Braddon’s parents split up when he was very young. He remembered going to primary schools all over New South Wales because he was constantly being sent to live with different relatives. ‘From the age of two until I was made a state ward I was passed around my family’, he said.
‘I thought it was normal.’
By his own description Braddon was a ‘rebellious kid’. In the late 1980s he was declared ‘uncontrollable’ and, in his early teens, he was put into the first of many children’s homes and institutions. But there was always trouble with the staff and other boys, and he’d end up running away.
When there were more problems at the next home in New South Wales's southern highlands, and he was also being bullied and bashed at school, Braddon decided to escape to Queensland. But a teenage boy travelling alone was an easy target.
‘I got picked up hitchhiking coming back to Sydney. A bloke picked me up, and drugged me and raped me in a motel.’
He immediately reported the assault, and the man was later charged and given a light sentence. Braddon received no counselling or support, and was simply sent to live with his father and stepmother for a short time.
‘My dad disowned me because I let that happen to myself’, he said. ‘His whole attitude changed towards me. I don’t think he understood how bad it affected me.’
Soon after Braddon returned to the southern highlands’ home and again, even though staff knew about the sexual abuse, he was offered no help to deal with it.
To make things even worse, Braddon was still being punished for causing trouble and still running away. And when he was brought back to the home, there was often abuse.
‘There wasn’t sexual assaults but there was a lot of verbal and physical assaults by the officers taking me back in the car. And I reported this and they did nothing.’
As Braddon became more angry and isolated, he started committing crimes. Before long he was put into a juvenile justice centre near Gosford, a place he remembered as physically and sexually violent.
On one occasion, another inmate rubbed semen all over Braddon’s lips, ‘with hot chili so it stuck’. When Braddon reported the incident, the officers just laughed at him. And later, he was bashed for being a ‘dog’.
Braddon also said he told counsellors at the centre about the incidents of sexual abuse. All they did was give him sleeping pills.
In his late teens Braddon was living on the streets in Sydney. To feed his drug habit he was working as a prostitute and committing increasingly serious crimes. He managed to survive that life for 10 years.
When he spoke to the Commissioner, Braddon had been in jail for a decade. By the time he’s due for parole in his early 40s, he estimated that he will have spent nearly 30 years of his life in institutions.
‘You become more dependent when you’re in jail. They’re giving you free meals, you’ve got a free bed, you don’t have to pay rent, they’re paying you to stay here.
‘In here you’ve got no worries.
‘It’s sad, I know. But that’s how I see it.’
Braddon said he still feels the impact of the sexual abuse ‘every day’, particularly on his mental health. ‘I self-harm. I get really scared of being around a lot of people. Crowds scare me. I think people are trying to hurt me, talk about me, trying to set me up to do things.’
He’s been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. He takes anti-psychotic and mood stabilising medication, and has a psychiatric review every six weeks.
‘It all comes back to when I was younger’, he said. ‘It just ruined my whole life.’
Braddon came to the Royal Commission because he doesn’t want more lives ruined. ‘I hope that my sharing can help, if not myself, a lot of other people.’
He suggested a kind of ‘boot camp’ for young people in institutions, where they can get structure and work towards goals. And he’d like to see more counsellors in the justice system with real-life experience.
‘Counsellors that have been through the same thing, but not like textbooks, like actually been through it. It’s always better to speak to someone that’s been through it than talk to someone that’s read about it.’
Braddon also recommended anger management courses, access to detoxification facilities and positive role models for inmates.
‘I hope younger kids can get a better understanding of life, that someone will help with that.
‘They didn’t teach me about the wrongs and rights of life, they didn’t give me … Like, everything in life I learned myself.
‘It all comes back to teaching.’
As for Braddon himself, he’s trying to do as much as he can with the remainder of his sentence. He’s receiving regular counselling, and hopes to do more courses and activities. And when he gets out, he’s thinking of using his own experiences to work with young offenders.
‘If I could help one person … ’