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Relationships

Love behind bars: The woman who fell for notorious inmate Arthur Taylor

“No, I’m not one of those crazy women who write to men in prison, and no, I wasn’t looking for love. I’ve gone into this with my eyes wide open.”

It's an unlikely love story that began last summer with an innocent message sent 13,000km between Canada and New Zealand. She was a young, bright, middle-class law student in British Columbia and he was an old-school career criminal nearly 30 years her senior, behind bars in the high-security A-block at Paremoremo Prison in New Zealand.
Their first communication was on the finer points of the law, but an online meeting of the minds between Tui Hartman and high-profile prisoner Arthur Taylor soon blossomed into love.
"I know it sounds bizarre," says Tui, a 33-year-old honey-haired beauty, who was born in British Columbia to a Canadian mother and a Kiwi father.
"No, I'm not one of those crazy women who write to men in prison, and no, I wasn't looking for love. I've gone into this with my eyes wide open."
Tui was in her first year of law school when she reached out to Taylor on Facebook.
Tui and her imprisoned fiancé Taylor have agreed to share the remarkable story of their union exclusively with Woman's Day. Tui, who moved from Canada to New Zealand in January, is sporting an impressive diamond ring and engaged to marry a 61-year-old who is arguably this country's most notorious criminal.
The loved-up pair plan to tie the knot as soon as Taylor is released from prison – which is not until 2022, unless he convinces the Parole Board to free him earlier.
"For me, this is bittersweet," says Tui. "I'm happy I found Arthur, but it's not easy having the person you love behind bars – you can't just roll over and tell them you love them."
Tui is living in her father's vacant house in a small coastal community in the North Island, but to safeguard her privacy, Woman's Day agrees to meet at a nearby township. During lunch, Taylor calls Tui from prison three times. Each time she answers her cellphone, her face softens and her eyes well with tears.
"Hi, I miss you too. We haven't talked as much as we normally do today," she whispers.
Arthur Taylor has spent nearly four decades in prison.
For the couple, phone calls, handwritten letters and a Facebook site managed by Taylor's contact are their lifelines. This summer, Taylor was relocated to Waikeria Prison in the Waikato and every weekend, Tui drives six hours each way to spend two precious hours with him.
"I remember every line on his face," Tui tells us. "When you don't get to see the person you love whenever you want, you treasure everything about them."
An only child, Tui grew up in Ontario, in a loving and comfortable home. "I didn't know anyone in prison and I'd never been to prison before I met Arthur – it wasn't part of my life," she reveals.
She was a high-achieving student, but easily bored. After leaving school, she worked a number of jobs – in her parents' restaurant, as a store person, in a slaughterhouse and on a dairy farm – before she returned to education in her mid-20s.
Maximum security Paremoremo Prison.
"I had a boyfriend who was accused of doing something he didn't do and for him, it led to a bout of depression," recalls Tui. "I guess you could say my sense of justice kicked in."
She qualified as a paralegal, then enrolled in law school. In the first semester of her first year at university, a friend told Tui about a man on the other side of the world called Arthur Taylor, who was fighting for his rights, and the rights of others, from behind bars.
"I sent him a message on Facebook, saying, 'Hi, I'm Tui, I'm studying law and can I ask you for guidance on a case I am looking at?'
"I know it sounds weird, but I thought, here was this man doing some amazing stuff in constitutional and administrative law and I wanted to connect."
While she waited for a reply, Tui did a Google search. "Of course I did, I'm not stupid! And I looked him up and went, 'Wow!'"
Waikeria prison where Taylor has recently been transferred.
At last count, Taylor had 152 criminal convictions for a variety of offences, including unlawful possession of firearms, aggravated robbery, theft, burglary and escaping from custody.
Within a day, Taylor responded with an answer to Tui's legal question. "Brilliant," she says simply. "His mind is brilliant – everything he told me was 100% accurate."
Soon they were messaging daily and within weeks, Tui was approved by the Department of Corrections to take Taylor's phone calls.
"I was guarded at first," says Tui with a shy smile. "I may be loving and kind, but I'm not a pushover and I'm far too old to be getting mucked around."
Slowly their talk shifted to non-legal matters, and Tui and Arthur discovered uncanny similarities – a love of hokey pokey ice-cream, swimming, and hiking.
Tui enjoyed a happy childhood in Ontario.
"There wasn't a light-bulb moment, but I could feel myself falling for him," confesses Tui.
"The age wasn't an issue, but I had spent a lot of quiet time asking myself, 'Are you sure?' I am a private person and he's notorious. He has a long criminal record and I want a career in the law. I had to ask myself, 'Is this worth it?'"
Tui's friends and family warned her to be careful, and she did her homework on Taylor – reading his nine-page rap sheet, psychological reports and a 2011 Human Rights Review Tribunal decision that confirms he doesn't have any convictions involving physical or emotional harm against women or children.
Finally, it was Tui who suggested they take the next step. "I 100% pursued Arthur Taylor," she laughs.
Tui gave up her study, her job prospects and her life in Canada to move to New Zealand to be closer to him "It was terrifying, but the best decision I've ever made."
Until then, however, there was no guarantee the couple had the chemistry for a physical relationship. Their first meeting at Waikeria Prison in January this year is a day Tui will never forget.
"I didn't need to worry about chemistry. He walked in wearing his orange jumpsuit. He was so handsome – God, he was gorgeous!" gushes Tui.
"It took everything not to jump across the table and attack him."
That first meeting, she says, was simply "magic".
"We were in a weird situation, but it was just like the whole world dropped away and it was just him and me. He is the most compassionate and empathetic man I've ever met. I didn't know men were capable of that level of love," she says, with tears in her eyes.
Since that first meeting, the highlight of Tui's week is her precious two hours with Taylor in a stark concrete visitors' room.
"Afterwards, I don't leave straight away. I drive outside the gates and pull over, and compose myself – I don't like driving upset."
It's a long drive home again and because Taylor worries about her on the open road, he bought her a car with a top-line safety rating.
Back on the coast, Tui lives alone and leads a quiet life – working part-time in a garden centre and volunteering in a legal-aid type clinic. As her partner's hands in the outside world, she helps him with his many legal ventures.
"I'm new to this scene," admits Tui, who doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and sports only a tiny tattoo of a tui bird on her abdomen. "But Arthur's family and friends are good people, and they've given me a huge amount of support and love."
Most days, Tui FaceTimes or talks to her mother back in Ontario. "Arthur is my best friend, but my mother is my best female friend," she says.
Although Tui's family members were at first concerned about her choice of partner, she says they have largely come around to the idea.
And on February 4 this year, Tui had some exciting news to share with her mum – Taylor asked her to marry him during a regular weekend visit at Waikeria.
"I said, 'Yes, yes, yes!" she remembers, her eyes brimming with tears. "If I say something three times, you know it's important – it's just a weird thing I've always done."
Although Taylor has been married once before, for Tui the celebration will be a first.
After announcing the engagement last month on Facebook, she says they have had only positive feedback, but the pair have agreed to hold off on the celebrations until Taylor is released from prison.
"We don't want to get married behind bars," she explains.
"As well as the wedding, there are so many things we are looking forward to doing when he gets out – swimming, hiking and Arthur wants to teach me how to ride a bike."
The engagement ring was paid for by Taylor and picked up by Tui.
Taylor already has three children, including an 11-year-old daughter he claims was conceived after his sperm was smuggled out of Rimutaka Prison by a prison guard, although the Department of Corrections denies this is true.
Tui and Taylor are planning another two children together.
Although Taylor's criminal record is likely to exclude him from practising law, Tui plans to finish her degree so they can set up a practice in human rights law.
"If we hadn't found each other, I think we would still both go in that direction, but by the grace of God, we are now going to do it together."
For Tui, any mention of Taylor makes her face light up. The public may know him as a criminal, but she says she's seen a softer side.
And while she's hoping to have her fiancé in her arms sooner rather than later, Tui declares she is in it for the long haul.
"You don't give up on real love," she says with a smile. "I would wait forever for Arthur Taylor."

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