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Real Life

Real life: I fell in love with a prison inmate and we're happier than ever

Friends warned me to be careful, but I saw Dylan for who he really was.

By Mitchell Jordan

Justine Hamill, 43, Wellington, NZ shares her unique love story:

I rolled up my yoga mat and waved goodbye to the last of my students.
Once the room was empty, I called my best friend.
"So there's this guy..." I began excitedly.
"Justine, you've gotta have boundaries," my friend said.
I sighed knowingly.
As a yoga teacher of more than a decade, I was always extremely professional. Especially in my classes, which weren't with your run-of-the-mill yoga clients.
Once a week I volunteered at Rimutaka Prison's Drug and Alcohol Treatment Unit, instructing the inmates.
Growing up, some of my relatives had gone to jail and I felt truly sorry for the blokes who ended up behind bars just because they didn't know any better.
One of them was Dylan, a recovering addict who'd grown up in gangs. He had instantly caught my attention.
Talking to him was easy – there was something about his honesty and caring nature. He was also pretty cute, with his olive skin, dark hair and tattoos.
This was his third stint in the clink for dishonesty- related crimes and he desperately wanted to turn his life around.
"I want to know why I'm like this," he said at the start of class when we all offloaded what was on our minds.
My heart broke for him.
He'd never really been given a chance. Surrounded by thugs since day one, crime was all he'd ever known.
I could tell from the determination on his face that he really did want to break free from the vicious cycle.
He was a natural at yoga and I was sure that if he put his mind to it, he could start afresh.
We were so thrilled just to be together. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
I'd had my own battles, too. Yoga helped me overcome an alcohol addiction, and I was eventually able to set a good example for my three kids.
Dylan and I continued talking and, over time, I realised I liked him more than just a client or a friend.
It didn't bother me that he was a criminal: I wasn't the type to judge.
But I wondered if it was foolish to hope the feeling was reciprocal.
For all I knew, he just enjoyed doing yoga!
Six months passed before Dylan received news he was being transferred to another prison four hours away.
It felt bittersweet: I was happy he was on the home stretch of his sentence, but I wouldn't see him anymore.
"If you need any references when you apply for parole, let me know," I told him.
"Thanks for everything," he smiled.
Days later, he called to say he'd be released in the coming year.
It was so nice to hear his voice again.
Shortly after, a letter arrived.
Is it okay if I write to you? Dylan asked me.
Our conversations had always been about his release and things he wanted to achieve in the future, but through our letters, we started sharing personal details.
He cheered me on when I received my award. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Each week, I'd rush to the mailbox, receiving up to three letters from Dylan.
He also rang me when he could.
It's time to be honest with him, I thought.
"I like you as more than a friend," I gulped, hoping I hadn't confused his warmth for more.
"I feel the same," he replied.
You are the sweetest thing, a gift. Loyal, true, magic, guardian ... these are some of the words when I think of you, he wrote to me.
Elated, I drove to his new prison to see him.
Hugging him for the first time was pure joy – but we were only allowed that one embrace and a kiss.
We were supervised and couldn't even hold hands, but at least I could focus solely on Dylan for a whole hour.
He revealed he'd been in two long-term relationships before and was a dad to six kids. "But no-one's ever loved me like you," he told me.
I felt the same.
Months passed and Dylan was sent back to Rimutaka Prison, an hour from me.
It was great to have him closer, but it went against my ethics to continue volunteering there now we were a couple, so I stopped teaching classes there.
"When you get out, I'll be waiting for you," I promised Dylan.
And, one year after we met, that's exactly where I was.
We know we made the right choice. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
He left prison with nothing more than his thongs, the clothes on his back and piece of paper.
We spent the next night in a B&B celebrating our new life before he moved in with me.
I know that it might seem dangerous to fall in love with a criminal, but you can't tar all prisoners with the same brush.
Dylan made a mistake and I knew better than anyone just how far he'd come.
When I told my relatives about our relationship, they were understanding.
"If you trust him, he must be a good bloke," one said.
Dylan's thriving in his new job as a builder and we've bought a house together.
When I won the Yoga and Mind Body Instructor of the Year award, he was cheering me on. "I'm so proud of you, babe," he said.
Truth is, I'm even more proud of him. Many men wouldn't even be alive if they'd gone through all he had.
We hope to marry some day.
I'm sharing my story because I feel that society is very quick to judge people.
Everyone has the potential to change if they have support.
I'm thrilled my yoga classes pushed Dylan in the right direction – towards me and a better life.
Our story is a reminder that true love really does conquer all.
We're building a better life together. (Image exclusive to Take 5)

Dylan, 33, tells take 5:

Justine's an awesome lady. In the beginning, she went out of her way big time to help me.
I'd spent the past five years working on improving my outlook, so she entered my life at the right time – it was a blessing.
It's people like her that make the world a better place.

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