Pierce told the Commissioner he didn’t have ‘the best of upbringings’. He moved frequently between states and schools with his mother, brother and a father who was a heavy drinker and often violent. In the mid 1990s, Pierce was 13 when his father took his own life and his mother had difficulty coping.
‘As soon as me dad killed himself, she give me away’, Pierce said. ‘I went to foster care, through secure welfare, all the boys’ homes systems. Me little brother didn’t, she kept him, but she give me away. I don’t know why, maybe it because I was named after him. I don’t know.'
A couple of years later, Pierce got in trouble with the police and was detained in a youth training centre in Victoria. John Meadows, one of the workers in the centre, was kind to Pierce and gave him extra privileges like letting him do art work at night outside his cell.
‘Everyone thought that was strange, why I was the only one allowed out of me cell, but I never seen anything wrong with it. He used to give me lollies. I never seen anything wrong with it.
'This one night in particular I rolled over and noticed John standing beside me with his pants down, and it sort of give me a fright. It give him a fright. He pulled his pants up, I don’t know what he was doing.’
The next morning Pierce’s cellmate asked what Meadows had done but Pierce deflected the question and didn’t want to speak about what he’d seen. However, 12 months later he was in a different juvenile justice centre when he was visited by several government workers who’d been told by Pierce’s ex-cellmate about the incident with Meadows.
Pierce was initially reluctant to say anything but then told them he’d seen Meadows with his pants down. He was then transported to the town hall near the youth training centre and told he was to appear at an inquiry.
‘[I was put] in a room with people everywhere from human services. I wasn’t allowed to have any family there. I had no one to help me and I got sat in the middle of the room and grilled, and told I was a liar and a juvenile delinquent and just, shit that still affects me to this day.
'There was workers that quit their jobs and everything over this, and they’re still talking on Facebook to this day 'cause they were horrified with how it got swept under the carpet.
'But that’s what happened – it got swept under the carpet and I was just the young troubled kid and that’s all I got told was, “It’s your fault. You’re lying”, which I think is terrible as an adult.’
Pierce didn’t know what happened next but thought Meadows was cleared of any wrongdoing. He was told only that it would be he who was barred from returning to that centre, ‘like it was my fault’, and he felt the treatment he received throughout the process was as bad as the original incident with Meadows.
‘I still struggle to this day because of the way they made me feel. I wasn’t lying. I had no reason to lie. But for them to do that, fuck I was only 14 … I might have been a little older, I can’t remember exactly, but I wasn’t allowed to have no one there. They didn’t give me a chance. I just got ripped out of here and taken there, sat down and pumped.’
As a teenager and into adulthood, Pierce used heroin and has been incarcerated numerous times for a variety of offences. About 10 years ago, he met Janine who he credited with turning his life around and who ‘showed me a different life’. They had a daughter together; Pierce bought a house, got a job with a mining company and stopped using drugs.
However, several years ago a work injury changed everything and Pierce went from working 14-hour days to doing nothing at home. He left Janine and his daughter, started using drugs again, was picked up by Victoria Police and sentenced to another jail term.
Pierce spoke to the Commissioner from jail and said he was thankful police had arrested him because he didn’t think he’d be alive otherwise. ‘I wanted to end it’, he said.
He didn’t know why he’d left his family. ‘I have no idea why I walked out. She comes and says, “Why? You had everything at your feet. What did I do?” All I can know is that it’s not her. I keep trying to tell her, “It’s not you”.’
Pierce’s release date had been delayed because he’d used drugs while in jail and produced a ‘dirty urine’. He said whenever something went wrong, he felt he had to ‘take something’ but was aware he needed to ‘stop it’. A doctor in jail had told him he had bipolar disorder but Pierce questioned if that was true and so he’d stopped taking prescribed medication.
What continued to trouble him was the thought that Meadows might have done something else to him. ‘I often think, "Did I miss something? Did something happen and I only woke up when I did? How often had he done whatever he done while I was asleep? Played with himself" … It’s what I don’t know that affects me.’