Nick Heatley was the ultimate party animal.

With thousands of dollars coming in every week from illegal drug sales it was common for him to spend $2000 on drinks on a night out in Dunedin.

He thought the party would never end.

But his lifestyle was funded by illicit drugs and with one package the high was over.
As he spent his first night in prison, the enormity of his mistakes hit home.


A package destined for Mr Heatley was intercepted by Customs. Police were informed and he was arrested.

He was facing charges of importing LSD - an offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment - and other drugs.

Despite the matter still being unproven before the court, and not holding a passport, Mr Heatley was deemed a flight risk, refused bail and jail time had begun.

The harshness of the justice system hit him as hard as the gravity of his mistakes.

"I didn't think I was going to get caught,'' the 24-year-old admitted to the Otago Daily Times this week.

"I got blind because I got stupid. I got blind because I didn't think I was going to get caught.''

For 18 months Mr Heatley was a drug dealer. Growing from a small-time weed dealer for his mates to an operation encompassing class-A and -B drugs bringing in thousands of dollars every week.

He was sentenced to four years' jail in December 2014 and was released on parole earlier this year.


The experience has changed him and, while he disagrees with the severity of New Zealand's drug laws, he will never delve into the black market of drugs again.

"I didn't know MDMA held 14 years' [jail]. I didn't know LSD held life,'' he says.

"All I knew is people would say 'drugs are bad don't do them'.

"But the problem isn't our drug use or that there's drugs in the country. It's the education behind it.''

While Mr Heatley's story is unique, the temptation of high-end drugs is one faced by many and is a growing problem as more and more people source them online.

Mr Heatley is the first to admit he is not technologically-savvy and he's never accessed the "dark web''.

But the drugs he was providing to his friends and social circle were coming via associates utilising illicit deals struck in privacy and anonymity over the internet and beyond New Zealand's borders.

The drugs destined for him, which ultimately led to his arrest, were coming from Germany and the UK according to the police.

"I broke the law and at the end of the day I was arrested for doing something I shouldn't have,'' he says.

"I don't deny that. Do I agree with it? No. But I don't deny that I broke the law.''

His first wake-up call came in prison.

The first month "sucked''.

"The way I described prison to my mum is it's like high school _ too many rumours, there's a whole bunch of bulls***, but if someone gets upset at you they won't beat you up, they will stab you,'' he says.

"I'm not a violent person. I have never committed a violent crime in my life.

"It was hard going into a system like that.''

As the first member of his family to face jail, his only previous experience was television.

The reality was vastly different and his isolation was further exacerbated by his lawyer's advice to talk to no-one and keep to himself.

"That's the worst advice,'' he said.

"They all thought I was some kind of snob.''

But as he opened himself to those around him, he found a justice system focused on punishment and ill-equipped to help criminals on to the straight and narrow.

"You get your first steps - $350,'' he said.

"That's meant to set you up with your board, your food, everything in your first week out of prison.

"If you don't have anything what are you supposed to do? And then the temptation sets in. If you are a drug dealer with $350 that's a gram of MD[MA] or that's an ounce.

"I can double my money in under two hours.''

While full of praise for counsellors and facilitators behind bars, he believed New Zealand should assess what they wanted from the prison system as it was only creating a perpetual cycle of crime.

He was lucky to have his family behind him, to have an opportunity to rebuild his life.

But even with his advantages he was on the back foot.

Every job application was rejected because of his criminal record. He finally secured work at a meat works, but had been laid off recently due to a lack of work.

The difficulties he faced gave him great sympathy for others in the system and changed his view of the world.

"It's a ripple effect for everything,'' he said.

"It doesn't just stop when you leave. It ripples down with everything.''

He had started a new life and had hopes to start a business - a legitimate business - one day.

Recalling his time as a drug dealer, it felt like "a long time ago''.

Mr Heatley did not try drugs, including marijuana, until he was 19.

But his ability to network and make connections soon meant he was sourcing things others couldn't.

The high he got from drugs was only matched by the high he got from being needed. As Mr Heatly puts it: "When people want something from you, they are a hell of a lot nicer to you than when they don't.''

His own drug use escalated as the scale of his dealing did. To the point of using ecstasy and marijuana daily and LSD at least weekly.

"I would go out in town four nights a week and I could spend two grand on drinks easily,'' he said.

"Drinks are always on Nick.''

But there was no high life, no houses, no flash cars and no security for his future.

"If you asked me what I spent most of the money I made on? My friends and the people around me,'' he said.

"You want to know about the car I was driving; it cost me 400 bucks.''

He estimates his lifestyle cost him "easily'' six figures during his time dealing.

"Looking back I wish I had invested it,'' he said with a laugh.

"I wish I had god damn buried it somewhere.

"Looking back, I wish I hadn't shouted my mates because they aren't my mates any more.''

When asked if any friends stuck around once the arrest came and the drugs dried up, Mr Heatley said: "I'd like to say yes''.

"But you know that's not the case.

"I don't feel used. I don't feel betrayed. Would I have liked a few of them to write me back when I sent a letter? Yeah.

"But I don't blame them for not. I know where they are coming from.''

The memories of his time in jail act as a constant deterrent from returning to his past life and, since leaving jail, Mr Heatley has found a girlfriend and hope for a better future.