COMMENT:

Phew – we have finally seen another angle to the Sroubek case. There had to be one. There always is.

As much as a former prisoner can comment on character, I am going to try, because I think there is an overwhelmingly sad and vindictive righteousness playing out in this whole sorry saga.

I'm not attempting to defend a convicted drug dealer. There is no defence. We are a civilised society and we see this best when we make decisions as we did to re-enter Pike River. Rightly, prisoners have few rights but they are not zero.

Advertisement

We have now seen his mother reveal how her son's marriage has failed. Despite getting married only six months prior to his sentencing Karel's marriage ended. It's easy to understand how this happens and we have to have sympathy for the innocent family of prisoners – they pay a huge price.

And it begins to seem to me that this could be a marriage bust-up gone bad. Within two days of placing a caveat to protect his significantly diminished interest in a marital property and his parents' loans toward a joint business, things go downhill.

The decision that had been made six weeks earlier not to deport Karel was made public at the point that the caveat was lodged. Parliament goes into an uproar and New Zealand latches onto it with a frenzy.

In New Zealand, there are about 10,000 divorces every year but I doubt few have been so brutal and the fallout received such scrutiny. It dominated Parliamentary question time and at times even overtook coverage of the Royal Tour.

It's the stuff of a Netflix series: drugs, prison, love and love lost ... and revenge.

Much has also been made about Sroubek's return to the Czech Republic nine years ago. But his mother has now told us that her only child was in Germany on business and slipped across the border to his former home to see his parents under his false name of Jan Antolik. Despite this, his parents were so convinced of the danger to his life that they sent him away inside of 24 hours.

Rightly this alias has been exposed but in doing so his possible deportation as Karel Sroubek now obviously places his life in grave danger.

The whole thing descended into farce when during Parliamentary question time the suggestion was made that Sroubek could be linked to his house being burgled – this despite the fact that it was vacant and Karel was in prison. I suspect a more straight forward reason – that it was a vacant dwelling exposed to any passing opportunist.

If those making the claim were truly concerned and had proof then surely the responsible thing would be to provide the facts they know to the Police so that they can investigate?

If they haven't then it needs to be seen for what it appears to be – a cheap political stunt.

This is all history. I'm sure we would all prefer to be judged by our actions today rather than our mistakes of the past. Maybe I can help here.  I served 12 months of my sentence for tax fraud in the same six-person residence as Karel Sroubek. I spent 17 hours a day with him so got to know him quite well.

Within prison I also got to read many prisoners' sentencing notes as I helped them prepare for their parole hearings. It was in this capacity that I got to read Karel's file that included the 2011 ruling from Judge Roy Wade who discharged him without conviction. At the time, this Judge was clearly satisfied about concerns for Karel's safety if he were to be deported.

There's highly emotionally charged language about him being a "gangster".

There's no doubt he has done some highly unsavoury things that no one can begin to defend but the person I saw was anything but a gangster (I know gangsters – I saw plenty in prison and Karel wasn't one). There's also an irony in this as the reason he had to escape the Czech Republic in 2003 was because he testified against a gangster and his life was threatened.

He is classified as a low security prisoner. Hardly the status of a gangster. It's not just low it is less than 50% of that qualifies him for any rehabilitation programs. He currently works at the Placemakers workshop within the prison walls but here's the clincher – he has fully embraced yoga as a life-skill and is now learning to teach it. It may seem far-fetched but the man I saw was a yogi and not a gangster.

With his immigration status unresolved, the Parole Board declined his parole application in September but the decision to decline his parole ran counter to a prison psychologist assessment that described his risk of reoffending as being low. They also accepted his release plan as being credible and acknowledged his good behaviour.

I am wanting to get on with my life after prison and don't want to fight pointless battles from a time I want to put behind me. I have seen the underside of our country and seen its worst. We need to judge ourselves by the height of our troughs rather than the height of our peaks, and down in this trough I hope we can see this issue for what it appears to be.

Alex Swney was released from prison 17 months ago having served 12 months of his sentence in the same unit as Karel Sroubek.