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Patrick John's story

‘Mum was a lovely lady. Dad was an alcoholic in and out of jail for many years’, Patrick said.

There were five kids in the family, growing up in the south-western suburbs of Sydney in the 1980s. When their father was in jail, their mother found it very difficult to manage. The family came to the attention of the Department of Community Services (DOCS) and the children were removed from their parents’ care. Different arrangements were made for each of them and Patrick found himself placed with a single man, Reg Whistler. Patrick was six or seven at the time.

Whistler sexually abused Patrick the day he arrived at his home. They sat in the lounge room together and Whistler showed Patrick photos of children he’d cared for previously. In one of the pictures Whistler and the child were both naked. ‘They were photos of him and the kid in the raw. They were both in the raw’, Patrick recalled.

Whistler led Patrick into his bedroom and showed him more photos. ‘Then he tried something on me.’ Terrified, Patrick broke free. He tried to get out through the front door but it was locked. He jumped through a window and ran to his grandmother’s place. She called DOCS.

‘They come around, and all the DOCS could say is “We don’t believe that” … I kept saying “Believe it – it’s true”.’ The DOCS officer returned Patrick to Whistler’s home. ‘[Whistler] kept saying “What are you scared of?” And I told him what I was scared of. He goes “There’s nothing to be scared of”.’

At bedtime that night or another one soon after, Whistler came into Patrick’s room. He got into bed with Patrick. ‘He done something he shouldn’t have been doing.’ The ‘something’ involved penetration. Patrick screamed, and once again made a dash for his grandmother’s.

DOCS was called again, and this time Patrick was taken for a medical examination. The results confirmed Patrick’s story, and he was taken away from Whistler. As far as he knows, no formal complaints was ever made and Whistler continued to be a foster father to other children.

Patrick’s next placement was with Peter and Helen Harrison, and this was much more successful. They were concerned about his learning difficulties and organised tests that led to Patrick attending a special needs school. Patrick stayed with the Harrisons until he was 16, when Peter Harrison died. ‘He was a good man’, Patrick said. At that point Patrick began a drift into drug use.

‘I was using drugs to hide the pain kind of thing, and hide my childhood … For me it was hard. If I used drugs, drugs used to take away the pain and I’d forget about it for a couple of hours. The next day I’d be miserable sad again and I’d just do the same thing because it was the only thing that cheered me up’, he explained.

His drug use led eventually to crime. He managed to avoid arrest until he was 18. ‘After that it was just trouble trouble trouble trouble trouble.’

Since then, some 20 years ago, he’s been constantly in and out of jail. The longest period he’s spent outside prison has been less than a year. The only reason it was that long: ‘Not getting caught for what [I] did’. But for the past five years his jail time is not the consequence of crimes he’s committed, he said. Instead, it’s because he’s breached conditions of his parole - failing urine tests, staying at places where he’s not meant to be and so on. ‘I haven’t committed a crime for a very long time’, he told the Commissioner.

Patrick has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and more. He takes strong medication to help manage those conditions. In jail he sees a psychologist, but not often. ‘Once in a blue moon’, he said. ‘This is nothing against the staff and that, but in jail you’re lucky to get any support.’

Patrick left school in Year 9. He had a few jobs back then but hasn’t worked for a long time.

‘It’s like you go to work, get to work, you work and then you have lunch and you sit down with people, they talk about what they done in their lives – I can’t do that. I mean, it feels like they’re perfect and I’m not … Why couldn’t I have a life like them?’

He has been to rehab but didn’t manage to complete the program. ‘Rehab was a good thing but you can go through rehab and not change. You gotta be wanting to change. If you’re wanting to change you can do it out there in the community.’

Looking ahead, Patrick thinks maybe he’s ready to do that. He’s got plans to seek compensation for the abuse he suffered. He’s back in touch with his father, who visits him in jail. ‘As much as he’s done the wrong thing in the past he’s still a good man. He’s my dad.’ When he gets out of jail this time he’s going to go and live with his partner and her children, in a distant suburb, away from temptation.

‘If I’m around that kind of stuff, it triggers it off. But where I’m going there’s no drugs … I’m looking forward to giving it a go.’

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