Review: Dead or in Prison by Yahu

Review by Margaret Craigie

Dead or in Prison is essential reading for anyone and everyone in NZ.

It may not have the same descriptive language of Dickens or Shakespeare, but it is definitely still a gripping read.  It is one of those books that you can’t put down, and left you wanting much more.

The book is written from the perspective of Yahu, a social worker who has himself lived through the trials of the people he is trying to help and is a reminder to society of what happens behind closed doors.   In all the circumstances that Yahu describes, I’m left wondering where the parents are.

Whereas Alan Duff’s book, ‘Once Were Warriors’, was fictional, ‘Dead or in Prison’ is of real stories, real people.

I found the following particularly hard-hitting.

[Bart pointing at a picture he drew.]  “This is me when I got locked in cupboards and hit in the head with a hammer.”


[Yahu] – “The kids actually looked after the babies while the adults smoked synthetics and weed and drank until they got evicted.”

These two passages in particular re-affirmed my opinion that some people simply do not deserve the privilege of having children.   We need to do more as a society to prevent unwanted offspring.  The aftermath is not a pretty sight.

I found the chapter on “Models of Practice” a bit puzzling.  For example, in describing Rereketanga, Yahu mentions “Ta = colour, DNA.   Nga = snarling, growling, gritting of teeth.  Everyone is unique in their genetic make-up, colour and shape.”

I am still rather confused as to how snarling or uniqueness relates to this or any other particular model.

It is worrying that Yahu’s postscript is a forecast of worse to come.  The cost to society will be huge in the prisons that it builds and staffs, and the circumstances of individuals already beyond what any one person should have to endure.

An excellent read.  8/10

Order Dead or in Prison from us now. RRP $30

dead or in prison front cover