Keenan has spent most of his adult life in prison. When he approached the Royal Commission to tell his story Keenan was serving a lengthy sentence for attacking a man he believed to be a paedophile. ‘I’ve got a dead set hatred of sex offenders’, Keenan told the Commissioner. ‘An absolute hatred.’
As a five-year-old in the mid-1980s Keenan was fostered by a ‘nice white family’ on the New South Wales central coast. He loved and admired this couple and they became his adoptive parents. Nevertheless his Aboriginality meant that as a small child he felt out of place in the white neighbourhood. ‘I was a bit worried about what people would think when my family is white and I was black.’
When Keenan was nine his parents sent him along to the local Catholic Church to learn about Holy Communion. Keenan was very interested in religion and the parish priest, Father Rufus Baxter, took a friendly interest in Keenan. Father Baxter turned up at the family home one afternoon.
‘He asked my parents if he could do private studies with me at the church and my parents thought, you know, the sun shined out of his arse, they thought he was the top bloke.’ Baxter collected Keenan from school in his car and drove him to the church. The two of them were alone together.
‘It started off, he’d joke around and that, doing his little laugh and touching my knee and touching me thigh and then, yeah … He’d touch my penis and I pulled away from him. He said “No, everything’s all right”, and he’s just a friend.’
The abuse continued. ‘Done it again and I told him I didn’t want him to. Then he roared at me, no matter what I say to my parents they won’t believe you.’
Keenan did not want to go back for further communion lessons, but his parents insisted. Baxter touched his penis on two more occasions. Finally Keenan found the courage to talk to his father. ‘I pulled my dad aside to talk to him about it ‘cause for about three days straight he just kept doing the same thing to me. I tried to talk to Dad about it but he said, “No, you’re probably looking at it the wrong way. He’s probably just mucking around with you”.’ Keenan refused to return to Father Baxter and changed churches instead.
The damage had been done. Keenan lost his faith. ‘I figured there was no God. He couldn’t be there protecting me when I needed him. I was in his house and he couldn’t protect me.’ He felt betrayed by his father. ‘The main person I trusted and relied on and respected, he didn’t believe me. The two main things I believed in the strongest weren’t there for me.’
Keenan decided to suppress his memory of the abuse. He thought, ‘I’ll find a little part of my body I can fold it up into and I don’t have to talk about it anymore’.
His behaviour changed dramatically and he became a ‘prick of a kid’. At 15 he moved out of home with a girlfriend and lost contact with his adoptive family for years. By his late teens Keenan was clashing with the police. He ended up in the juvenile detention system and then adult prison.
Keenan eventually did tell his girlfriend about the abuse in his past and she was very supportive and understanding. In his mid-20s he finally told his mother. ‘She was upset that I never told her because she would’ve done something. But with Dad getting rid of it I knew I couldn’t tell Mum.’ The relationship with his foster father remained difficult.
Keenan has told no one else about the abuse for 30 years. ‘Even now in court they asked if I’ve been touched as a kid I said “No”. ‘Cause it’s got nothing to do with them. It’s taken me a long time to talk about this.’
‘Opening up again today about it, it makes me feel like I’m a kid again. It’s bringing back a lot in my mind I’ve learnt how to put away.’
‘At the age I am now I’ve got to get rid of that burden that’s sitting inside me, I think that’s the thing that keeps bringing me back to jail. ‘Cause jail’s a good place to hide.’
Keenan was planning to seek the help of a counsellor when he is released from prison.