When Nicole Sutorius was deported from Australia at the age of 32, she was blindsided.
Now, the 49-year-old admits being deported as a 501 probably saved her life.
But after almost 20 years with no offending in New Zealand, she doesn’t understand why she is not allowed back into Australia, not even to grieve.
“Murderers in prison in Australia get day release to go to funerals. I wasn’t allowed back for my own father’s funeral, even if I paid for my own security.”
In New Zealand, the group of deportees is known as 501s, after the character section of the Australian Migration Act allowing their visas to be cancelled.
Non-Australian citizens sentenced to 12 months in prison are subject to deportation – no matter how long since they completed their sentence.
To her knowledge she is one of the first people ever deported under the 501 scheme when she was sent back to New Zealand in the early 2000s.
The 501 deporting scheme had been in legislation since 1958, but Sutorius said when she was deported, nobody was aware it existed.
“I don’t know anyone else who came earlier than me.”
The adopted little sister of the notorious Mark “Chopper” Read, who was a key player in the criminal underworld in Melbourne, Sutorius has lived a colourful life.
Moving from New Zealand to Australia when she was 10, Sutorius said she was molested as a child in New Zealand.
When she got to Australia she didn’t know how to process what had happened to her, and she didn’t want to tell anyone, so she started to act out.
Two days after her 14th birthday she was put into a youth training centre, known in New Zealand as youth justice residences, for running away too frequently.
“Back then they put the runaways with criminals, so that’s kind of where the cycle began.”
Through a friend she made at the centre she met Read, who she said started to look out for her.
“He always kept an eye out and kept people watching me.”
Her longest sentence before her deportation crime was six months, with most of her charges drug-related incidents.
Heroin was her drug of choice, but she said since her return to New Zealand she tried drugs once, and hasn’t touched them since.
While she managed to get her life together, she said she could see how others could not.”
“It’s a life sentence but worse.
“Say I got a life sentence in Australia, I would still have access to my mum, my dad.
“I would have been able to go to my dad’s funeral, my brother’s, my stepdad’s.
“You can’t reach out for a hug, ever.”
More than half of the people deported to New Zealand from Australia have committed a criminal offence since their return, and 20 per cent have been convicted for violent offending, police data obtained by Stuff via an Official Information Act request shows.
The data reveals 54 per cent (1284 people) have committed a criminal offence since arriving in New Zealand, 20.5 per cent have been convicted of a violence offence since arriving back (487 people), 16 per cent convicted for offences involving dishonesty (381 people) and 13.23 per cent convicted for offences labelled as drugs and anti-social (314 people).
Sutorius thought people might not be as tempted to reoffend back in New Zealand if they got a better kick-start on arrival.
“More help, more people understanding where they have come from, what they are going to have to deal with.
“Nobody tells you what you’re going to have to deal with and what you’re never going to get again.
“Everyone is human … everyone can change if they want to, they just need to have the right incentive.”
She said her worst conviction came about after she had aged out of the youth system in Australia and went with one of Chopper’s best friends to tell a guy to get out of Melbourne.
“The guy came out punching, and I was trying to throw a letter opener at him, and he didn’t know I got him and I didn’t know I got him until a helicopter came, and I ended up stabbing him in the kidney.”
She was remanded to a women’s prison in Melbourne and, while there, was attacked by eight woman, leaving her with frontal lobe dysfunction.
Sutorius was originally sentenced to about 20 months for the incident, but on appeal she managed to get the sentence reduced to one year.
“That was all they needed [to deport me].”
When she was released from prison she was sent a file that contained her criminal history and told her she was going to be deported.
“I was just laughing because no-one had heard of it, and it never happened and no-one I spoke to had heard of it.”
Then one morning she woke up and her house was surrounded by police.
“I thought, thank goodness, for once I have not done anything wrong.”
“They said: ‘We’re here to take you, you’re being deported.’
“I wasn’t allowed to even put shoes on.”
She was taken to Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre and was there for 12 days before she was put on a plane.
“I contacted my lawyer, and she didn’t even know what to do.”
She was flown back to Auckland and her dad arrived shortly after, staying with her for four days.
After that, she was on her own.
“It was hard, it was really, really hard.
“I thought I was going to spiral and just go really bad.”
Yet, the opposite happened.
Sutorius moved into a boarding house and started to work there, before moving to a job in a call centre.
“The one good thing about being deported is you get a clean slate.”
She said to this day she still isn’t sure what made her a target, and she thinks it must have been her relationship with Chopper.
“There was a lot worse people than me they could have sent back.”
However, she knows she put herself in this position.
“Even though I didn’t know the consequences, and I have to own them and get on with my life.”
Now living in Te Puke near a kiwifruit orchard, it’s a slower-paced life for Sutorius.
She’s looking for work and raising two puppies while living with her partner.
Her mum is still alive and living in Australia while her biological brother is a police officer in America.
Sutorius doesn’t have anything to do with him.
“He became a cop because of the s–t that I put him through.
“I’m glad I had a good influence on him and not a really bad one, as it could have gone either way.”
She said it was hard leaving her past behind her as people still think she is that person.
But to her, she looks back and doesn’t know who that person is.