James Joseph's story

‘I just kept going back to institutions, boys’ homes, ‘cause I felt safer there I think.’

James was born in the early 1970s in South Australia. His mother was a single mum.

‘Mother was pretty much a kid so she had no idea … I’m going to probably swear a little bit, but I was destined from the start. I didn’t have no chance … Started getting in trouble, started with drugs. Butane. I was addicted to butane from a very young age.’

James was groomed and sexually abused early in life.

‘From a very young age … just seen me as a target … When you’re a young kid with no parents around to look out for you you’re a vulnerable target … My mum, she couldn’t control me. Started to go to institutions around 14 years old.’

James was first sent to a remand centre. It had a brutal environment and ‘wasn’t a very nice place at all’. One punishment James received was four days in solitary confinement with limited food and contact. There was also one guard who targeted James.

‘I … remember he dragged me down to the cabins and tried to make me play around with his dick … I think someone come in or [something] so that didn’t happen as far as he wanted to … he was … a very horrible, horrible man. He beat up on kids … I was still a small kid, there was nothing on me. Easy victim.’

Later, James also experienced sexual abuse at another remand institution.

‘There was some sexual carry on there, ‘cause I was a real small little kid. This one bloke stuck a pen to my neck and made me suck his dick. I’ve only thought about that recently and it was fucking horrible. Another boy. He somehow worked it out to get me to share a cell.'

‘Through the years of prison I’ve seen him around a bit and he still does the same shit now. Not to me but he picks his mark. He still does [it] … He’s a fucking arsehole.’

When he was released he lived with his grandmother but ‘she couldn’t do nothing to help me. None of the family that I [had] could’. He was addicted to butane again and often on the streets.

‘I would take anything. I just wanted to black out. Just wanted to get away from the life I was living.

‘I remember having to [keep] … my wits about me … This one guy would come up and take me out and buy something to eat and he was persistent in trying to make me have sexual relations with him … He come across as nice but he was nasty in the end when I kept saying “No, I didn’t want a part of it”. He got me one night.’

Another man also groomed him and coerced him into sexual acts. James met this man at a youth centre.

‘You’d go there and play eight-ball and have something to eat … he came across as a good fella but he’d always say, “James, have you got somewhere to live?” And a couple of times I didn’t and I went to his house … and there was sexual carry on there as well … I had nowhere else to go … I didn’t want to go there … [but] it was the lesser evil … I knew what was going to happen.

‘I’ve had a couple of friends that I’ve seen through jail that have killed themselves over that same [man]. It [their deaths] was tough too.’

The laws in South Australia at the time meant that as a juvenile, whenever he was out on bail and waiting for his next court appearance, he had to live with ‘ink parents’, or foster carers.

‘Some of them were nice people … They showed me that there were some good people in the world. But then there were a couple of other ones … I remember [one] … as soon as his wife went out he was a fucking arsehole … he’d smack me around a couple of times and made me engage in sexual fucking carry on.’

James knows that his early life set him on the path he has been following until now.

‘It was a fucking horrible way to grow up but I had no – there was no other way for me … at 14, 15 started coming to boys’ homes and 18 went straight to jail.

‘I didn’t really have any sexual stuff when I got to adult prison because I made up my mind to stick up for myself … When I was younger I was just a small kid … from a young age it was fucking horrible.’

James has ongoing trust and intimacy issues and, as a result, has never spoken about his years of abuse to anyone.

‘This is probably the only time I have … I’ve never got this far into it. I have been to see psychologists over the years … [but] I’m not just going to blurt out my story in the first couple of times … with you [Commissioner] I have. I like to think it might be able to help … some kids somehow … Hopefully there can be something done about it.’

His daughter is now in primary school and he is working towards building a better life for both of them.

‘The only thing I’ve ever known about love is my daughter.'

‘I’ve read lots of self-help books over the years and what I’ve worked out is that you’ve got to replace bad things with good things. I know I’m not a lost cause. My second half of life isn’t going to be like the first half. I know I can do it … There’s more to me than [my rap sheet] … I’ve always responded well to counselling and stuff like that, so I’m up for it and I’m [going to] give it a go.’

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