Given that the show is in part geared toward creating an audience by shocking them (so we can snigger at those who incorrectly believe they have talent) one could be forgiven for seeing this as a cheap trick – at the expense of Brider’s victims.
But there is a more important narrative here, and it’s one of a young man moving on with his life, and us allowing him to do that. As tough as that will undoubtedly be for the family member of the dead man.
Brider’s crime, obviously, was a terrible thing and it was enough to see him locked away from society for six years.
And certainly it’s disappointing that Brider’s explanation of his part in events seems to have been, for lack of better words, a cop-out. Despite the “wrong place at the wrong time” story that he told on television, it looks clear enough that he wasn’t innocent. It’s equally disappointing for the victim’s family that no counterpoint was given to contrast against his version of the story, but on the X-Factor there’s hardly room for it. TV3 have rightly apologised – for that part of it, at least. That Brider is on the show is a good thing.
He did the best thing that we can hope for any prisoner to do: he used his time away to better himself, developing a unique musical style that the audience and judges obviously appreciated. Coming from a dysfunctional and gang-dominated lifestyle, he has (at least as far as we can see on TV) fixed his life up and become a good citizen with a real job and is making a musical contribution to society.
Much work goes into rehabilitating a prisoner, at the taxpayer’s expense. Brider is obvious evidence that we’re not wasting our time trying to help, and that change really is possible. And on release this needs to be encouraged rather than discouraged.
As many ex-prisoners will tell you, one of the hardest things about leaving prison is the stigma of being labelled as an offender – it can make it hard to find work and accommodation, effectively encouraging a return to crime. As Brider himself explained it, “"Since the jail sentence I used to get so far then there's another wall put there, and then again and then again and then again.”
As a community, it makes sense that we support our released prisoners in their efforts to become good citizens. Shae Brider, whatever his failings, seems to be doing that, and so far as we can tell, the New Zealand public is getting behind him. This may be very difficult for the victims left behind, but it is in the long term benefit of the country. Creating healthy citizens out of criminals means we are creating fewer future victims.