By David Cohen*
Opinion - Twentieth time lucky for Arthur William Taylor - although perhaps not quite as lucky for the royal commission of inquiry into historical abuse that could yet be the next forum for New Zealand's self-styled jailhouse lawyer now that he's a free man.
He had served 17.5 years for charges of explosives, firearms, kidnapping and conspiracy to supply methamphetamine, among 150 convictions.
His escapes over the years have also been legendary, including one much-publicised episode 21 years ago that saw swathes of the Coromandel in lockdown while the police searched for him and a fellow absconder, the double-killer Graeme Burton.
Mr Taylor has spent all but four years of his adult life behind bars.
His sentences have been long. Longer still have been the paragraphs of law he has absorbed while on the inside, which he has gone on to parlay with some success in court in a number of high-profile cases, including ones over the smoking ban in prisons and the right of prisoners to vote.
Those skills may yet be in evidence again when the royal commission of inquiry into historical abuse finally starts.
For all his better-known public activity, one of the subjects that most exercises Arthur Taylor continues to be a small institution from a far-off time: Epuni Boys' Home north of Wellington, which is where he believes he received his criminal apprenticeship.
Epuni, which ran for 30 years from the late 1950s, was one of the 26 state-run institutions that will be the major a focus of the long-delayed inquiry.
Mr Taylor spent three periods at the Epuni residence, the first being for a few months in 1968. His parents had been as startled as he had been, he later said, when a social worker arrived to take him away after he was caught skipping a few classes at school.
"I have many good memories," he later said of the institution, "all of leaving the place".
Read more about NZ's state care institutions:
This he usually did by running away, usually also taking the odd item from somebody's garden or back shed as he went. The offending escalated by degrees, as did his attitude.
Eventually, the 13-year-old clocked a supervisor with a rake, which led to him being sent to a psychiatric hospital in Porirua.
It was there, drugged to the eyeballs, he says, that the appeal of a criminal lifestyle finally crystallised and the meter starting ticking. His various stints inside over the subsequent decades have cost the taxpayer well in excess of $3 million.
"I'm not saying it was some kind of evil enterprise set up to destroy young lives," he said.
"But that's effectively what happened because, really, they didn't know what they were doing in running these places for what they thought of as little criminals. The little criminals who became the big criminals."
Given his abiding passion for the matter, his undoubted legal flair and now well-polished media skills, it seems highly doubtful Mr Taylor will maintain a low profile at such a time as the long-delayed royal commission.
Watch Checkpoint's interview with Arthur Taylor:
* David Cohen is a Wellington journalist and the author of Little Criminals - the title of which was taken from a conversation with Arthur Taylor.