James’ family moved to central New South Wales when he was a toddler. He was the youngest of four kids and didn’t get much attention while he was growing up – his father worked away from home all week and was really only around on Saturdays. His mum was distracted by her own work and by the running of the household.
James didn’t really fit in at primary school and didn’t see friends outside school hours. By the time he was in high school he had become rebellious, hanging around with older kids, trying to fit in with them and drinking on the sly.
He wondered how his mates all had so much more money than his family and could get whatever they wanted. Then James realised what they were up to. He was invited along on their break and enters because he was small enough to get in the window.
By the time James was sent to the juvenile justice centre where he was abused, he’d already been in a few institutions. None of them had worried him. But when he was 14 and up on charges again, his mum said to the judge, ‘I don’t know what to do with him, I can’t control him. Put him in a boys’ home’.
Up until then, James hadn’t been sent anywhere that he was afraid to go. But the place he went to next was very different.
‘I was shit scared when I first went there … I went there thinkin’ I was the bee’s knees and wasn’t scared of anything. Then I found there was blokes there, young fellas, who were in there for killin’ people.’
James can’t remember the name of the staff member who started to target him. He remembers the first time it happened though. He hadn’t made his bed properly. ‘I got dragged out of bed into the bathroom and made to strip naked and stand in the bathroom. And then he tried to get me to do stuff … touch him and stuff like that … and he wanted to touch me. I thought what the hell? I had no one to turn to. I didn’t know what to do.’
It was a period of complete terror for James. He did his best to escape that staff member’s attention but he kept finding ways to isolate him. James tried to get a mate to go with him once but the man said ‘No, you’re coming on your own’. The offender, who was in his 30s or 40s, grew more demanding about what he wanted James to do. Eventually he raped him.
James did everything he could to avoid him, including being transferred to the centre’s other wing. But he was always found out and the physical and sexual abuse went on.
Telling someone he was being abused by someone twice his size was not an option. ‘He was tellin me, “If you say anything … I’ll fuckin drown you in the fuckin bathroom. I’ll fuckin kill you in the fuckin bathroom.” … I was too scared to sleep at night.’
So when James was asked how he split his lip, he said he was mucking around and fell over. He did say to his fellow inmates that he wished this guy would leave him alone. They told him that the staff member always picked his mark and that’s just the way it is. ‘It’s not the way it is’, he told the Commissioner. ‘It’s not the way it should be.’
When he was released from the centre, James begged his mother not to ever send him back. He got a job, was fired when he fought someone who’d touched him on the backside, then got another job. He got married and stayed out of trouble for a while. ‘I didn’t want to be around people ... I just wanted to be on my own.’ But anger was still brewing away inside him and when the marriage got difficult he turned to drugs to help him.
When his marriage dissolved, years later, he moved to Sydney and got in with a bad crowd. He lost a good job because of his drug use.
‘I’d start isolating meself again and start using drugs because I’d start thinking about shit from my past and I’d just spiral out of control again.’
James has been doing jail time for different offences for the last 20 years. It was a prison psychologist who first heard about the sexual abuse. He’d asked James about his extreme reaction to another inmate, a sex offender. When James disclosed the abuse to him the psychologist convinced him he needed to do something about it.
He told the psychologist, ‘If I come across that bloke now, I’ll be honest with you … I’d kill him … I’m physically capable of doin it now, I know that. I’d kill him and gladly go to jail’.
James then ‘mustered the guts’ to ring the Commission. His behaviour has been playing on his mind, James said, but he has no family or friends to talk to. He’s been diagnosed with severe depression and he’s now at the point where he wants to be more open and deal with his anger issues.
James recommended that the staff in juvenile justice centres undergo better screening and that one-to-one situations in these centres be expressly forbidden.