When the Commissioner asked if there was any time in his life when things had gone well for him, John didn’t think twice before saying no.
He’d grown up in Queensland with his siblings in a house where violent fights between their mother and father were normal, as were visits from the police. ‘I had a certain job to do every night … go into the kitchen and grab all the knives and hide ‘em before we’d go to bed so they wouldn’t stab each other.’
His parents were both alcoholics and both unemployed. John didn’t go to school much because his father needed him to help carry out burglaries. ‘Dad would, like, break into houses and that, and push me through windows and things like that … I thought that was cool. I didn’t have to go to school.’
One day, when he was still little, John watched his mother stab his father to death. John, who was very close to his dad, never forgave her. The other kids went to live with their grandparents but John was made a ward of the state and at 10 years of age was placed in his first children’s home.
It was a lot like jail, he said. The windows were perspex and there were four or five beds per room. The staff were cruel so he kept running away, hiding in the grounds until he was found. They then locked the main door and held him there while the other kids went to school.
One staff member, in his 40s, would come into the shower with John and close the shower curtain behind him. John would try to open the curtain but he’d say, ‘No, I want to make sure you’re washing yourself’.
John said, ‘And he’d get the soap and wash me genitals and … stick the soap up my arse with his fingers … I’d scream and that, and he’d tell me, “There’s no one else here to hear”’.
The man would then follow him into his room and tell him to lie on the bed. He ‘pulled his penis out … wanking over me and shit like that’.
This man was confident that John wouldn’t be believed and he was right. When John reported him to different workers in the home, they just shrugged it off.
John ended up on the streets before he was placed into foster care with a single man. Again he was sexually abused and again he was not believed, this time by the welfare worker who came to visit him every month. ‘It was like I was just making shit up.’
John got sick of it, stole from his foster father and went back on the streets. Then he was placed in his second state-run home.
It was a staff member’s hunt for a cigarette lighter that led to John getting sexually abused at the new home. He was stripped, then told to bend over and spread his cheeks. Still convinced that John was hiding the lighter, the officer digitally penetrated him. ‘And it hurt because he bent me over and stuck it in there, started wiggling it around and that.’
John was then locked in ‘the pound’ – a bare cell that contained nothing but a bucket. He was kept in there all day and then again the next day.
John’s next placement was run by the De La Salle Brothers. And the abuse continued. The Brothers watched the boys in the showers and made them sit in their laps.
In his mid-teens 17 John went to jail for the sort of crimes his father had taught him to do. And he’s been in and out of jail ever since. John’s fiercely loyal to his dad, and committing crimes, even though he knows it’s wrong and hurts the community, gives him a sense of honouring him.
He came to the Commission because he’s fed up with it all. ‘I want to know what me problem is. Why I do what I do. And I hate the law, I hate people with authority.’
John’s Services and Program Support officer was the first person he told about the sexual abuse. He now has weekly counselling sessions.
‘I’m at an age where I should know … what I do is right and what I do is wrong. Instead I’ve got that much hatred in me that I want to break down and cry.’
He’s never allowed himself that luxury. ‘Because I don’t know what it’ll do to me. You got to be in this place here and you’ve got to put that front on.’
Little things trigger him. When he has to shower in front of other prisoners he remembers the abuse but pushes it out of sight. ‘You tell anyone that and they’ll look at you as though you’re fuckin’ sick, you know?’
John hasn’t used the sexual abuse to defend himself legally, or seek compensation. He received compensation for the physical abuse but gave the money away.
‘I don’t care about the money … I want to get my head sorted so that I can get out there and just live normally.’