From Japanese prison stay to children’s poetry book, a rugby player’s hard lesson in life
Robyn Edie / Stuff
Southland Stags locks down Joel Everson and his family, his wife Sophie, the kids, Pippa, 5, right, Billy 3 and George 5 months, take a look at the children’s book Paul the Dinosaur written by Joel.
Joel Everson has a story to tell.
It’s a story that began with a dark 23-day stay in a Japanese prison and led him to write children’s poetry books.
Everson was playing professional rugby in the Japanese Top League last year when he was given a hard lesson in life.
The 2-meter-high, 120-kg lock was shut down in the early hours of a March morning in central Toyko.
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Police reportedly saw the New Zealand rugby player walking and behaving in unusual ways. He was given a urine sample, which showed he had used cocaine.
His sentence was 23 days in a Japanese prison. Japanese Top League officials took seriously the fact that they suspended all competition while it was under investigation.
“It was really embarrassing, the whole situation. Let down the family, the whole rugby community, and to some extent [New Zealand] also.”
Everson spent 23 days in prison alone, much of it with his own thoughts to confront.
His wife Sophie was able to send him notes, but they had to be translated into Japanese for prison staff to read.
A friend was able to visit him, but the couple had to communicate in Japanese.
During the 23 days of reflection at the Old Canterbury Lock, her children were at the forefront of her mind.
This prompted him to start writing. His three-year-old son Billy loves dinosaurs, so in his prison cell Everson wrote the story of Paul the dinosaur.
The 31-year-old father of three has always been interested in poetry, listening to poetic nursery rhymes and listening to rap music.
“It’s something therapeutic when the words fit together, when they flow. In a way, it’s pretty satisfying, I guess.
In November 2020, Paul the dinosaur, written in a Japanese prison, was published in New Zealand.
“It serves as a good reminder. It’s not the perfect book, there are a few mistakes, but I’m proud of it.
Everson also wrote a story for his five-year-old daughter, Pippa, while she was in prison in Japan, and he plans to publish it as well.
Wife Sophie was proud of Everson’s response to the difficult time in her life.
“It’s great that he was able to turn a bad situation into a good one. A lot of people would fall apart with where he was. I was just worried about his sanity more than anything.
Everson said it was fitting that it was Mental Health Awareness Week that he was sharing his own battles mentally.
He doesn’t believe he had the right tools around him to deal with the situation he found himself in following his “slip” last year.
Everson knew he was the reason he ended up in the ‘naughty-box’, but he felt the New Zealand rugby community needed to find better ways to support struggling offshore players.
“I don’t think my case is isolated. There must be more tools for foreign players, in terms of support. “
After a stint in France, Everson returned to New Zealand in July to play for the Southland Stags in the national provincial championship.
Rugby Southland Professional Development Director and Mental Skills Coach Jason McKenzie is proud of who Everson has become.
McKenzie praised his willingness to follow his passion, his poetic writing, and said he has provided a positive example for young players with where he is now.
“He’s been genuine to himself and his family, and that’s who we are.”
Where to get help
1737, Need to talk? Call or text 1737 anytime for help from a qualified advisor
Safety rope – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 in Auckland
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Suicidal crisis helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
What’s new – 0800 942 8787 (for 5-18 year olds). Telephone consultations are available Monday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. and weekends, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. The online chat is available every day from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Children line – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
Anxiety New Zealand – 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
Rural support trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL AID)
Support families with mental illness – 0800 732 825