Freddy James's story

In the 1980s, four year-old Freddy was removed from his alcoholic mother and stepfather – who beat him and molested his sister – in regional Queensland. ‘He used to smack us around and that. And he took advantage of my sister. He touched my sister around, he was a sexual predator.’

Freddy and his siblings were placed in a Catholic children’s hostel in Brisbane. Older children abused him in various ways. ‘I was grabbed by the genitals and fondled. I was also kicked in the privates very hard.’ They attempted to make him perform oral sex, and when he refused they became violent. They also urinated on him.

When he took the blame for his younger brother wetting the bed, the houseparents locked him in a cupboard, causing him to have panic attacks and claustrophobia even now. They would also beat him around the head and he was ‘whacked around by a newspaper and everything ... They were trying to break me’. Freddy did not report any of the abuse at the time.

After about six months, he and his siblings were returned to the family home. His stepfather continued to physically abuse him and sexually abuse his sister. Later his sister pressed charges against the man, resulting in a custodial sentence.

Freddy was first placed in juvenile detention in his early teens. ‘I ran away to the streets, and started becoming a criminal and taking drugs and stuff like that ... lot of anger and hate and everything, I was full of that.’

Until the early 2000s he was in and out of prison for various offences. He thinks he didn’t experience any abuse from other inmates because ‘I was too hard-headed, too stubborn ... smashing people ... wouldn’t let nothing damage me anymore. I was very violent and aggressive back then. Filled with a lot of hate. When I was staying in those places I was uncontrollable. I was very, very invincible, I couldn’t be stopped or told what to do’.

Most of his convictions were for violent crimes.

‘It’s just like all that hate that was coming out was reflecting on other people that tried to step up to me or try to take advantage of me ... I would not give them a second chance.’

After serving a lengthy sentence he has remained out of custody for more than a decade. ‘I just had enough of it all, being institutionalised. I just wanted to change ... That made me wake up to myself, grow a conscience. So I started realising what’s more important ... I had to come back to reality, and eight years in jail made me snap right out of it.’

Re-connecting with religion has helped him stay on his new path. ‘Gave my heart to the Lord Jesus, and go to church. 'Cause I was brought up in religious ways, so I had to get back to that.’

Freddy’s history of violence led him to lose access to his own child for a while (‘I wanted to be around, to protect her, make sure she wouldn’t go through the same shit I went through’), and he finds it hard to connect with his family.

He has managed to stay off hard drugs through participation in a heroin substitution program. ‘I’ve never been on a program before but I took it up because I wanted to see what changes it would make for me. And it has, it has slowed me down.

'I don’t look for the heavy heroin or I don’t look for speed or anything like that, that was the choice of drugs I took to take away all my trauma ... and flashbacks and stuff, what I been through.’

Four years ago Freddy disclosed the abuse to his partner, Brenda. ‘I told her everything about my upbringing and that, and she gives me the advice that I need.’

At first he found it difficult to speak about the abuse. ‘A lot of shame and that there, you know ... when I talk about it.’ Now he knows ‘it’s not my fault’.

Brenda is very supportive and accompanied him to meet with the Commissioner. Although she had known Freddy for a long time before they got involved, ‘I didn’t understand why he couldn’t connect or love ... he’s just been abused, and shown nothing but hate. I’ve had to try and break that down with love, you know, just to love someone.

'He’s never been loved ... Who can protect you if your parents can’t and the system fails you? Who do you turn to, if the government can’t? Feeling alone in the world, don’t trust anybody.'

Freddy recognises that being with him has been hard for Brenda at times. ‘She’s copped a lot from me, all my anger and that. And it’s so unfair, because she shouldn’t have to feel all that, she’s just there to support.’

Despite this, Brenda sees ‘a beautiful soul, a spirit. It destroyed him, but it didn’t – he didn’t let it kill him’.

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