Justice reporter Deborah Morris last saw Allan Adams in the dock. Now she’s talking to him — out of the courtroom — about the next chapter in her life.
Allan Adams hardly resembles the same man who stood in the dock at Wellington District Court as New Zealand’s most prolific burglar.
He looks 10 years younger. It’s partly because the beard is gone, but it’s mostly because he’s smiling. It looks like a huge weight has been lifted from him.
It’s a marked change for a man who has been in the care of the state or the criminal justice system since he was 12 years old.
* Hidden camera shows thief stealing bag and shoes outside Christchurch home
* Police issue mail theft warning ahead of Christmas
* Allan Snowball, street thief, has his prison sentence reduced
* Man with 402 burglary convictions, Allan Adams, gets another six-year prison sentence
He is now 50 and for the first time in decades he is free from the system, living a normal life outside of prison.
Adams has never had this before, and he loves it.
I wrote about Adams in 2017 when Wellington District Court Judge Jan Kelly sent him to jail for six years for burglaries in 2015. She called his list of offenses extraordinary.
This brought his total to some 444 convictions, making him one of New Zealand’s most convicted men and one of the country’s worst burglars.
Adams had developed a style of burglary – business premises. He ransacked open properties and took petty cash where he could. It wouldn’t be unusual for him to hit every business in a building or a row on a street in the same night.
The burglaries gave him a sense of power in a world he felt helpless, he said in an interview in Wellington this month.
Adams was born in Auckland to a couple in a bitter relationship. His mother suffered from undiagnosed postnatal depression and was unable to emotionally bond with him. When his parents separated, he also became disruptive and destructive at school.
He found it difficult to manage his emotions and often did not understand others or their motivations.
The challenges pile up: Abuse and neglect. Loss of contact with his father, whom his mother refused to let him see. School of bustle. No friends and no support system.
Adams started lighting fires and flying.
In 1984 he set his school on fire and was sent to his first boys’ home, Wesleydale in Auckland.
Despite a decent stint in foster care, Adams was placed in Beck House, a Department of Social Welfare home in Eskdale, Hawke’s Bay, designed for long-stay boys.
After a few short escape attempts, Adams was raped by a staff member. This would start a cycle that took him more than 30 years to break out of.
Many burglaries stemmed from a run on alcohol – to numb the pain and the need for money.
The main motivation behind so much of his life was fear. Fear of losing what little he had, of people who abused him, of nightmares of his abuser that kept him up at night and chased out into the night, where he would find a place to break into.
It even made him consider killing his attacker. While in the secure unit at the Ōwairaka Boys Home in Auckland, Adams had what he said was his worst nightmare ever. He escaped and made it to Napier but was caught again after a burglary at a hire yard.
It was not until several years later, around this time in Rimutaka prison, that he began seeing an ACC counselor, who advised him to try to write everything down.
“After I started writing, I would spend the first part of our weekly session reading aloud what I had written that week,” Adams recalled. “[She] would then interrupt me sometimes to ask how a certain thing I had written made me feel and by identifying my emotions and putting them on paper, I was able to let them go.
“It was like a gradual lifting of the burden from my shoulders, my fear finally leaving me.”
And now he’s written a book about his life as a member of the generation of state-care boys who suffered at the hands of those who were meant to help them.
It’s raw, unfiltered and honest. His drug and alcohol use, his offences, the loss of the few people close to him, his eventual realization that he needed to get help if he didn’t want to keep going in and out of prison, are convincing.
It is a story that has been repeated by so many of these boys.
In the prologue to his unpublished book, he says: “In cold, austere and loveless institutions, we have had to live with the almost constant threat of violence. Occasionally this threat exploded into actual violence, instigated either by the staff or the boys.
“In these places, pedophiles lurked, in the shadows, waiting for the opportunity to prey on the most vulnerable among us.”
In 2011, he was awarded $27,000 in compensation and received an apology from the Director General of the Department of Social Development for his residential treatment.
Adams has filed a complaint with the police against the man who attacked him. They investigated but found there was not enough evidence to prosecute. He was contacted again in 2013 when a second person made a similar complaint, but again police felt they could not press charges.
“The burden of fear that my abusers instilled in me is gone and they no longer control my life,” he said. “I do.”
Adams said he hasn’t thought about crime since he was last released from prison – the urge has gone. And he says he developed empathy for the victims of his crimes. But all he can offer is apologies and remorse for their suffering.
“This 13-year-old boy who used to walk beside me for so long now walks behind,” he said. “Never forgotten, but where it finally belongs.”
Adams has already been turned down by several publishers and is considering self-publishing.