A $70,000 postcard

A $70,000 postcard

It was a simple postcard from a teacher to a student.

But what if the student is not so innocent? What if he is a prisoner? If that's the case, then a few words on a piece of cardboard can cost a lot.

Lynda Hill was teaching literacy and numeracy at Whanganui Prison. It was a tough environment, but one she relished.

Four years ago she took leave to go to London to meet her new grandson and was inspired to write home to one of her students behind bars.

"I had often studied and talked about architecture. There was one young gang member, his ambition back in prison was to build a home for his father," says Ms Hill.

But the prison manager didn't like what she wrote.

Corrections found Ms Hill had breached it's 'nothing in, nothing out' policy.

Ms Hill knew about the policy but had no problem with it. She didn't think a postcard would be included in that.

"Not from 12,000 miles away when it was going through their censor system and to the unit and then eventually to the prisoner. If I'd taken something in it would have been handed directly over and I wouldn't have done that," Ms Hill says.

But prison staff wondered if Ms Hill was passing messages to prisoners.

She was banned from the prison workforce development and the agency she was contracted to sacked her.

Ms Hill took them to the Employment Relations Authority and was awarded $11,128 in lost wages and $8,000 compensation.

But that was overturned by the Court of Appeal who ruled they had not breached their obligations.

Last month Ms Hill had to pay them $43,500 in legal costs – all this from one postcard.

Out of work, she was forced to sell up and move back to Auckland.

Though she now has a postcard-perfect view, she pines for Whanganui and a job she loved.

"It wasn't just a job it was more than a job for me," says Ms Hill.

It's a big price to pay for a postcard that never reached its destination, but corrections says it crossed a line and should never have been sent.