Mal Terry's story

‘People in authority were the ones who did all this damage to us … They say to us here [in jail] “Do this course do that course on drugs and alcohol”. We turned to drugs and alcohol to cover everything up. Why would we want to stop? People don’t understand it.’

Mal was only six or seven years old when he was sexually abused by a family friend in the late 1960s, in the regional New South Wales town where they lived.

‘I was just walking home and I seen him. ‘Cause Dad knew him I went straight over to him. I should have kept away from him … I was always taught to be respectful and stuff, talk to people, [good] mannered and stuff … and that’s why ‘cause he knew Mum and Dad.’

His behaviour became difficult for his parents to manage.

‘Started wagging school and breaking into places and that while we were wagging school … Next minute I knew I was in the boys’ home in the city … I got charged with being an “uncontrollable” … I got a general committal … four months to three years depending on how you behaved yourself … whether you got out or whether you did the whole time.

‘Got out and played up again. I’d do the same … out back in, out back in and each time they would send you to a worse place.’

Mal ended up being sent to five different juvenile detention centres. He was brutally physically abused in all of them and sexually abused in three of them, and has only recently begun to open up about this abuse.

‘Up until November last year, I just hung on to it … What brought it up was … When I was out [of jail] … I was staying at my mother’s place and she come out one morning … sat down and she said, “Listen Mal, do you ever hold it against me and Dad, you being in boys’ homes?” and I said “No”. And then I told some of the things that happened to us and she just said, “I don’t want to hear anymore” and walked off.

‘She [later] asked me why I didn’t tell them when I was there … We were told, “If you tell your parents anything … things are going to escalate. You’ll get bashed”. And we knew kids that had been bashed.’

At one of the centres the sexual abuse was organised with a number of staff involved.

‘Because we played up or something, we’d [have to] go to the toilets while everybody else was asleep … they’d [staff] come in then … they’d fondle us and shit when [they] were on night duty … I can [still] remember his face.’

At another, Mal told a staff member about his abuse but nothing changed in regards to his abuser’s employment.

‘I told him about what was going on with [his abuser] … [when I got out] he called in at Mum and Dad’s to make sure I was alright.’

One of the centres was run by a man with connections to the judiciary and he used that fact as a threat to the boys.

‘He’d lay down the law, you know. “You do this, you do that” … he’d threaten us with violence and everything … and lie [to] everybody in authority we played up. But then we found out what he could do … He’d always make sure it happened early in the week so that when you got visits on the weekend there was no marks.’

When Mal was 18 years old he was released from detention and ‘got out for a little bit’.

He has now spent over 40 years of his life in juvenile detention and prison. His intimate relationships have been difficult, and he doesn’t have any contact with his siblings. He also has significant issues with authority, and deep distrust of people outside jail.

Mal realises that he needs to address his trauma if he is going to make any significant change to his life, but he has had difficulty finding a good counsellor.

‘Unless they know what you’ve been through and lived it themselves they can’t tell you how you feel.’

He has recently started ‘a relationship with a girl and she’d been through the same sort of thing’, so they have a common understanding of the impacts of sexual abuse.

‘I don’t want to [re-offend] … I’d love to turn my life around and not come back to jail and spend the rest of my life with [my partner].

‘[But] I’d have no hesitation in killing [his abusers]. No hesitation at all … and that sort of stuff goes through my head all the time and I don’t know how to stop it … I don’t know how to deal with it because it won’t go away … I can’t just go and talk to someone if I want to [in jail].’

Mal feels guilty and responsible for all of his abuse, although he was groomed, manipulated and coerced into the situations where he was abused as a child.

‘For a long time, even now … I thought I earnt that, deserved it … Still to this day … how I’ve always looked at it … I chose to go out and steal and break into houses and wag school … and that’s a choice I made and that [abuse] is my lot. I don’t blame anyone except myself … if I hadn’t done what I done, I wouldn’t have been where I was.’

It’s ‘early days’ for Mal in dealing with the abuse, but he is hopeful that his open and honest relationship will continue and that that stability will help him work through his issues. He is also building a relationship with his son who now runs a successful business.

‘I’m pretty proud of him, from where’s he come from [to] where he is today.’

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