Charlie’s family home was abusive, so he and his sister decided to run away. They lived on the streets for a while, doing whatever they needed to survive.
He was picked up by police, who offered to return him to his mother. She said she didn’t want him back, so he was placed in a children’s home. ‘I didn't commit an offence to get put in the kids' institution ... I was in there because my mum simply didn't want me.’
When, at the age of 12, he absconded from the home he was made a ward of the state, on the grounds of being an ‘uncontrollable child’. ‘I hadn't stolen anything or committed any offence. I was just a little kid ... and after that, the cycle started.’
This cycle took him in and out of various institutions and placements, where he frequently experienced physical and emotional violence from carers.
Charlie’s sister was sent to different institutions. He thinks she probably experienced abuse while in care, as her behaviour changed rapidly around then. From the age of 12 she did street-based sex work, continuing until she died in her early 20s.
In the early 1980s, 14-year-old Charlie ended up in a government-run Melbourne youth training centre, where physical abuse by staff was common. One of the guards, a man called Mr Abbott, sexually abused Charlie. There was nobody Charlie felt he could tell about this, even though he knew Abbott was doing the same thing to other boys.
‘You don't even want your own friends knowing, because you know what kids are like ... And when you're a kid, and you're as dumb as what I was back then, who do you go to? I can't go to the very people that are supposed to protect me, because they're the ones causing the abuse.’
After this abuse, ‘I started to change ... Now I started doing stupid things, like swallowing disinfectant and lead weights, swallowing nuts and bolts, telling them so I could get myself to hospital ... I knew once I got outside the walls I could run away and any freedom was better than being there’.
Not only was Charlie never questioned about why he was behaving in these ways, but he was also punished for them. He was determined nobody would ever know about the abuse.
‘I hid it, right? That's the thing, right? You could look at me, something might have happened the day before, and you could look at me and you wouldn't be able to tell through my facial expressions because I'd hide it so well, and make out like it never happened. In my mind, it was never to be mentioned.’
After numerous escapes, Charlie was transferred to an adult prison when he was 16. There he was physically and sexually abused by a couple of inmates, who were in custody for child sexual offences, including being raped several times. Again, he was not able to disclose the abuse.
‘My greatest fear was people finding out, because that makes me vulnerable, right? And in jail you don't want to seem weak because if you get got and people know about it, that makes it easier for other people to perpetrate.'
He even denied to prison psychologists that he had ever been sexually abused. ‘I wouldn't even touch it, I'd skirt around it, everything like that, wouldn't talk to them about it. I'd deny it. Because that's the thing, I lived with it ... I've always lived with this dirty little secret.’
As a result of the ongoing abuse, Charlie ‘turned from being a vulnerable kid to somebody that fought back’, and became increasingly violent. He lived recklessly, and was in and out of the prison system for 20 years.
‘Somebody once said to me, “What did you hope to be when you grew up?” I said, “I never planned to be alive at this age”. I actually thought I was going to die early because I used to drink, pop handfuls of pills, do heroin, and I'd just overdo it all the time because I didn't care if I died.’
During his time in prison Charlie taught himself to read and write, and stood up for younger inmates if they were being bullied. He told the Commissioner that more needed to be done to protect children in institutions, to prevent them going through the same things he did.
‘I became a criminal because of how I was brought up. I adapted to my surroundings. I don't blame society … Society blames me for becoming me, but I had no choice.
'Start looking at the beginning, because that's where a lot of people fall through the cracks. Things happen, like even you put kids in institutions today and all of a sudden a year later you've got a kid using drugs that's never done any of that.
‘Why isn't that being looked at? What caused that? Your institution caused that because that's how they deal with you. They don't try to help you. Their job is solely to make sure you're there at the end of the day, because you're a burden and that's what they got paid to do.
'I didn't go to school and stuff like that, or get taught a trade or anything. Like, I'm at a kids’ institution. Where was my upbringing?’