Bradon was country born, growing up in the 1970s as an Indigenous man in a western New South Wales town. His mum and dad both worked full-time. Bradon had some behavioural problems early in life and struggled at school.
‘I was just a terrible kid’, Bradon told the Commissioner, ‘getting bored real quick’.
He quickly came to the attention of local police. He was a constant truant, became involved in petty crime, and experimented with alcohol at primary school.
‘Just too much time on my hands, not going to school, breaking into shops and getting in trouble constantly. I remember it clear as day, the judge telling me mum, “There’s no more chances after this”.
‘He kept giving me chances, chance after chance, he wouldn’t send me. And then one day he finally sent me to the boys’ home. I was probably about 12 or 13.’
Bradon spent two months in a juvenile justice centre in Sydney. It was the first of several institutions he was in as a teenager, and in many ways one of the best. ‘It was pretty good. I liked it … you meet heaps of people. I’ve still got mates to this day that I met there.’
It was also the one institution where he was sexually abused, through humiliation and groping by one of the centre staff. The man, in his 30s, was nicknamed, “Lech”.
‘Just this obnoxious, really obnoxious, arrogant piece of shit, always picking on the kids. He was just like a big schoolyard bully. He was always threatening kids … telling them shit like, “I’ll pop your head like it was a pea”.
‘I’ll always remember that shit.’
The abuse went on for all of Bradon’s stay. ‘The first time we were in the shower. He’d come in and he’d make us stand outside the cubicles after we had a shower and he’d want to inspect behind our ears … and he’d ask us to pull our testes up and he’d just point at our testes, genitals. Laughing, make fun of us. Just crap like that.’
Lech also touched the boys. ‘He grabbed me by the penis one day.’ The assaults were always dressed up as health inspections. ‘That was his excuse to get in there and perve on us … he’d do it all the time.’
Bradon believes other staff knew about Lech’s shower visits. ‘They’d have to be dead-set idiots if they didn’t.’
Numerous stays in juvenile detention centres followed for Bradon, right through adolescence. He does not recall being sexually assaulted in these, but the culture of violence became more pronounced as he got older. Bradon spent two and a half years at one centre in northern NSW.
‘It was kill or be killed. You just had to stand up and be counted … You had to stand up or you’d be bashed every day.’ The violence among the inmates was encouraged by the staff. ‘They’d be the ones egging the kids on.
‘It was pretty hectic. It wasn’t a place for kids. It was like they were grooming us for jail … There were no toilets in the cells. You had to take a shitcan in the cell in the afternoons when it was lockdown.’
When Bradon hit 18 in the late 80s he quickly progressed to adult jail. For the next 10 years he was in and out for stealing, violence and drug offences. He was eventually saved by a romance – getting out of jail as the new century loomed, Bradon married and had children. Shouldering the responsibility of a family, he held down a job, turning it into his own business.
His marriage worked for a decade and a half, until some deaths in the family rocked him and he started taking drugs again. This time he used ice, which brought out the worst in him. He lost his business and his wife ended the marriage.
Eventually Bradon returned to prison. He decided to share his story with the Royal Commission while inside. Bradon is determined to turn his life around once more. ‘Anyone can stop using. It’s simple. It’s all in your head. I know I’ve got to stop abusing if I’m to stay out of jail … and I am so sick and tired of jail … I just don’t want to be here anymore.’
Bradon does not blame the sexual abuse for his problems, though he admits he can’t untangle the impacts of that from many other traumatic events in his childhood and young adult life. ‘I think about it – and it makes me sick in my gut. To the point I don’t like to think about it.’
Bradon believes more work should be done with kids as they emerge from the juvenile detention system. ‘When they come out they should have, not so much a stranger - someone from their community who can talk to them … like an elder or someone, and ask them, “Is there anything you want to talk about while you were inside? Did anything bad happen to you? Did you get bashed? Did you get assaulted? Did you get abused?”
‘I reckon that’d be a good start. There was nothing like that around when I was a kid. When I came home from the boys’ homes I just had to deal with all the shit that I got dealt.’