He spent 41 of his 69 years locked up, but "notorious" criminal Dean Wickliffe says since the release of his autobiography two months ago, life is changing.

The ocean is as wild as it is forgiving, and now he's walking free, Wickliffe finds solace in Mother Nature's embrace. Away from the restraints of a jail cell and the crimes that stalk him, fishing has become his pastime - allowing him to leave his "land-based issues" behind.

At night, he sits outside and watches the sky shift from pink, to red, to black. This is life. This is freedom. He's not going back "inside", he says.

Read more: Exclusive: Dean Wickliffe, the life and times of New Zealand's most 'notorious' crim

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Just over two months since the launch of his self-published autobiography, A Lifetime Behind Bars, Wickliffe, 69, believes his story is already helping him to be better understood.

The public approach him for a chat, and he's working on reconnecting with his extended whanau as a senior kaumatua in the Bay of Plenty town of Maketu, where he lives.
When we meet for coffee, he looks like your average pensioner, except for his edgy, matching denim outfit.

Wickliffe turns the occasional head, but he's largely nondescript. He's well-spoken, friendly and thoughtful with his answers.

He and "agent" Murray - a mate and retired prison officer - spent $21,000 on producing 1000 copies of Wickliffe's autobiography, and they're already planning a second edition.
Of that sum, $15,000 was Wickliffe's own money, acquired after selling jewellery his partner Dionne Chapman left him when she died of cancer in 2010.

She wanted him to sell her jewellery so he could get back on his feet without doing anything "unlawful". The only woman he ever loved, he describes their relationship as "nine years of heaven".

His book wasn't initially written with profit in mind, but he is unemployed and needs cash.
"[Future employers] just Google you, and that's it, it's all over," he says of job hunting. He has experience in commercial fishing, and holds truck and forklift licences, but has given up looking.

New Zealand's most notorious criminal, Dean Wickliffe. Photo / John Borren
New Zealand's most notorious criminal, Dean Wickliffe. Photo / John Borren

Making money from his book is his best bet to build a self-contained unit on family land, overlooking the ocean. He also wants to buy a headstone for Dionne, who is buried at Pyes Pa Cemetery. At the moment, her graveside is marked by ornaments she and Wickliffe bought before her death - a cherub with a "beautiful face", and a few animals.

For local buyers, Wickliffe is happy to travel to their address and hand-deliver his book, as well as autograph it.

Can the public trust him though?

"Of course they can trust me," he says.

His book chronicles his lifetime of offending, and the experiences he had in prison.

It is 500 pages, with not many photos. That's because the majority of pictures Wickliffe owns are from police and newspaper files.

He has an extensive criminal history and spent more time in jail than any other Kiwi, bar one. His last stint in prison was from 2012 to mid-2017. In his lifetime, he's robbed, burgled, thieved, made drugs, taken hostages, escaped prison, and killed a man - his "biggest regret".

Of his 50-or-so convictions, the most serious is the manslaughter of Wellington jeweller Paul Miet during an armed robbery in 1972.

Wickliffe was originally charged with Miet's murder, but that was later downgraded to the lesser charge. Despite that, the life sentence remained in place.

He is aware some readers will disapprove of him getting media attention, but he's tired of the discouragement - even if it is understandable.

"They can trust me to take every effort to avoid any hiccup that might put me back in prison," he says.

"My whole attitude has changed now. I'm not the same person. I'm not the angry young man I once was, who had a big chip on each shoulder, and feeling he was at war at the world, especially with the authorities. That was the past, not only of who I was, but who we were as a group of hardcore prisoners in D Block."

"My whole attitude has changed now. I'm not the same person. I'm not the angry young man I once was, who had a big chip on each shoulder, and feeling he was at war at the world, especially with the authorities."

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D Block was a wing that housed the worst of New Zealand's offenders who were locked in individual cells for most of the day; allowed out only to exercise. He did four prison terms in D Block - a total of 28 years.

He's had a lot of time to reflect and think since then. He's educated himself and opened himself up to different influences, and different sorts of people.

"I'm just living my life the way I've never been able to live it before. The world I lived in, in that era, kind of defined you to a very limited circle."

He's reconnecting with family, including sister, Gloria, in Greerton. He has two daughters he'd like to see again after a long time apart. He's got grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"In the 41 years I spent in prison, I think I had about two visits from family members."

That's because Wickliffe, full name Dean Hugh Te Kahu William Wickliffe, left home at 15, and spent much of his time thereafter in a cell. Fractured relationships disintegrated further by his absence.

Wickliffe is finally reconnecting with family after years behind bars. Photo/John Borren
Wickliffe is finally reconnecting with family after years behind bars. Photo/John Borren

"I guess I just look back on my life and see what a mess I've made of it, and made of other people's lives too," he says matter-of-factly. "But now, I've hooked up with my whanau and I'm involving myself as a senior male with my extended family, and its certain responsibilities that go with that." He's staying clear of contentious issues though, he reckons.

"I guess I just look back on my life and see what a mess I've made of it, and made of other people's lives too."

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He's walking a tightrope and can't afford a second wobble. In September last year, he was charged with drink-driving after being stopped by police in Papamoa, and narrowly escaped being booted back to jail. Since NZME's exclusive and extensive interview with him last October, the majority of public have been "overwhelmingly supportive". The rest say he is incapable of a peaceful life.

"There's always going to be critics no matter what kind of opinion you voice, and that's their right too, but I have a story to tell, which is not just about me."

In his book he details his thoughts on New Zealand's penal system. "Sometimes the violence was both ways," he shares. "It's like a war between two gangs," he explains of tough guards vs tough prisoners.

"There's always going to be critics no matter what kind of opinion you voice, and that's their right too, but I have a story to tell, which is not just about me."

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Wickliffe undertook a creative writing course in prison via correspondence, and had his book printed in China. Some of it didn't get published because of the cost. Two chapters towards the end had to be reduced to keep it under 500 pages. Reprints will include what was left out. The plan is that the first 500 books sold, will pay for the next 1000.

He's heard mutterings about substandard punctuation and "too many commas", but it's still selling - "I've sold about 50 myself " - and it has generated some good reviews. The book is sold on Wickliffe's website. Whitcoulls wanted it, but they were going to take too much of the profit, he says.

What he hopes readers will take from his story, among many things, is that he's the product of a traumatic childhood, which led him to destruction.

He turns 70 on September 16, and there are no plans for a big celebration.

Life in Maketu is quiet and he wants to keep it that way. "I'm just glad to be out and relaxing."

He enjoys fishing on his mate's boat, and all he really desires is a home to call his own.
From his hilltop section he can see Mauao and Motiti. "We get these beautiful sunsets at times, where the sky just turns red and pink." Nature is a reminder of "what I've missed all my life", he says.

"You can get so used to being in prison and so used to having nothing that it becomes a norm."

He's recently been on the internet for the first time and tried Skype. He's got a cellphone, and with his reading glasses, he can read texts, but doesn't know how to type them. He carries around a black address book in a bum bag with his contacts.
"[Cellphones] seem to be much harder than when I was out before," he notes. "You had these Nokias, which were quite easy."

What else is different in 2018?

Wickliffe, who is single, says women are bolder and more confident. "How can I put it? They're quite forward." The world has changed, and he is still adjusting.

What's next for Wickliffe is uncertain, but he knows one thing: "I don't feel I have to be a tough guy. I don't feel I have to be hostile to authorities. I don't feel I have to disrespect anybody."

He talks the talk, but can he walk it long-term? He sheepishly agrees the "proof is in the pudding".

"If I don't deliver on my own commitments to who I am today, then I'll let myself down, and everyone's got every right to say: 'Well, there we are. He was faking it'. And that's the last thing I want to do.

"I was a badass crim at one time, and I wasn't ashamed of that - but that's not who I am now."

www.deanwickliffe.co.nz