Lawrence Thomas's story

Lawrence was born in the 1950s into a large family in regional New South Wales. His dad was violent and beat him regularly – he remembers his mother crying ‘you’re going to kill him’ whenever his dad would have a go. ‘He flogged me many a time, but still I loved him. I don’t know why.’

Lawrence would wag school a lot, sometimes for weeks at a time. ‘Because of me dad, and because of the violence, I used to run away from home ... I didn’t care where I slept.’ When he was around eight years of age he was sent to a Salvation Army boys’ home in suburban Sydney.

‘The magistrate said I was uncontrollable or whatever it was. But I think he was thinking about me dad, because he knew me dad.’

Lawrence kept running away, trying to return to his family hundreds of miles north, once making it the whole way back just ‘to get a flogging’.

He was sent to a boys’ training centre when he was around 12, which was violent and regimented. ‘You had to march, it was more than ... boot camp the army go through. They put you through hell.’

Lawrence tried absconding from the centre but the guards chased and caught him, and he was locked in a holding cell for four or five hours.

Some of the older inmates acted as ‘store boys’ and ‘had their own key’ to this cell, and sexually abused him there.

Then the deputy superintendent came in. ‘He put it on me, he actually pulled it out ... and I said “No” ... and I started crying, I just started crying, hey. I said “No, please, no, no, no”. I said “Your store boys have already done it to me”. And he didn’t insist, he didn’t push the subject.’

Similar incidents happened ‘about four times’. The boys ‘would do whatever they wanted ... They’d do everything, hey’, and the deputy superintendent also ‘had sex with me’. ‘If I say forced, yeah, it is forced. Because I was too scared to say no.’

Lawrence spent two stints in the centre, and two in a similar facility. He has spent a large part of his adult life in jail. ‘28 years’ jail. What an idiot. What an idiot I was. Anyway, I reckon they’ve done it to me. I reckon that’s, I reckon it was them.’

At first he was ‘very violent’ in prison, ‘because I was told “if you go to jail you’re … gonna get your backside done every day, and your weekly spend [tobacco etc] just taken off ya”.’ He decided to do everything he could to avoid it.

Lawrence has been addicted to heroin and ‘guess what happened to me? I turned into an alcoholic, real bad, real bad. And I still am’. Now he has cirrhosis of the liver, and was told he would be dead over a year ago.

He stopped offending in the 1990s and is currently on a methadone program and disability support pension. The person who arranged this benefit was ‘pretty high up’ and said ‘Listen, you’re not going to work again ... you will never work’. Not realising how bad his health was at this stage he replied ‘What do you mean? I’ll work, I’ll work anywhere’.

Nonetheless, the officer told him ‘No, you’ve been in boys’ homes since you were eight years old ... You done 28 years ... you’re not going to work, mate’ and put him down as being incapable of working. ‘I’ve been on that ever since.’

These days Lawrence lives alone and doesn’t really have any friends or community. ‘I’m a loner, I just stick to me own self.’ Recently he has engaged with a psychologist through a service which assists people raised in care (‘she’s good-hearted, she’s a lovely lady’), but has never really spoken to her much about the abuse.

‘I told no-one. I’ve always kept it in. When I heard from my psychologist that there is a Royal Commission, I was thinking ... I thought, shit, I’m gonna be dead soon ... I’m gonna tell them, I’m gonna to tell them exactly what happened to me.’

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