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Aaron James's story

Aaron spent his teenage years in Brisbane in the 1990s. He described himself as a ‘bit of a hoodlum … Smoked a lot of pot, went to a few different schools. Both parents were separated, they kicked me out when I was 15’.

He was hanging out and drinking with some friends one evening when the cops picked him up and took him to a youth detention centre. When staff at the centre tried to strip-search Aaron, he ‘reared up’ and started ‘being a bit of a smartarse’. The guards responded by bashing and sexually assaulting him.

‘I just remember getting knocked about … and then stripped naked and basically something stuck up me arse. Thrown into a room after that.’

Aaron spent several days at the centre before he was taken to court and then put back out on the street. Sometime later he was picked up for something – a drug offence he thinks or maybe a ‘failure to appear’ – and was sentenced to a year in another youth detention centre.

Here Aaron suffered humiliating strips searches and repeated physical abuse. He described how the guards would grab a random victim from among the boys so that they could practise their restraint techniques. Also ‘they’d have the Kangaroo cricket stumps, they’re like hard plastic yellow stumps. And they’d let one of us out and they’d chase us around the lounge room belting us with them’.

On top of all this, Aaron got hit with a painful medical problem early in his sentence but staff ignored his pleas for treatment for 10 months. When they finally took him to see a specialist, Aaron was in so much pain he leapt out of the chair as soon as the specialist touched him and sent some equipment flying across the room. He was immediately thrown into the back of the van, still untreated.

After that, Aaron’s pain got so bad he started hallucinating and blacking out. The manager of the centre spotted that there was something wrong with him and offered to get him treated. By this stage Aaron was two weeks away from release. He told the manager to forget it. Two weeks later he organised his own treatment on the outside.

The worst of the pain went away but Aaron still suffers related problems to this day. He also has drug-dependence issues and has been in and out of jail for much of his adult life. Recently he decided he was tired of living the same old patterns – ‘It’s been going on for too long and I was kind of questioning it’ – so he started talking to some staff from a rehabilitation service.

From there Aaron set himself up with a training course that promises to lead onto better things. ‘Hopefully get a job’, he said, ‘and get a bit of stability in me life’.

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