Joey Sam's story

Joey grew up in a ‘criminal-minded’ family in the 1970s in Queensland. His parents separated because of drug use and criminal activities. Joey stayed with his mother but she was often in hospital for an ongoing medical condition and he was in and out of foster care.

His mother re-married but her new partner was violent. As a result, Joey was bounced from family member to family member, never staying very long and always getting into trouble.

‘It sort of like pushed me away a little bit from my family.’

His schooling was affected, partly because he was bullied about his mother’s medical condition and his criminal family.

‘Teased a lot at school … which led to violence at lunchtime. I almost got expelled.’

Instead of remaining in the state school system, Joey was supported to attend a suburban Brisbane Catholic primary school. The priest arranged for Joey’s schooling to be funded. The church was on the school premises and the priest lived next door to the school.

Joey was sexually abused by the priest in the priest’s house and in the back of the church.

‘The first time was, he got me to get an erection to tell me how tall I’d grow. Being a nine-year-old kid … I fell for it.’

‘Father there paid for my schooling and bought us all … stuff … I sort of acted out a bit there because the priest was fiddling with me and grooming me. He groomed other kids as well.’

The priest often took Joey and a number of other children on shopping trips into the city and bought school uniforms.

‘I think back now to that class [composite 4 and 5 class] - there was other kids in that class who had to be getting molested or groomed. Had to be.’

Joey found the school culture tough and felt that everyone knew he was a ‘charity kid’ and that he was targeted because of it. At this time he stole some money and was caught by his stepfather.

‘I ended up getting bashed … my stepfather bashed me pretty badly … and then he took me to school and seen the headmistress and they thought it would be a grand idea for me to show my bare arse to my class mates, all the bruising, for show and tell … and explain why I received such a belting – I stole money. As a result of that … I had to see a psychiatrist.’

The sexual abuse continued and he did try to tell his mother about the sexual abuse but she just said ‘Are you kidding?’ Joey stopped engaging with school completely.

‘I dropped out of school after Grade 8, missed most of Grade 5 … taught myself [reading and writing].’

When he was 17 years old he went into juvenile detention for drug use and stealing. He spent six weeks in a juvenile remand centre and found the environment terrifying.

‘When I got there, they … stripped me down, threw all this white stuff all over me and put me in the shower … then they sit you on a little table … and I got king-hit … from someone … I told a staff member and they thought it was a [great] joke … called a ‘snitch’.

This nickname travelled with Joey throughout his remand and stigmatised him amongst the inmates.

‘I had to fight other kids because the staff [called me] a “snitch” the whole time I was there.’

He quickly realised too, that there was sexual abuse occurring in the centre.

‘They put me in a dorm with two other kids. The younger kid there was getting abused by the older kid … being made to sit in a cupboard, perform oral sex on him … it was pretty atrocious.’

Joey has been in and out of jail for the rest of his life.

‘My rap sheet is pretty much petty crime and drugs. Petty crime was to get drugs.’

Joey used drugs to avoid thinking about his childhood and his abuse but has now been clean for over three years. He has received some compensation from the Queensland Government in 2006 and approached the Catholic Church’s compensation scheme, Towards Healing, to report his sexual abuse by the priest.

‘And pretty much, they pretty much just said, “Oh, how about we pray and forgive [our] old mate.” That’s a hurtful thing …’

He has been diagnosed with obsession compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, and he gets very little sleep because of flashbacks and anxiety.

Joey understands now that when he began at the Catholic school he was a young, vulnerable person who had lived through years of instability in his life. He has begun to deal with his sexual abuse and encourages other survivors to begin to talk about their abuse too.

‘I don’t think people can change their thought processes or their behaviour, drinking and drugs, until they come to terms with it [sexual abuse] … Until they come to terms with it and talk about it … it helps change that thought pattern and their behaviour changes.’

‘[In jail] I found peace and drugs. When I was out it was drugs … [Now] my biggest motivation is I’ve got a daughter who is 24 … who is screaming at me that she needs me out there.’

Joey believes that juveniles (anyone aged 18 years or below) in detention need to be kept completely separate from adult jail or long-term adult inmates and treated with respect. He would also like to see less reliance on an individual’s juvenile record when, or if, they enter the adult prison system.

‘I really try hard to put trust in people. I still get burnt but I try. I tell myself that’s not me. That’s not the person I am. You can trust me.’

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