Jai described his upbringing as ‘pretty shocking’. His father spent years in jail, his mother was ‘an alcoholic drug addict’, and his sisters were also frequent users. At the age of nine, Jai ran away from home and ‘became part of child services’.
At first he was placed with his grandparents, but between their home and staying with his father while he was on home detention, Jai spent a lot of time living on the streets of Brisbane and squatting in various buildings.
His first experience of using drugs was in the early 1990s, when a man he knew gave him an injection of amphetamines.
‘I started injecting drugs when I was 11. I had my first shot [of heroin] at 13, my mother gave me. She let me do it at home. I started robbing chemists with men – I was running round with men and started robbing chemists so I was using heavy drugs. I was addicted to opiates. I was trying to go to high school and play football too, which was funny, shooting up before I played football and stuff, passing out on the football field.’
For a brief period Jai moved to New South Wales to live with his sister. He became a Christian, was baptised and ‘completely cleaned everything up’. But then his mother asked him to come back to Queensland and, as soon as he returned, she gave him heroin.
At 13, Jai spent time in a juvenile justice facility where he was ‘beaten by both inmates and by the staff’. On one occasion six or seven inmates attacked his head.
‘I went to, like, a cell by myself and the screws were just laughing about it. They patched my head up and threw me in, made me wear a dress, like a suicide gown, and they made me live in there for a couple of months with the light on, and they’d just throw food in on the floor. I never said I was suicidal. They just put me in.’
Before turning 16, Jai was sentenced to more than 10 years’ imprisonment. Sexual, physical and psychological abuse was widespread in the detention centre. The environment was like ‘a fighting camp’, with guards setting up fights between inmates outside the range of CCTV cameras and giving them rewards of food and cigarettes.
When Jai one day refused to carry out a chore, a guard placed him in a chokehold until he passed out. ‘When I woke up I was getting dragged into the cell and he’s tearing me clothes off me, and threw me against the wall and bashed into me quite hard and yeah, his mate, the gay one and the other guy came in after that.’
Two of the men raped Jai while the supervisor who’d put him in the chokehold looked on. Jai was sexually assaulted on a number of other occasions while in the detention centre and at 17 he asked to be moved to an adult prison.
The guards told him to ‘break something’, and after Jai smashed a window he had his hands and feet ‘sticky-taped’ and a secure helmet taped to his head. When he appeared in court he told the judge he wanted to get out of the juvenile detention centre.
‘I explained some of the things that were going on at the time to the judge and he said, “Yep, we’ll arrange for your transfer”, and I think it was about a week later I was transferred to [adult prison] and I went to the boys’ yard.
‘It was quite a culture shock for me ‘cause I went from having nothing and that shit going on to a bit like freedom ... I remember going in there and a bloke give me a packet of smokes and you could walk around ‘cause you’re in part of the boys’ yard.’
Jai described the boys’ yard as good preparation for adult prison. ‘It gets the kids ready for … especially if they are going to be transferred into the adult system … the surroundings and a little bit to what prison is like and how you have to act.’
For most of his adulthood Jai continued to use drugs. He has spent more than 20 years in jail and described his life as marked by significant violence, aggression, suicidal thoughts, drug use, depression and anxiety. He would like face-to-face counselling in jail, but doesn’t think much of the psychologists he’s spoken to over the years.
‘You know, I think that human beings are too complex to be compartmentalised like that and pigeonholed into these things. Like one of them said that I was a sociopath and the other one said that I was a psychopath, and if you understand both of those things they can’t coexist; they have different things so by different people they’ve got different ideas and a lot of them I think were inaccurate.’
Jai said he spends most time alone in his cell. He’s completed his high school education as well as numerous other courses.
His main glimmer of hope is his daughter, who he speaks to as often as he can. She was also the subject of a care order and now lives with Jai’s mother, who no longer uses drugs. ‘The kid was there and Mum has felt terrible about what has happened in my life and she couldn’t allow this child to go into foster care or be lost, and she knew I was going back to prison and so she stepped up’, Jai said.
He isn’t sure what he’ll do when he eventually gets out of jail.
‘I’ve ruined all chances of having a career and a successful home and all that, so I’m going to be, like, getting out and I’ll be what, 40 something, and I’m starting from scratch and I’ve got all these issues. I don’t even know when I can get started.’