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Joseph John's story

Joseph grew up in Queensland with a strict father and seven other siblings. By the time he was 14 years old he was clashing regularly with his father. As a result he ran away from home and lived on the streets.

‘I started hanging around the wrong crowd … mates were stealing a lot and that basically led me into detention.’

Joseph had begun to steal too and went to court a number of times. He kept breaking the law and was eventually sent to a government-run juvenile justice centre. He was 14 years old when he first arrived at the centre in the late 1990s. He was very frightened.

‘I didn’t like it much, the way we were treated, the food we had, the strip searches we had.’

There was also bullying and abuse from the guards.

‘I remember … I was mopping the kitchen and one of the guards tried to tell me to mop’ somewhere else and ‘I’ve just told him that I’m out here to mop the floor’.

‘Because I’ve got my back to him [being rude] he’s bashing me all the way from the kitchen to isolation. And then … the Senior [officer] come and seen me a couple of hours later and had a go at me and … I swore at him … then he’s jabbed me in the face … with his hand.’

From then on Joseph felt as though he was targeted by the guard from the kitchen.

‘I had a lot of trouble ... Especially getting strip searched, they used to … make us “squat and cough”. At the time I thought it was normal … they used to make us squat and cough and they used to put the mirror underneath our arses.

‘And then … when they used to think that something was up there, they used to stick their finger up there. At the time I thought that was just a normal procedure and every time they [the guard and his partner] were on, it seemed like we always got strip searched that way.’

This abuse went on for the duration of Joseph’s stay in the centre.

‘I try to forget about it, even though it is still there. I just feel more like I just want to forget about it, but every time I think about it … I want revenge against them.’

Joseph was always concerned that once released, if he ever was convicted of another crime and was taken back to the centre, the abuse would begin again as he felt he had been individually targeted. Bringing the centre to account for their lack of duty of care is very important to Joseph.

When he was released from juvenile detention, he went back to his parents and found work and formed a long term relationship with his current partner. He experienced a depression when he and his partner separated for a period of time and once again he found himself on the wrong side of the law. He was sent to prison, this time as an adult.

He has never told anyone about the abuse and its lasting effect on him.

‘I couldn’t really tell many people because I was embarrassed what happened and I would’ve got paid out – that’s the main reason why I couldn’t really tell my friends about what was happening.’

Joseph still holds this shame and has yet to tell his partner, his parents or his family of the abuse. He hopes that telling his story to the Commissioner will help others as much as himself.

He is hopeful about his life too, as he will be released soon from prison and is determined to remain outside.

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