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Garth Peter's story

When he was 13 or 14, in the early 2000s, Garth was imprisoned in an adult correctional centre in a Queensland regional city. ‘They must have made a mistake of some sort’, Garth told the Commissioner. ‘I was a child. I was a small boy … I didn’t understand why I was here in the first place.’

When he was picked up by police, he tried to plead with them. ‘I said my name’s Garth Peter Lindsay, I’m a child. Where are youse takin me?’ But they didn’t listen. He still doesn’t know what he was charged with. ‘I couldn’t tell you, really, honestly, I couldn’t. It was just a big blur for me. And it just really hit me hard and I was scared.’

He remained in the correctional centre for about nine months. ‘That’s when I was assaulted. Numerous times.’ There were multiple attackers – adult inmates and one of the prison officers. He was bashed and then sexually abused. ‘Most of the assaults I was unconscious for’, he said.

‘I was helpless. We had a chapel in here and that’s where I’d run to. I felt safe in there. That’s where I’d run to when I was a little fella.’

Garth told the Commissioner that when the correctional centre finally realised he was under-age, he was sent to a detention centre for youth and then to a boys’ home in Brisbane. Finally one day he found himself in court.

‘I walked in the court and the judge said you’re free to go. They just pushed me out the door. I had nowhere else to go, I was just left on my own and no one knew nothing about it’, he said. He later had difficulty finding any record of his time spent in these different institutions:

‘It was like I wasn’t even here, or none of these things existed.’

The initial incarceration came about after Garth ran away from home, when he was about 12. He was one of a large family, who lived with his aunt’s family as well. His aunty is his second mum, he told the Commissioner, and his cousins like brothers and sisters.

As a 14-year-old though, released from the boys’ home with no support – ‘Once I went to court I didn’t see anyone. They just left me out on the street’ – Garth ‘sort of rebelled against my family a little’. He turned instead to another extended family member, who took him in and has remained an important figure in his life, Garth said.

He also turned to drugs, as a way to mask the pain of his experiences in the adult correctional centre. Addiction has been a problem for him ever since. He has committed numerous criminal offences over the years, and was in jail when he spoke to the Commissioner – the same one he’d been in as a 13-year-old.

His main support in prison is his love of God and the Bible, he said. He had tried to access mental health services but without success: ‘I’ve asked numerous times and nothing’s happened so far’. He does speak regularly by phone to a counsellor from Relationships Australia. ‘We have a conversation every Monday’, he said. ‘An hour, just talking.’

He’s also in touch with his family – ‘I got visits up here frequently’ – and is getting help from them as he tries to pursue a case about his wrongful imprisonment as a teenager. ‘I told my mother and my little sisters, and that’s when we tried to see about if we could raise this issue about me being here and what happened’, he said.

Through a lawyer representing him in another matter, he was put in touch with a legal firm in Brisbane. Lawyers there have agreed to take him on. He also has had help from workers in a support program within the jail. Prompted by one of the activities in the program, he revealed his story to them. It was on their advice that he decided to come to the Royal Commission. ‘Once I spoke about it to the ladies I felt better. And that’s how it come to pass.’

They have also helped him to locate the documents he needs for the court case, that establish where he was incarcerated and when. It was difficult to do because that evidence was deliberately hidden away, he said. ‘My mother had trouble with that for a long time.’

Garth has been told that court proceedings could take between one and two years. He said he feels lucky.

‘There’s a lot of people worse off than me in this world.’

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