Mark Cropp wants to get off the dole, get a job and put food on the table for his family.

But there's one small problem - a giant tattoo saying "DEVAST8" that covers half of his face is proving off-putting for prospective employers.

The Oamaru-born teenager says he had it inked a few months ago, while drunk on homebrew in a jail cell in Christchurch.

He was locked up in 2015, aged 17, for aggravated robbery, after he and a friend pulled a knife on a tourist in Nelson.


The tourist had pulled out of a marijuana sale. Cropp and an associate were trying to sell him a fake "tinnie".

Cropp pleaded guilty in the Nelson District Court to charges of aggravated robbery, escaping custody, assault with a weapon, intentional damage, breach of community work and theft.

He told the Herald he committed the crime to get enough money to help house him and his pregnant girlfriend after they were kicked out of his parents' home.

"My partner Taneia was just a month due to drop my baby, and we had nowhere to go so I committed the crime - and I never got to see [the baby] again."

He says he was in and out of CYF care since the age of 6, and kicked out of school aged 11.

"Part of the reason why I am who I am is that I grew up without my parents, I grew up with drugs and alcohol around, and became a criminal.

"But going to jail gave me a wake-up call."

While serving his two-year jail sentence in Otago Correction Facility, Cropp says he was put in the same cell as his brother.

Late last year, he says they decided he should get a new facial tattoo after Cropp started getting trouble from other inmates.

"I was going through a rough patch, of quite a lot of people hating on me, trying to bully me.

"Part of jail life, you get people with tattoos and you look at them, step back, 'Watch out for that guy' sort of thing."

"It's my nickname, it's not gang-affiliated."

The tattoo was "only supposed to be a little one along the jawline" but "that all went out the window when we had a bit too much to drink inside".

Cropp says he had been drinking homebrew, made from fermented apples, sugar and bread.

"I drunk it and before I knew it I had this on my face... It was swollen like a bloody pumpkin," Cropp said.

Lyndal Miles, acting prison director of Otago Correction Facility confirmed to the Herald the tattooing occurred overnight in the cell Cropp was sharing with his brother.

"It was discovered on unlock. The cell was searched, a tattoo gun was found and there was no evidence of homebrew. Mr Cropp was moved to single cell confinement."

She said equipment that may be used for tattooing, such as needles and ink, are considered contraband items and prisoners found with such items charged through the internal misconduct system.

Corrections facilitates access for prisoners to tattoo removal services at low or no cost through Work and Income and a variety of private and non-government organisations, Miles said.

Any applicable cost for the service is funded by the prisoner.

Two offers of access to removal services were made to Cropp but he declined, Miles said.

Cropp's partner had their baby while he was in prison, and has since lost custody. The couple are now living in emergency accommodation in a caravan park in Takanini, south Auckland.

They desperately want their daughter back.

"We were told she would have a home for life for her in CYFs care," Cropp says.

"I got to meet my daughter for the first time yesterday. She was a bit wary of me to start with but she ended up giving me a hug, she gave me a kiss."

After that meeting, Cropp was inspired to get work so put a photo of himself on an Auckland job Facebook page.

"I was over people judging for my facial tattoo... that's why I made the decision to put that photo on Facebook, to turn around and say 'I am just a normal human being, you do not have to judge me because of the way I look'.

He says he has a painting and decorating qualification, and some day he wants to be a tattoo artist.

But right now, "I just want any job at the end of the day... I'm sick of being on the dole."

"I want to be able to put meat on the table - we want to live a normal life."

He said he had visited job agencies appealing for work.

"One employment place said to me 'I wouldn't employ you with that on you face, I wouldn't even take a second look at you'. I've had other people that just shrugged and laughed at me."

But since putting sharing his plight, he has had a potential scaffolding job offer and has been flooded with well-wishes and suggestions of possible jobs.

People have also suggested growing a beard - he's tried that - or using thick concealer. They've even quoted him for tattoo removal - but he's not sure.

"That's the thing - it's part of who I am. But if it comes down to it, if I have to get rid of it to be a normal person and function in society again, then I have to."

Cropp appealed his 2015 sentence but the High Court at Nelson dismissed the appeal.

Justice Brewer noted Cropp's "significant criminal history", which included convictions for violence and dishonesty.

"I regard his attitude toward addressing his drug and alcohol issues, in addition to
his criminal behaviour, to be worrying.

"His affidavit filed in support shows extremely poor insight into his behaviour, his responsibilities as a new parent and his drug and alcohol addiction."

But he said courses for addiction while completed in custody "show cause for hope".

The Parole Board said in a decision released to the Herald today that standard and special conditions of Cropp's release were in place for six months.

Special conditions included attending recommended intervention for alcohol and drug use, attending a psychological assessment and completing treatment/counselling as recommended, and residing at an address approved by a probation officer and not to move without prior written approval of the officer.