if in fact he was unrepentant career criminal it should have been clear to Lisa, as I'm sure it would have been to many others, that he'd spent the best part of his adult life in prison paying for that anyway - in the toughest conditions that could be applied to him. Lisa got a little excited and was demanding answers from Taylor about how things were smuggled into prison, she must have got confused and seen him as a Minister responsible for prisons and not an inmate struggling to get out of a life time of imprisonment.
For all that doing and froing and professional detachment for Lisa Owen some truths sparkled through. Taylor revealed that when he had spoken to opposition members of Parliament about prison conditions, his (Taylor's) opinion was that the new private prisons had inherited the problems from the state run prisons. Obviously that wasn't necessarily what the Labour Member of Parliament might have preferred to hear, but that was the truth as Taylor saw it - exposing again that he was no one's puppet.
Putting all of Taylor's offending together, and accepting that he has already spent too much time in prison, a lot of which has been because of his failure to knuckle down, that he is in fact a danger because he is armed with a comprehensive knowledge of the Law, having won recognition for that perhaps even to a greater extent than any other person in contemporary times, and from a prison cell, it's time that apology, and compensation also recognised that Taylor has something to offer back to those that imprisoned him, took him away from his family as a child and put him into a situation which resulted at least in some way to him becoming a long term maximum security inmate - it's time to let the man go. He, clearly has money behind him, another testament to his wasted abilities and something that distinquishes him from most if not all other prisoners, he has a brilliant mind, he says he wants to help others. This is a man that the prison system couldn't change, in fact 1 who helped change the prison system from within. He has worked near miracles for a person whose education was stopped at the age of eleven, not high school, or Law school for Taylor yet he's capable at the Bar with the best of then. Can't the complex, introverted, drag the chain system, let Taylor go. Perhaps commission his help if he's willing to provide it, learn something from a man who from nothing but a bare isolation cell took on the Government several times and won.
Taylor's intellect is that up there with that of Finance Minister Bill English, Bill, according to Taylor is working from the top down while Arthur works from the bottom up for a fairer society. I actually think that both men work in both directions, not simply from opposite ends, but more from the middle in both directions for better outcomes. Where Lisa missed the bus a little, and to be fair, part of her audience would have wanted strips torn off Taylor. the issues are bigger than the larger than life Arthur Taylor although he has a pool and wealth of information he's willing to share. The 11 year old may have come to age, about time the system did itself a favour and extended a hand out to him. That's real life, why George Wilder was sung about, why Taylor is often heard about, not anonymous names in a Justice administration but real people with real lives. Time to celebrate the diversity of Taylor's opinions and see what can be learned from them. He says the current Government won't reach it's target of reducing offending by 25% by 2016, so why don't they challenge him to help?