Diego's story

Diego’s parents were both drug addicts and his father was in and out of jail. When he was four, he was made a ward of the state and placed in foster care in Victoria. When he was 10, his foster family gave him up and he was sent to a boys’ home. He has always wondered why.

Diego remembers that the boys’ home ‘was distressing for me … got picked on a lot by other boys there. Some staff tried to shield me from it and move me around. There were some good experiences with staff there who were caring, but the worst of it was when I hit the youth training centre’.

In the early 1990s, when Diego was 13 or 14, he started running away, living on the streets and offending. ‘Started off smoking marijuana and committing petty offences – arson, wilful damages, and breaking things and stuff like that.’ He was sent to a youth training centre, where he was physically and sexually abused.

Diego told the Commissioner that the training centre was ‘pretty bad ... There was a lot more physical abuse than sexual abuse’. He was picked on often by older boys.

‘I was assaulted. It made me angrier … The staff used to sit back on the couch, and they’d laugh about it and tell me to stop being a wimp and toughen up.’

One ‘game’ the boys played with Diego was called ‘stacks on’, where they would jump on top of him, one after another, ‘so I’d end up with, like, I dunno, maybe five to 10 guys on me … I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I was going to die. And then someone would be punching me in the face from up there. The staff used to just sit down and laugh about it’.

Diego would get so angry about being picked on that he would start yelling and breaking windows and ‘the staff would assault me. They’d grab me by the neck and slam me against the wall. One officer punched me in the ribs a number of times … He used to be a boxer, knew how to use his fists’.

Diego was in the back of the prison van one day with two other boys. One of them ‘started punching me in the face, then he pulled his pants down and pulled his penis out and tried to shove it into my mouth.

'He was trying to degrade me, you know, trying to make me give him oral sex. And there was another boy, so I was embarrassed and everything … I had nowhere to go. He just kept punching me.'

As he got older, Diego started using hard drugs. ‘When I was about 15, 16, I’d run away and live on the streets and just was using heroin all the time to help me deal with everything … to block things out, so I didn’t have to think about it. Didn’t have to deal with reality.’

After the youth training centre, Diego continued to use ‘copious amounts of drugs and basically progressed to the adult system. I just kept using drugs and I would be arrested for drug offending, break and enters, stealing. And eventually I went to the adult system, and I spent most of that time in and out of prison.

‘I’ve been in mental institutions and suffer from deep depression and anxiety and things. That’s why I’ve found it hard to cope in the community … But I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve been seeing a counsellor and that’s been really helpful.’

Diego told the Commissioner that he has ' found it very hard to cope in society due to long periods of institutionalisation. I have, though, had some progress. I’ve re-educated myself … So I’ve been proactive in my rehabilitation. I have some good support out there now through church and with counselling’.

Diego believes people who work in juvenile justice centres should ask if there is a reason why a child is ‘acting out’ and that there should be ‘some kind of psychological aptitude test before they go into those kind of jobs because … you don’t just get a job with ASIO. You have to be formally trained.

'Dealing with kids is basically national security because they grow up into worse criminals, and can become murderers – and that creates terror in the community.'

Diego decided to come forward to the Royal Commission because, ‘I’ve been trying to rehabilitate myself for almost 10 years but I have a lack of living skills, and poor coping skills, and I’ve found it hard.

'I keep using drugs and I don’t know why … But I thought maybe it’s got something to do with what happened to me when I was young. All the abuse and stuff … I remember seeing something on the news and I thought that might be some way to get some healing.'

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