Pablo learned early on that not every adult in his life could be trusted.
‘I was about five, and I was molested by my grandfather. And I just stopped trusting in older people ... I just become a loner. It just killed me inside really. It took my life away from me.’
Pablo isn’t sure if he disclosed the abuse at the time, although ‘my parents know about it, but they didn’t do anything about it’.
Otherwise he remembers ‘a pretty normal upbringing’ in a ‘relatively good family’. He started wagging school in Year 8, and got into trouble with police, ending up in a Brisbane juvenile detention centre in the late 1990s.
The centre was a terrifying environment. Other boys were extremely violent towards him, sometimes encouraged or enabled by staff.
‘I was crying, and I remember being in fear of my life.’ Officers told him, ‘“you’ve got to become a man” ... I got belted again, so I pissed my pants, I was that scared. I was crying, I was shivering, and no-one was there to support me’.
Staff frequently physically assaulted the inmates, and they sexually abused Pablo numerous times. On one occasion, an officer threw a couch at him, giving him concussion. ‘My head hit the wall, I was out cold.’ He asked for medical treatment, but the officer bribed him with chocolate and TV access not to report the incident.
Other times, Pablo and this officer ‘were mucking around, playing, and he was pushing me down, pushing his finger inside my bum, he was laughing at me, he was thrusting his dick against me. It was all just playing – but I knew better what it was’.
On another occasion a different guard threw Pablo into a cell known as ‘the box’, and demanded he strip naked. When Pablo refused to do so, the guard became violent.
‘I think he went and turned the cameras off. He got four screws, he walked in and ripped the fucking clothes off of me. And while I was down, one of the fucking screws ... he stood on my balls from behind, and they were laughing at me.’ Another officer chucked water over him, and he was left there cold and shivering for hours.
Pablo’s parents visited him at the centre, and when they left he would be strip searched. ‘I’m a little boy at this time ... They’d say, “All your clothes off”. So you stand there naked. Lift your ball sack, peel your foreskin back, turn around, squat and cough, spread your cheeks apart ... I said to one of them, do you like looking at little boys naked? Does it get you off? ...
‘I said, youse are sickos, eh? Not only have I been fingered, I’ve been made to fucking suck someone’s dick in jail, now they’re doing that to me, stripping me naked. That’s just fucking bullshit man, I’m a kid.’
Pablo was never sexually abused by other boys, as ‘I threatened to fucking stab them or something’.
There was a social worker at the centre, but ‘he never really did anything with us. They just pretty much didn’t really do their job’. Pablo suspects other workers may have known about the physical and sexual abuse happening to inmates.
‘I honestly think they didn’t even give a shit. The less they involved themselves with people, the less they had to do. I had a case worker, but I don’t really remember him, I never seen him. I was asking about him.’
Pablo was released after around eight months. He attempted to re-enrol at school, but was not allowed to. ‘The principal said, “Listen, I’ve got a message from the school-based police officer, that you just got out of a juvenile detention centre. We don’t want your kind at our school. You’re a troublemaker, we don’t want you here”.
‘In my head, when I got out of juvie I said, I’m going back to school, I’m going to give this a crack, I’m going to do it. I got there, they shut me down.’
Pablo has since completed a tertiary preparation qualification. After juvenile detention ‘I just smoked a lot of weed, just to numb the pain, that’s pretty much all I did ... I really didn’t do much for myself, I couldn’t go out, I didn’t want to be seen in public.’
Although he found apprenticeships, ‘I couldn’t work with other men. I couldn’t be around them’. If male bosses gave him orders, it reminded him of detention, and he got angry. The guards who abused him ‘were meant to be superior to me. That’s why I don’t like people being superior to me’.
Finally, ‘I thought fuck it, I’m a piece of shit, I’m just going to do what I do, and sell drugs, or rob people’. When he ended up in jail, ‘I started really opening up, what happened to me’.
He has spoken to a couple of psychologists over the years, but ‘I don’t like talking about it, and I don’t think that’s ever going to be able to be fixed’.
Pablo is considering investigating his compensation options, and making a police report about the officers who abused him. ‘I’ve just let them go for so long. I believe it’s time for them to pay for what they did.’
An apology from the government would have meaning for him too, then ‘I just want to go and live my life peacefully’.
Pablo didn’t tell his parents what was happening to him when he was in detention. Recently, he told his mum he would be speaking with the Royal Commission. ‘She said, “Holy shit, did that happen to you?” I said, “Yeah, what do you think fucks my head so much?” ... She didn’t know that her boy was being put through all that.’