League: From NRL stardom to ten years imprisonment

By James Phelps

Craig Field in action for the Wests Tigers during the 2001 NRL season. Photo / Getty Images
Craig Field in action for the Wests Tigers during the 2001 NRL season. Photo / Getty Images

From earning $600,000 a year as an NRL star to $60 a week in a prison print shop. This is the shocking story of how a single punch put former Wests Tigers halfback Craig Field in a maximum-security prison for ten years.

Sunday Telegraph Sports Reporter James Phelps went behind the walls of Cessnock Maximum Correctional Centre to speak to Field about his horrendous fall from grace.

In an exclusive excerpt from Inside Australia's Hardest Prisons; Inmates, Field opens up about living with serial killers and rapists in his living hell.

THE FALL

"Mate how does a guy that was earning $600,000 a year end up here?" I fire.

"How does a bloke that played 183 first grade games, a bloody legend, end up thanking some journo he has never met for a packet of snakes and some socks?"

This is what I ask Craig Field - the three club NRL legend sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter as we sit in the maximum security "visits" section of Cessnock Jail.

And this is what he says: the former rugby league star opening up about his crime and time in one of Australia's toughest prison's in his one and only interview.

THE CRIME

Field threw one punch and Kane went down.

"I went in and the bloke (Kane) shaped up to me in a boxing stance," Field said.

"It was a case of him hitting me or me hitting him. That is the way I saw it. I was left in a position where he was squaring up to me and I had to make a decision to hit or be hit."

So Field hit, landing punch to the right side of Kane's head.

"I saw his hand cocked and out of fear I threw a punch to the right side of his head," Field said.

"As soon as my hand hit him, he fell down. He just sort of dropped to knee and he was down."

Field backed off immediately.

"I shat myself a bit," Field said. "I could see he was bleeding and he had fallen down. A few people rushed to his aid and they told me just to go home. So I did."

Kelvin Kane required cardiopulmonary resuscitation when paramedics arrived. The millionaire cattle-farmer was taken to hospital and placed on life-support. Kane died the next day when the machine was turned-off; the cause of death a brain haemorrhage, sustained from a punch to the head or his head hitting the ground.

Field was arrested and charged with first assault and then murder. A man was dead and this former football player was facing life in jail.

THE SENTENCE

Justice Elizabeth Fullerton sentenced Field to a maximum 10 years in jail after the fallen footy star was convicted of manslaughter.

Fullerton said the community demanded "a general deterrence" for "unprovoked, uncontrollable, lethal violence".

Field's family wept as they left the Lismore local court, knowing that the husband and father of five would spend a minimum of seven years and six month behind bars. And a maximum of 10 years in jail, where they would get to see him a few times a year.

Field, 42 when sentenced, was cleared of murder a week before he was found guilty of manslaughter for the one punch attack.

His defence immediately labelled the sentence "manifestly excessive".

And it is hard to disagree.

"It was a fight that I never started," Field said. "And one that I never wanted to get involved in. I was having a beer at the local pub one minute and soon I was rushing to stop my mate from being hurt.

"A kid the other day got three years for throwing a king hit ... I mean that was a dead set dog shot. My case was nothing like that and I get 10. I was involved in a fight. But the judges didn't see it that way and there isn't much I can do."

Field is adamant Fathers and Kane were exchanging punches before he intervened.

"They made out I showed no remorse and that isn't right," Field said.

"I think about that gentlemen and his family everyday. It was the first time I had ever been in trouble with the law and I didn't know what I should have been saying and shouldn't have been saying. I was worried about every word I said.

"I wish I could take away their pain".

Now back to Cessnock, where I sit with the footy play turned inmate, both of us sitting on silver stools in a maximum-security jail.

PRISON

I look around the room, taking in the sad scene.

There are 14 men in white jumpsuits, sitting on red stools. They are eating candy and chips while they talk; mostly about appeals, courts and crimes.

I turn to Craig.

"Mate I really feel for them," I say, as he continues to chug down Coke and crunch on Kettle Chips.

"I watched all the kids get searched and fingerprinted before we came in. That little girl (I point to the blonde) was laughing when the guard made her put her hands up and checked her with a metal detector. She thought it was a game."

Craig nods.

"Yeah its hard on the families," he says.

"You see the same women and kids in here every week. Some off them (he flicks his head towards a teenage girl with baby) stick by them no matter what. But there isn't a thing you can do for them while stuck in here."

Craig stops smiling.

"Obviously the hardest thing for me is missing my wife and children," Field says, no longer snacking or slurping.

"I have five kids. The eldest is 23 and the youngest is 10. It so hard being away from them and I don't get to see them very often because they live up North and they simply can't afford to keep on flying down to see me. They only come down in the school holidays so it is gutting to have to wait so long to get to see them.

"But wanting to see them all the time is also a bit selfish. It probably works out a bit better like this because I don't want my kids growing up in a jail. I want to see them of course but I don't want them having to come in here every week and go through all of this."

Let's go behind the next metal door and into a maximum-security Cessnock prison wing with Craig Field the former footy player now inmate...

CELLMATES

SPLAAATTTT!

The liquid shit slapped against the concrete floor and smashed into the steel cell door.
Pppffftttt!

Another explosion of wind and watery shit, arse spraying bed, drawers and wall.
"What the f***?" Field screamed, woken by the sound of diarrhoea fired from a double barrel shotgun.

He looked but could only see dark. His nose however, didn't need time to adjust.
"What's that smell?" he yelled.

No. He couldn't have? Surely not?

Field's pupils grew and were soon able to cut through the dark.

Yep. He had. F****** junkie.

"One of my worst experiences with a cellmate involved a bloke that was on drugs," Field said.

"I was sitting on my bed and I saw the bloke pull out a needle.

"I have done things in the past, which I regret, and everyone knows what happened with me at the Tigers (Field was sacked by the Wests Tigers in 2001 after testing positive for cocaine). But anyone who knows me will tell you how much I am against drugs now. And I have always been against needles."

Yep, a sneaky line of coke with the boys is one thing, shoving a needle into a vein and shooting up smack is another.

"I told him to put it away," Field said. "There was no way I was going to be in cell with a junkie. Not with a needle around."

The junkie nodded and pretended to listen as a no-nonsense Field issued his demand. He was once again the rugby league captain, firing off a non-negotiable order, his ferocious bark not needing the threat of a bite.

"I told him he had to apply for a new cell in the morning because I could not room with someone that was on drugs," Field said.

The junkie nodded.

"Sure man," he said. "Yeah no worries. I won't do anything near you man. And I'll get out of your hair soon. You will get no problems from me man."

Field nodded. Then he went to sleep.

The Druggie was lying.

"I woke up to the sound of him sh****ng everywhere," Field said. "He obviously had his shot when I nodded off and couldn't make the toilet."

F*** me. Did I really just see that?

Field ignored the smell and went back to sleep.

"I woke up the next morning," Field said. "And there was s*** everywhere. It was absolutely disgusting."

The fresh sunlight revealed the full extent of the dev-ass-tation.

"He had s*** all over himself," Field said.

"And it was all over the cell. He hadn't even made an attempt to clean it up. He hadn't even had a go at wiping himself."

Field was furious.

"I take a lot of pride in the way I keep my cell," he said.

"I am a pretty tidy person and I always make sure I keep my room neat and tidy. I try and be well organised, neat and very clean. And there I was waking up with shit all over the place. It was everywhere. And I mean that. It was all over my stuff."

The inmate put in a request to leave the cell as soon as he woke up. Field was left to clean up the shit.

"What I find difficult is all the drugs that are around," Field said.

"That is what creates most of the problems. Obviously I stay right out of it all and it isn't a problem for me (until someone is shitting on his floor). But there are always blokes getting bashed and stabbed over drug debts.

"And everything gets in here; all types of drugs. I have been offered drugs plenty of times. It happened as soon as I got in. But everyone in here knows how I feel about drugs so they keep it away from me now.

"One of the disgusting things that is happening at the moment involves a drug called 'bupa' (Buprenorphine)," Field continued.

"It is a morphine type thing. A lot of blokes who don't need it will get it.

"They will take it and hold it under there tongue instead of swallowing it. They will then go and give it to the junkies in exchange for a head-job. I think they dissolve it and inject it and get a similar high to heroin."

Field cleaned up the mess ... and moved on.

Field soon had a new room mate ... one that didn't s*** on the floor or know people that shot at his mates.

"I have a very good arrangement at the moment," Field said.

"I share a room with a bikie and we get on great. We have a good arrangement and things are working at well. We have a bed on either side of the cell, a little walkway in the middle and some cupboards, draws, things like that.

"We have a TV, which is great. We are both into our footy and the same kind of stuff so that really gets us through. We can wait for footy season to start because that really gives you something to look forward to and makes it a lot easier to do your time.

"He is clean like me and we just get on. He is a good bloke and someone I have no hesitation calling a friend. Life in jail is a lot easier when you are sharing your cell with a mate."

Still life in prison can be sh***y...

"Yeah there is only one toilet in the cell," Field said.

"There is no privacy but we have made do by erecting a sheet to make a bit of a screen. Yeah you don't want to be watching a bloke taking a dump."

No s***? Ha.

THE HORROR SHOW

"I reckon the worst thing I ever saw in prison was at Silverwater," Field says.

"Yeah I did a bit of time there waiting to get my classo (classification) and I saw a bloke get stabbed in the throat."

Field explains the Silverwater set-up: the pods with their see through Perspex doors, before unleashing the grizzle and gore.

"Silverwater is a pretty crazy place," he continues. "You get all sorts in there and I expecting to see some things. But I wasn't expecting anything like this. There were sweepers serving food to the pods, one on one side of the corridor and one on the other. One of them had just shoved my food in and I was about to rip in."

He grabs another Malteser.

"But I heard all this noise so I left the food and looked out of my cell," Field says.

"They had just seen each other and dropped their trays, that was the noise I heard. I was watching them as they ran at each other. They belted into each other, punches at first, but then one of them pulled out a shiv. He jammed it straight into the others guys neck. There was blood everywhere and the bloke dropped. I thought he was going to die."

"I have seen a lot of violence in my life... both on the street and on the footy field. I played a tough game and saw plenty of things in rugby league. You think you are probably prepared to see violent things like this but I wasn't prepared at all.

"It was really heavy and it shocked me. It was then I knew how serious jail could be and that I needed to be careful. On a football field people may want to hurt you but in here they want to kill you. If you do the wrong thing or upset someone well they won't just be coming to fight ... they will be coming to kill."

Has anyone had a crack at Craig? Surely someone has had a go? Just to be known as the bloke that got it over that NRL star?

"Na," he says.

"I seriously haven't had any problems. I think everyone knew who I was when I came in, but I have just kept my head down and kept out of things.

"You don't want to get caught up in anything. I don't get involved in any of the s*** that goes on. If anything I more go and try and help people. I try and do what I can to make their lives better or there time in here easier."

THE FUTURE

"I would love to be involved in footy again," Field says.

"A lot of blokes are still getting in trouble and they shouldn't be. There are simple solutions to a lot of these things and I know I can help a lot of players.

"This is something that really means a lot to me. I could really speak to them from the heart and give them the advice and help they need.

"I just look at what happened to Mitchell Pearce and shake my head. I know I could have helped prevent something like that.

"I still love my footy and always will. I was doing real well when this thing happened, coaching and helping out kids. It is what I enjoy.

"Two of the kids I have coached have signed with NRL clubs now, which makes me really proud. I would love to get involved with it again one day and I think I will have a lot to offer. I am pretty sure I will have some pretty good stories about the consequences of trouble and how to avoid it."

"From Mondays to Fridays, six hours a day. I am what they call a leading hand. I run the inmates in there. I look after them and give them their lunches, their forms, and that sort of stuff. It is bit of responsibility but something I really enjoy. I had a bit of a leadership role in footy and it feels like I am using those skills a bit. I also get on with all the inmates, which helps. It makes it easier."

"Print shop," I reply.

"Yeah mate," he said.

"We print everything, both inside jobs, outside jobs. We print programs, posters, and business cards for all the correction's officers around the state. We do booklets, magazines... everything".

"What's the pay like?" I quickly fire.

"I get paid about 60 bucks a week," Field replies. "And that is more than most because of the leadership role."

$60 a week? Is he serious? The man who used to earn more than $600,000 a year to throw a ball around is now locked up in a prison earning $60 a week to print business cards for prison cops.

He has gone from being a man with an estimated wealth of $4m to an inmate who needs to save to buy deodorant and non-standard issue shampoo. Let this be a warning to all those NRL players who think they are above the law.

- news.com.au

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