Tuesday 25 March, 2014:
Michael doesn’t show yesterday, and then I get a text at 1 am:
Hey ms its michael
I don’t reply. I want to go back to sleep, and there aren’t many people I’d get up for in the middle of the night.
Another text comes while I’m at school:
Im stuck in carthill ms if your not busy today can you pick me up nd we sort out that warrant,
I think about this for a while, not really knowing if I should make an effort – or if I should just let him sort it out himself and get here when he can. Like I said, I don’t really know Michael. But he used to come and see Tau, and he was never any trouble round here. That’s something I remember, this morning. He was always friendly and polite to me, and he was one of the boys who didn’t bring trouble around. Not like those hangers-on, looking for a place to drink or do any old shit. I never once needed to tell him how it was.
And he did look out for Tau – ok, not to the tune of 10K. But he bought food and stuff; I know, because Tau told me. He cared about Tau, and no matter what’s happened since then, that I’m sure of.
So, I’m not rushing off anywhere, but after the gym I can put some gas in the car and go to Carthill. I text Michael back to say so:
Hey michael im busy after school until around 5:30 but could come get u after tht
As Kepaoa always said: ‘A favour for a favour’. And how I frickin miss that egg Kepaoa, sometimes, straight up.
And also just because… you know, whenever I help somebody out, it’s always and at the same time for Tau, too. I can’t really explain how it’s like that, but it’s the way it is.
‘Sweet as give me a text ms,’ Michael replies.
Michael brings an even bigger stack of papers with him today: lists of fines as long as your arm. They’re all in a plastic bag, he must have just stuffed them in there and let them accumulate.
They turn out to be mostly traffic infringements: speeding tickets, no current rego or warrant, and breach of learner license conditions. Often incurred on the same day, too. The first thing I do is sort them into categories (no-one has done this yet, and it’s my inital attempt at creating some order from the chaos).
I find that there are quite a few duplicate copies of the paperwork for each incident. These I staple together, so that I can trace the sequence of communications regarding the various offences. Some of the documents are not, as Michael imagined, notices of additional fines, but reminders about the original non-payment. I do a bit of rough adding up and tell him: “If that’s the whole lot, then it looks like around 1500 dollars.”
“1500?” says Michael, with actual shock. “I thought it was way more than that. I was sure I owed about 10 grand.”
“Well… there might be more, I’m not sure,” I say. “But just going by what we’ve got here, it looks like it might not be as bad as you thought.”
There’s only one way to find out. I get the 0800 number for the Ministry of Justice, and dial it. Of course I’m put on hold straight away, so Michael comes and sits next to me, and waits. I’m starting to get an idea of where he is with things, and really, my heart goes out to him. At any rate, he’s starting to look a little relieved, just to see his papers stapled into neat piles, and to have me holding the line to the MOJ.
“Thanks Miss,” he keeps on saying. “I couldn’t do it by myself. I wanted to… but I didn’t know who to call, or what to say.”
“Well that’s ok,” I tell him. “I’m pretty good at this kind of stuff… it’ll all get sorted, you’ll see.”
“I remembered you were,” he says.
And it’s true – I am pretty good at this stuff. God knows why, but I can just hop in and do it without a qualm. I’m never quite sure how to proceed either, before I begin. But you can betcha bank roll that if there’s a way, I’m going to find it. I’m confident of that, and I guess it shows.
Eventually someone comes on the line at the call centre. I explain myself briefly, saying I’m ringing for someone else, he wants me to discuss unpaid fines on his behalf – I say I’ll put him on the line shortly so he can verify the details.
First she asks if we have a ‘PS number’ – which we do – it’s on one of the letters. I give it to her, and she looks it up: so far so good. Next she asks what my role is, and I tell her I’m Michael’s support person, as he’s under 18. Am I a family member?, she wants to know next. I reply, just gently (because Michael is right there), that there has been a ‘family breakdown’. I mention that I used to be his teacher, at high school. This isn’t strictly the case I guess, but it’s close enough.
It seems to be ok with her, which is a good sign. She tells me I can put him on the line to verify his details and my own. He needs my full name and date of birth, so I write them down for him, and Michael reads the information out carefully. I can see that his rambly and slightly grandiose energy is calming down.
Then he passes the phone back, saying, “She says she can talk to you now, Miss.”
It turns out Michael owes just over $1600 all up. Seeing as he’s only 17 and has no source of income, she’s willing to put his fines and his warrant on hold for a month, while we try two methods of resolving payment. One is to apply for the Independent Youth Benefit. This could take a while – and even then, it’s by no means a done deal. But when and if he receives the benefit, and informs the MOJ, they can begin automatic deductions of twenty dollars a week. The other possibility, which hasn’t even occurred to me – is to go to the District Court and ask to get Michael’s fines transferred into PD hours (again, seeing as he has no source of income).
She even says that if we want to speak to her directly, we can ask the call centre operator to email her, and she’ll get back to us. “I have teenage kids myself,” she adds, and then,“Just tell him everything’s going to be alright.”
I’m touched by this. “Thank you,” I say. “I will.”
I do tell Michael, and he looks stunned, saying, “There’s good people everywhere, aye Miss.”
“Yes,” I agree. “Even when you least expect it.”
“Miss, I’m happy as, right now,” says Michael. “I haven’t been happy for ages.” And as we walk out to the car, “Hey, I can go out on the street now without being arrested!” he exclaims in joy.