Bo’s parents both died when he was a young child and he was subsequently raised by his grandparents. In spite of this tragedy, Bo enjoyed his childhood and said he ‘had a pretty good life’.
When he was 16, Bo was arrested for driving without a licence and immediately sent to an adult correctional centre pending his court hearing. While he was in a cell alone with two other inmates, one of his cellmates, Mason, attacked him and sexually assaulted him. Mason was an adult prisoner who was acting as mentor for the younger prisoners. The other cellmate did nothing.
‘I couldn’t get away, I was stuck in the unit. I was in the cell with him and he was s’posed to be a trusted person in that unit to help with the juvenile kids.’
The assault left Bo traumatised and he immediately reported it to an officer in his unit. Instead of appropriate action, Bo was moved to a different unit and put on suicide watch. ‘When I reported it they took me down to suicidal observation and I wasn’t even suicidal … and they put me on medication, tried to shut me up with medication.’
Meanwhile, the charges against Bo for driving without a licence were dismissed but he remained in custody. Mason was not removed from the prison and continued to have access to young men.
Ever since the assault, Bo’s mental state has rapidly deteriorated and he has been prescribed increasingly large dosages of psychiatric medication. Bo is confident Mason assaulted other young inmates before him and after. ‘I’m pretty sure he done it to others too. A lot of people were really quiet and kept to themselves, and a lot of people were scared of him, scared to stand up and say something. He’d just smack your head in.’
Distraught by the assault, continued incarceration and cycle of medication, Bo eventually tried to commit suicide.
‘They just tried to brush it under the carpet and drag me down to suicidal obs and I stayed there for four weeks … They just shut me up with medication and about six months after that I ended up swallowing razor blades and staples, trying to kill m’self.’
Now in this 30s, Bo has several children with one partner, however the relationship dissolved and he has no contact with his children who are in foster care. ‘My missus left me now because she kinda knows what happened but doesn’t understand. I don’t want my kids to know ‘cause they might think badly of me.’
Having now spent most of his adult life in the prison system, Bo has struggled with feelings of shame and embarrassment over Mason’s assault. ‘I’m ashamed to tell anyone else in my family ‘cause they always judge me. I felt like I wanna confide in someone but my family just don’t understand.’
‘I’ve been on drugs ever since and I found that’s the only way I can forget about it … I feel ashamed and embarrassed.’
‘And I’m depressed, really depressed. I [have] really bad dreams and I can’t sleep properly. I only sleep a couple of hours a night.’
‘I can’t eat around people. It turns me off. I take my meal and I sit in my room by myself, I lock myself in a lot because I can’t really be around people.’
Bo was sent to a prison psychiatrist whom he disclosed the abuse to. However the psychiatrist was ill-equipped to address Bo’s trauma and instead prescribed a higher dosage of medication. ‘I see a psychiatrist here and I told her what’s happened to me and … she’s shocked and [keeps] putting my medication up … They can’t just keep doing it, putting it up up up! I’m on enough to knock a horse out.’
Although he is now an adult, the trauma inflicted by Mason’s assault has continued to impact on Bo’s daily life. He has been physically assaulted in prison on several occasions, one time resulting in broken ribs, and is frequently triggered by memories of Mason’s abuse. Bo told the Commissioner, ‘It’s been nearly 20 years and it’s not getting any easier’.
‘I nearly got kicked out of [adult literacy] school ‘cause one guy up there tried to touch me in the wrong place and I went off my head.’
‘I can’t help the way I feel, it makes me sick ‘cause it makes me remember. And I get angry, I don’t get upset, I just get really angry, and if they come near me or try to touch me that’s when I explode. And I’m worried that if I stay in here any longer I might hit someone by accident and hurt someone, and I don’t wanna do that.’
Bo’s parole date hearing is approaching and he hopes to be released from prison shortly. Recently, his cousin revealed he had been abused in a similar manner and encouraged Bo to tell his story to the Royal Commission. His cousin has been very supportive and Bo plans to live with him when he is eventually released, hoping to finally end the cycle of institutionalisation which has plagued his life ever since that one incident.
‘I was in there for nothin’ … it makes me really upset, I want these fellas to know. I was in there for nothing! And then that happened in a weekend and I walked away with a lifetime sentence.’