Lewis John's story

Lewis grew up in Sydney in the 1960s. His father’s work meant he was often away, leaving Lewis’s mother to be both parents to her family of boys. Lewis attended the local primary school and then a special school for kids who were struggling with academic learning. ‘I loved doing drawings, woodwork, things with my hands’, but reading, writing and maths were all difficult for him.

Lewis got into trouble early on. His older brothers robbed a local shop, and were caught in the act by police. Eight-year-old Lewis, waiting outside for them, was taken into custody as well. He was put on an 18-month good behaviour bond. It was the era of three strikes is all you get, Lewis explained to the Commissioner. Pretty soon he’d used up his three strikes. When he was 12, he was placed in a government-run group home in country New South Wales.

The kids at the home played in an adjacent paddock. It functioned as their sports oval. One Saturday Lewis was playing cricket there with the other boys when he needed to urinate. Rather than walk all the way to the ablutions block, he decided to wee against a nearby tree. As he did so he was approached by one of the Brothers from a Catholic order that was housed nearby.

‘The Brother came up and watched me, and he said “Do you masturbate?”’ Lewis recalled. ‘I said, “Fuck off”.’

The following night the Brother came to the cottage where Lewis was sleeping. ‘He pulled my bedclothes off and pulled my pyjamas off. He tried to penetrate me but could not. He fondled my genitals and made me fondle him and then made me give him oral sex and then left. I was terrified and moved to another bed.’

The same thing happened the following week. Lewis is certain the carer at the cottage was complicit. But after that second assault, the Brother – Lewis never knew his name – didn’t come to the group home or molest Lewis again.

Several years later Lewis was abused once more, in a different government-run boys’ home. He’d been placed under a control order after committing various offences. There was a supervising officer at the home, Stephen Wardle, who watched the boys when they showered and instructed them to pull back their foreskins so he could check they were properly clean.

Lewis believes that Wardle also sexually assaulted boys at night. Rather than deal with Wardle any more, Lewis and his friend Richie decided to run away. They were picked up by police after breaking into a house and stealing clothes and money.

At the police station, an officer asked why the boys had run away.

‘I told him why … I told him what happened – the sexual favours and things that were going on in there. He turned around and said “Hold your horses. I’ll have to get the carer”.’

The officer left the room to contact a DOCS officer, and returned soon afterwards. ‘He come back and told me, this police officer, he said “Now listen, they want you to shut up about what was going on. They said if you don’t they’re going to charge you with escape and they’re going to send you to [another] boys’ home”. Well, I’d heard about [that] home being worse than where I’d just escaped from. So I shut me mouth, and they charged me with the break and enter.’

Lewis has spent much of his adult life in jail. He was first imprisoned as an 18-year-old. ‘I didn’t mind it. Tell you the truth – I’m not bragging – jail back then was all right.’ Most of his convictions are for armed robbery, but he’s stayed out of that particular trouble since the early 2000s. ‘Before my dad died in 2008 I promised him I would never do anything again.’

Nonetheless, Lewis was back in jail when he spoke to the Commissioner. And these days jail is tougher. ‘The help in here – there’s no help. I can’t believe the system I have come back into.’ He can’t sleep. He’s lost weight. And he hasn’t been offered any medication or counselling. ‘I get nothing.’

Lewis said he has suffered fear, guilt and shame as a result of the abuse he experienced. In the early 1990s he had a chance encounter in jail with his former truancy officer and disclosed what had happened. ‘He said, “You know what you’re doin?” I said, “What?” He said, “You’re rebellin’. You’re rebellin’ for what’s happened”.’

In the early 2000s Lewis sought compensation from the Catholic Church. Because he didn’t know the name of the Brother who’d assaulted him, he was only offered eight counselling sessions. ‘Being truthful, it helped a little bit and then it didn’t … The thing is I just broke down. I went out and worked that day and then I went and did a robbery – why, I don’t know … It just brought the bad stuff up.’

Lewis’s mental health is fragile. ‘I’m starting to talk to myself, right? Where I’m trying to say to myself - I don’t even know if this is real here, today … I’m hallucinating.’ He hopes he’ll be released from jail soon and then he plans to check himself into a psychiatric hospital.

‘It really hurts me. How can I put it? Like, being in this place, it’s killing me … All I’m saying is, I’ve had enough of what they’re doing to me.’

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