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Chris Keith's story

‘I had no father, just my mum. From the age of 13 I was on the streets and that. Just like grew up with a whole lot of brothers and that. Then got into crime and that and ended up there, in [a youth detention centre]. That was when I was 13, I was only young’, Chris told the Commissioner.

The detention centre was in a city in Queensland. It was the late 1980s when Chris was sent there. He didn’t stay for long. He broke out, and when he got picked up again was sent to a different facility, under a care and control order. Just a couple of days after he turned 15 he was moved a third time, to a youth detention centre in regional Queensland. He remained there for about a year, and was sexually abused throughout that time.

‘It was bad back then ‘cause we were in there with adults, like 20-year-olds and that, you know’, Chris explained. ‘And even the officers were – I don’t know, like every time I tried to explain to ‘em what was happening and that to us, they just like said “Go back to your unit … It’s your own fault”. I tried heaps of times to tell ‘em what was happening to me.’

Chris had been at the facility for just a couple of days when he was raped for the first time. After that it happened regularly and often. The abuse began with his two older cellmates: ‘They used to stand over me and at the end of it I just gave up, ‘cause you couldn’t do nothin.’ He was also regularly assaulted by one of the senior officers, Ken Balderstone.

‘He was a fat fella, he used to blink all the time … He used to get me down in his office and I used to tell what the boys were doing to me, and he’d say “Well, show me what they done to you” and then he started doing it. Like I wanted to kill him, you know? … Like I was so angry and that.’

Chris reported what was happening to different staff members but no one took any action. ‘It was bad stuff. You walk around with your bum bleedin’ and you tell ‘em and they just don’t do nothin’, you know. Like I tell 'em heaps of times what happen to me, and they just more or less said “Don’t’ come to jail”.’

Physical abuse was also common. Chris and other boys were often locked in an area known as the pound. In the middle of the night officers would come in, strip them naked and bash them. Then there’d be threats: ‘Keep your mouth shut, don’t say nothin’ to nobody’, Chris recalled.

‘It just become a blur, my time there, you know. I just didn’t want to live no more, you know … Fifteen-year-old kid I couldn’t sleep at night, my bum was too sore, you know. It’s fucked, mate.’

Chris has spent much of his adult life in jail, and was there when he spoke to the Commissioner. The consequences of being sexually abused as a teenager have added to the trouble he’s got into. He’d been penalised because he wouldn’t submit to drug tests, for example – ‘when they want to look at our privates and that, it makes me go back to then. That’s why I refuse to do it’, he explained. He also continues to suffer physical impacts, such as difficulty sleeping and bad haemorrhoids.

Chris has not disclosed his abuse to anyone since he was in the detention centre. ‘I’ve been waiting 25 years, you know, to say something.’ He hasn’t told anyone in his family because it is too hard to speak about. ‘Youse are the only people I’ve told’, he said. He’d come to the Royal Commission because he wanted his experiences on the record, but sharing his story was difficult. ‘It’s hard for me what I’m telling youse now, what’s happened to me’, he said.

Chris received a $29,000 payout through a Queensland Government redress scheme, but feels he was pressured into accepting it.

‘[The solicitor] didn’t even go through it with me. He just said sign this paper. It took him five seconds … I told him no, I want to take it to court, I don’t want to settle for $29,000 ... I just want justice too, you know, for what happened to me – I’ve gotta live with it all my life.’

He’s never sought counselling or been offered it. Over the years he has seriously self-harmed and attempted suicide several times. It’s only the thought of his kids and grandkids that’s stopped him from trying again. He knows other people who have killed themselves because of similar experiences of sexual abuse.

‘I’ve got brothers that have hung themselves ‘cause of this. They’re not here no more for what happened to them’, he told the Commissioner. ‘A lot of people have taken their life because of what they’ve done to us. They’ve taken it to the grave with ‘em, you know.’

The fact that Balderstone and other perpetrators have never faced consequences for their actions make him angry.

‘I wish he was dead. I hope he is dead. He done it to a lot of boys and got away with it … Even to this day, if I ran into them I’d kill them’, he said. ‘They’re animals. They shouldn’t be breathin’, mate.’

The $29,000 payout is an ‘insult’, he believes. It’s ‘$29,000 to shut our mouths. That’s wrong, man. Even to this day – I’m 40 now, 40 years old – I got kids, grandkids; they don’t even know me. I‘ve been in jail all my life … I‘m getting out to the same thing again. To nothin’, you know?

‘I just want to get out and live my life. Have something … We get out of here we’re on the streets with a $250 Centrelink cheque, that’s all we get, mate. Fuckin' hell, mate. The first thing we do is drugs and that … It’s bad, mate.’

‘I wanna get out and live like a normal person, you know? Not in and out of jail all my life.’

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