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Norm Henry's story

‘I used to go to sleep dreaming I was Superman and beating all the bad guys. Never worked, but that was my way of coping I suppose, as a kid.’

Norm’s father died violently when Norm was three, and a few years later, his mother married a cruel, violent man. ‘I thought life was pretty good up until then. It was just sheer cruelty, but not just to me, to his own as well … He was just a cruel man … bashed with a closed fist and … I was thrown up the walls and I’d … come sliding down the walls from eight and a half onwards, and all he did was toughen me up, make me hard.’

When he was 16, his stepfather bashed his mother one day and Norm took him outside and broke his jaw. He was a big man. ‘I had to jump to hit him, but I’d been practising for years … and he never touched her again.’

Norm ran away from home when he was 12, ‘because I didn’t want any more beatings. So when the cops caught me living in Brunswick … [they] put me in [a juvenile detention centre] and that’s when it really started. I thought I’d seen violence before, but they were trying to have sex with kids as well’.

Norm told the Commissioner that three officers ‘were trying to get you to suck ‘em off or do things like that … or trying to screw you, so I wasn’t going to be into it. So it was a fight and I kept losing, but I wouldn’t stop fighting’. Other inmates tried to force Norm to perform oral sex on them, and if he didn’t comply, he was beaten up.

The supervisor of the centre was ‘actually a nice guy, but he was that soft … You could go to him with a complaint, you knew you were going to get a belting that night, because he’d have a go at his officers, but nothing would actually happen’.

When he was released from the juvenile detention centre, the Anglican priest from the family’s local church offered to take Norm in. ‘I thought, “I’m safe at last”, but I was wrong. I was not safe at all. You know, you’d wake up at two o’clock … in the morning, and he’d be trying to have it off with you and all this sort of crap, so I punched the shit out of him as well.’

The priest threatened Norm, and said, ‘No one will believe you, but the judge will believe me’. Norm kept quiet because when he ‘said a word against him to a copper … I got a smack in the head … because I spoke about a priest that way … You got to a point where you weren’t game to say nothing to anybody ... You learned to fight. I got bashed. I got hurt. But I survived’.

Norm said he will never forget the abuse he experienced as a child. ‘It’s never going to leave your brain. You can live with it, if you choose to. Some choose to suicide … But you can choose to make something of yourself, or try to, or you can let it drag you into the pits, and it’s a fight.’

Norm used alcohol as a coping mechanism for both his childhood trauma and the memories he brought back from the Vietnam War. ‘I did the piss. And I thought grog was a great escape, ‘cause I’d curl up on the floor to sleep and I’d be laughing and smiling, and they’d say, “Gee, you’re a happy drunk” and there was no pain … and that’s why I love grog because it didn’t wreck me, it gave me alleviation.’

Although he would like some compensation from the government for his time in the detention centre, he knows it wouldn’t take away the pain. ‘I’d give you the compensation and more, if you could erase [the memories] … out of my brain and my spirit.’

Norm is currently serving a prison sentence for a crime he denies committing. It was in jail that he met his support person from the free legal service, knowmore. Before meeting him, he had not spoken about his abuse to anyone.

‘The only reason I’m talking to you is I got so pissed off with why I got put in here … we can’t change that fact, and I’m not trying to … I was talking to [the support person] and I clicked, and I … opened up pretty well straight away … I’ve been sitting on it for that long. I think the thing was just about going to … I was overloaded, you might say, and it was time to let it out.’

Norm said, ‘Getting it out has helped. I think if you don’t let it out, you’re going to be in strife. You’re going to bottle it up like me and you know … the only good thing about coming to jail is I ran into him, and it popped out me head and me mouth, so it must have been the right time’.

Norm believes that there are two things that are important in life. ‘Keep hope. Hope beyond hope. And … learn.’

‘When I was a kid, Superman kept me alive … Superman was unbeatable, so that was my escape. That was my hope then. And then, different things became my hope.’

Norm is glad he ‘cut loose a bit. I’ve stored it for a long time. But at the same time, if it helps others, okay’.

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