David Young spent many nights during the past 20 months wondering when he would wake up from his nightmare and go home.
But when he woke, the realisation he was locked up in jail came thundering back.
A newly-free Young told the Rotorua Daily Post he was never a druggie, he just got greedy.
He went from running Skingraft, the biggest stockist of legal highs in Rotorua, to facing a massive drop in revenue resulting from the Government's psychoactive substances ban.
That greed saw him sentenced in August 2015 to three years and four months behind bars after being caught manufacturing synthetic cannabis, just over a year after the ban was put in place.
Police had raided Young's Ngapuna storage unit, Skingraft and his Brunswick home. The evidence against him was compelling.
In the storage unit, police found a clandestine processing area for the mixing, packaging and sale and supply of synthetic products.
A total of 60.3kg of the drug with a street value of between $904,000 and $1.2 million was found.
Police found $1073 cash on Mr Young, $69,060 in the office safe, $2440 in a workshop safe and $1400 in an office drawer.
Further synthetic plant material and money was found in his home and car. The total amount of cash seized was $181,403.
Young said it was greed that made him do what he did, not any need to fuel a drug habit.
He said he'd tried synthetic cannabis but it made him feel sick, the same with cannabis. He said he used to use the party pills when Skingraft sold them because it was handy to know the products when selling them.
Young said Skingraft had been struggling before legal highs came along, then suddenly business was booming. He got used to doing well. Then the ban happened.
"I had some stuff (products) left over and I was just greedy . . . I didn't want it taken away. If I weighed up the pros and cons I wouldn't have gone down that path but I kept telling myself it would be okay."
He said he never splurged using his illegally gained money, it just made life easier, bills got paid quicker and money wasn't a problem.
But he was adamant everything - his whole mindset and even his appearance - was different now.
Young said he would soon be getting his hair cut off, he was no longer into body and facial piercings, his black boots and jeans have been replaced with sneakers, casual pants and white T-shirts.
"I want to change the way I look. I don't want to be that person anymore."
He said suddenly everything to do with obeying the law mattered.
"Even driving, I'm watching the speed limit all the time, noticing what is a give way and what is stop sign. I just don't want to do anything wrong. I don't want to go back there (to prison). I want to stay on that path, that straight and narrow."
But most importantly, he never wants himself or his wife, now the owner of Skingraft, to have anything to do with legal highs again.
"If they came back on the market and I was offered a licence, I wouldn't want anything to do with it. Even if I went to a barbecue and someone was smoking synthetic cannabis, I would want to leave."
He said drug and alcohol courses inside prison had taught him a lot, something which was noted by the New Zealand Parole Board in its decision to release him early.
"Now this stuff plays on my mind all the time. Even alcohol. I don't want to be with those people going out to nightclubs. I don't even drink coffee.
"When you are doing the courses, you see all the problems and what comes out of them. With drugs, how it affects families, how kids suffer, they go to school without shoes and food."
He said he deserved what happened to him, he had to serve his time and he didn't expect sympathy.
He also would have preferred to have slipped back into the community unnoticed, but when approached by the Rotorua Daily Post he agreed to tell his story.
"I have realised now what I did and I shouldn't have done it. I tried to minimise and justify my actions and tried to say it was only illegal for a few months but that's not the point.
"Being in prison, the hardest thing was being away from my wife and daughter. It gave me a wake-up call. I used to wake up for months every day thinking it was just a dream but then I would wake up and you're in prison."
Young kept himself busy gaining qualifications, doing courses and had jobs at all three prisons he served in - Waikeria Prison, Hawkes Bay Regional Prison and Spring Hill Corrections Facility near Te Kauwhata.
The jobs included distribution and asset maintenance (water blasting). He would get paid 40c an hour, earning about $15 a week, which he would spend on phone calls to his wife and daughter.
When he first arrived at Waikeria Prison he described it as "pretty scary".
"I wondered what the hell I had I got myself into. Waikeria is over 100 years old and there's a staircase leading up to all the cells. It was just like The Shawshank Redemption."
He said he would count down the many sleepless nights and days until his next visit with his wife and daughter. While he was in Waikeria, they would visit every two weeks and he said the two-hour visit felt like 20 minutes. There were tears when they arrived and tears again when they left.
"To start with my mind was racing all the time thinking 'this is a dream, this is a dream'."
At one point he was sharing a cell with a man jailed for murder.
"When he started telling me about why he was in there, it started to freak me out. There were other murderers and rapists and I saw a few people I'd seen on Fair Go for ripping people off.
"It's a huge learning curve and I know I never want to go back there again."
When he was released from Spring Hill on Monday, his drive off into freedom didn't go how he had imagined. They got a flat tyre and didn't have the tools on board to fix it.
An hour-and-a-half was spent 500m down the road from the prison trying to get it fixed before they were back on the road again.
"We wanted to drive off and get the hell out of there but it ended up being this huge ordeal."
He couldn't wait to get home.
"I just couldn't wait to look at the house, look at the grass and wanted to see the pets (four dogs and two cats). They were so happy to see me."
Young's parole conditions include not going inside Skingraft, unless with permission from his parole officer.
He drops off his wife outside work each day but hasn't gone inside yet. With permission from his parole officer he will soon collect his sewing machines and other equipment so he can make belts and leather holders from home.
"If I do ever go back there, I just want to be an employee."
As Young settles into his different life away from synthetic highs, he knows he will never take simple things for granted again.
"I used to think about my wife lying in bed by herself and wished I was there. We had never spent more than a week apart in the 30 years we've been together."
- Former owner of Skingraft on Pukuatua St, now owned by his wife
- Jailed August 2015 for three years and four months
- Released March 13, 2017 after serving 20 months
- Pleaded guilty to three charges of possessing non-approved psychoactive substances for manufacturing and selling and two charges of possession of Class C drugs.
- Psychoactive substances, also known as synthetic cannabis, were made illegal in May 2014.
For more articles from this region, go to Rotorua Daily Post