Matthew Hall written for NO magazine, published in
# 9 February 2010
The REINVENTION Issue
photo by Karen Inderbitzen-Waller
Prison is a place of heavy odds. But the odds that can be lifted, or shifted, can sometimes reveal a blinding lot of potential below.
In other words, there are a heap of Matt Halls in jail , who could win, but they are guys who have been given shit lives, with bad, bad odds. Many of them will never climb from their rut high enough for society to see them clearly. Many will never work, or be educated, or be happy . Some will live the majority of their lives within the prison system, and a small few will never leave it. But then, we have Matthew Hall . There but for the grace of god goes he.
It's my favourite round and round topic ; the question of why and how some people end up O.K and some don't. There is probably no single answer or explanation , but to offer hope you need to understand it , and I therefore think there is value in telling this kind of story .
Matt Hall is a name that has been synonymous with many things over the years , and he's the first to admit that those things have mostly been, well, pretty shit. His childhood nights were often spent in a dog kennel, cowering from the violence that daily life dished out, and his youth was spent paying it back; largely to unsuspecting strangers. Fourteen schools, long bouts of addiction, a term inside Rimutaka Prison's Violence Prevention Unit , deaths of friends to drugs , high speed chases and suicide ... you'd be forgiven for shaking your head and labelling Matt Hall doomed, for sure. Plenty of people have done just that. But this is a leopard who has well and truly changed his spots, a man who sits before me clean, proud and happy. With a head full of gratitude, and glass.
" I used to be famous for breaking it, not making it" he laughs, as we sit down to chat in the sunny garden of an immaculate home he shares with partner Morgan and a plethora of much adored fur babies. Matt's new love, glassblowing, is a mysterious discipline that he refers to by turn as " a dance" ," a dream" and " the perfect mistress." He first watched the delicate art in process when, at 12, he visited the studio of lifelong friend Luke Jacomb's father, John Croucher. " It was alchemy. It was unbelievable" he remembers ." I couldn't wrap my head around it."
Luke has gone on to become an internationally renowned master of the art, and Matt has caught the bug bad. He has become very good, relatively quickly, at glassblowing - and is now selling enough work to be able to focus on it full time. His work has recently been on display at Compendium Gallery in Auckland .
There are elements of glassblowing that seem to speak strongly of life mirroring art. It is a very old, intensely difficult and precarious process. It's not for the faint of heart. " When I'm doing it.. when I first open the furnace.. it's confronting, and frightening" Matt explains. " And once you've done a stage.. you can't go back and fix it. There are endless possibilities.. but when you think you've created the perfect piece, there's every chance that when you finish ... it won't be in one piece anymore. The art is in the process. It's one of the only art forms left where you have to start froom scratch. We collect the sand, the hot ash, all the raw ingredients... and as separate things, they are nasty... but once you've melted it together, it's harmless. I've learnt a lot of patience."
I can't help but ask if he thinks of the process philosophically at all, if it makes him look at his life. " Yeah" he enthuses. " You know, the guy I train under is Buddhist. And his mentor, once he saw my friend at work with glass, told him - you don't need to come to church anymore. This is your church."
That's a pretty meaningful sentiment, coming from a guy who used to believe in nothing other than his own sure demise. " I never thought I'd live this long. I was a sick baby, I was never meant to be here anyway. So every day is a freebie" . After serving time , he tried the straight and narrow , ditching thug life for a suit . But it didn't feel right. " I always knew I'd be a criminal or a businessman - one or the other" he says, describing his stint as a car salesman for a fancy Auckland yard. " But I guess I realized I had more to offer people than affordable weekly payments" . " Thank God " I respond - because there really can be no brighter new beginning than the one he has embarked on.
" If I ever had to give advice" says Matt Hall, " I would say find something that you like doing, that you really love. And do it. You wont make money straight away, but if you do it, and you enjoy it, sooner or later you' ll be good at it, because you enjoy it, and people will see that. And you'll start to reap the rewards. People look too close in front. You gotta look further on. You can upskill your job or whatever and, in a short time, be someone else . And if someone's young and interested - it's a rarity these days, and its quite precious - people will take you onboard. If you're keen, and you show up on time and shit, it will happen for you. You never know how the world's working behind your back." Is he finished ? No." Oh - and get a dog."
So there was a dog at the beginning of Matt's days, and it looks like there'll be one till the end. When he first had dog Pete as a puppy ( taking him from some guys at a park who'd found a litter) , everyone who knew Matt ( including me) wondered the same thing - with no ability to look after himself, how was he going to take care of a dog?
I look at Pete, now eight years old and the most intelligent, well trained and adored animal I have ever met, and Matt says ; " we've never looked back." Which is where I beg to differ, because I think he's looked back a lot , and maybe that's the secret. A young man learning from his past , who has made a very authentic kind of peace with life. " I was lucky, I think, to run myself into the ground before I had anything to lose. We are so lucky to live in New Zealand... the land of the 20th chance - people should embrace that. You can do some bad stuff in your life, learn your lessons, and still be considered a valuable member of society. And I think that's dope."