As a child, Jonah was ‘shuffled around … We moved around a lot. I went to about 14 different schools … I can’t really explain what Mum moved around so much for … but there were a lot of arguments and a bit of violence, family violence there … both ways … [and] I was the black sheep.’
As a young teenager in Queensland in the early 1980s, Jonah was ‘troubled … because when I first got to [high school] I was classed as a fighter … and I had troubles with bullying … You go to 14 different schools, you’re going to get bullied … at any school you go to back in that era … So I had a little bit of trouble, but I mainly had trouble not having my father with me at that time’.
The first time Jonah was in trouble with the law was when he was about nine and he was riding his skateboard. ‘They took the ball bearings out of my skateboard wheel and I really thought that was very unpleasant of them, when they returned the skateboard back to me.’
In high school Jonah began doing ‘what is classed as petty crime, juvenile crime. Young kid without a brain, and it was petty theft … I shouldn’t have done it, but it’s what I did. You know, if I was putting an ice-cream down my pants and I got caught for it, I got caught for it, and that’s what happens. As for taking money out of cars … “Do the crime. Do the time” … I gave up … that kind of crime when I was 16’.
The first time Jonah was placed in an institution was when his mother put him into a children’s home in New South Wales when he was seven. He was there for about eight months. ‘I was allowed to steal cigarettes and give them to the nurse so I could go to football matches …
‘[There] I was mentally abused by older children. I had to run away. I felt for my life. There was a psycho. Six foot tall. It was like, “I’m out of here”, but I had to go back … [Then] my mother decided to bring me back home.’
When he was 13, Jonah spent his first term in a juvenile detention centre.
‘When I first went [there], it’s on my mother’s accord … [She] put me in as being an uncontrollable child … Next minute, I find myself, I’m not going to school, I’m going to [the] courthouse and then I’m locked up in a cell for seven days … That’s totally wrong. That’s totally unacceptable as a 13-year-old.’
Jonah spent a month in the detention centre on that occasion. ‘It was a peculiar place.’ The guards physically abused the boys, and ‘there was times when we had to fight … the white guy had to fight the black guy and all that … and then I was harassed by, bullied by people [and] had to steal matches for them so they could smoke their cigarettes.’
Before he went to the detention centre for a second time when he was 15, Jonah was locked up in a watchhouse. He was accused of being a ‘cockatoo … a lookout for someone who’s doing illegal things … and I was locked up … I was still only a young child at the time …
‘I got sexually harassed by [an inmate] … and I was made to do things that you know, people shouldn’t do … I felt threatened by the person there and I felt something for me life if I didn’t do something for him … a sexual act.’ After a week in the watchhouse, Jonah’s case was dismissed.
At 18, he spent a short time in adult jail for a minor offence. This was ‘very intimidating. Not a very good time’. While he was there he was sexually abused by one of the inmates. When it happened a second time, he reported it to the guards and was transferred to the secure section.
Jonah believes that the physical and sexual abuse he experienced as a child has had an impact on his adult life. ‘It’s changed my personality, if I had a personality as you say, and like, I can’t concentrate for a long period of time. I find it hard to hold onto a job and it’s just … changed me.’
Jonah has spoken to psychiatrists in the past, but he gets angry when he has to repeat his story, so he hasn’t spoken to them about the abuse. Contacting the Royal Commission was the first time he has spoken about it. ‘I’ve never revealed anything … No family to talk with [now], so nothing to hide anymore.’
Jonah can see big problems for children in the future. ‘Let’s face it, how many kids we got out there now with parents that are on ice and stuff like that? We’re going to have a lot of crime … and there are going to be different sorts of institutions that you have to facilitate for what’s coming in the next 10 years … I’m going back over 40 years ago, and that’s just with the problems what society had then.’