‘When I drink I’m, I’m happy. When I do drugs, whatever, I’m happy … Thoughts do come up and I sort of blank it out with alcohol and blank a lot of pain out with alcohol.’
Conrad started life in his large Aboriginal family in a town in Western Australia in the 1970s. His parents worked and they lived a ‘Christian’ life. Conrad can remember him and his sister being taken away by welfare officers. He was five or six at the time and his sister was also young. Conrad has no idea why they were removed and taken to a Catholic-run mission a long way away from home.
‘From that day on my world was full of hate, confusion, sadness’, Conrad recalls in a written statement he provided the Commissioner. At a later stage his other siblings were also taken into care but not to the same mission.
At the mission Conrad was abused, on more than one occasion, in the ablutions block by a white priest. Conrad didn’t tell anyone. It wasn’t something you would ‘brag about’. The boys didn’t talk about it amongst themselves either. ‘That kind of thing you keep to yourself, you know.’
In his statement, Conrad said ‘My psychological and emotional feelings, thoughts, were so fucked up I didn’t know who to talk to, who to trust, who to save me from this … humiliation and rape … I lived in fear, uncertainty, confusion. My worst thought was that one day I was going to die’.
Later, Conrad and his sister were fostered to a family. His parents, who had both started drinking by that stage, split up and Conrad and his sister went to live with their mother in another town. Conrad finished school at around 12 or 14 years of age. After that he ‘started drinking, started getting into crime, started building hate … that’s what all the hate was from … I grew all my hate for white people … come from the missions’.
Conrad tried to suicide when he was about 19 years old. He has been in and out of youth detention centres and prisons for the last 29 years. The longest he has been outside at a stretch is two years. He never disclosed his abuse until 2008 when an uncle from the Aboriginal Visiting Scheme came to visit him in jail, with regards to redress. ‘I didn’t really want to but he said, you know, “It’s good to get off your chest” … and I thought about it and I thought, oh well, I guess I’ll get rid of it.’ However, Conrad found out later, his paperwork was lost so there was no follow up.
Conrad says the biggest impact on his life was being taken away from his family in the first place, when he was a child. Once in care, he believes he would have been safer if his older siblings had been with him. They might have been able to protect him.
In some ways, Conrad is re-living the abuse in his current prison. The strip-searching routine is more extreme than he has experienced elsewhere. ‘These officers take their time, they leave you standing naked before they come and see you. When they get to you they stand there and laugh at you and making jokes about you, or with each other. And you’re standing there shaking and humiliated.’ They also swear and make racial remarks. ‘I get real … I feel like … I wanna hurt somebody, you know?’ Conrad has spoken to a counsellor to see if something can be done about it.
Other than that, Conrad is not seeking counselling or attending programs as he says they don’t work. ‘I just lock it away … I don’t want it to be a part of my life but it is a part of my life so … I don’t want to be that same person I’ve always been, you know, so … for me to be a better person I … leave that with all the feelings … leave it at the back of my mind, you know. The more important things, cause I’ve got kids now, you see … That’s more important things, like, my kids.’
Conrad’s eldest child is also in jail and some of the others were taken away from him by Child Protection and fostered. ‘While they been in DCP care my daughter … got mucked around with. This is one thing I never, ever wanted her to go through … And they took them off me and put them in this situation now that I’m in. Now they’re … infected with the disease.’ His daughter wants to come back and live with her father.
Because of his determination to look after his children, Conrad has ‘slowed down a lot on the drugs’. ‘When I get out … I need a lot of help to watch my back because I would need to go back to court again for them [his children].’ However, although he’s in contact with his mother and some of his siblings, Conrad does lack support on the outside.