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Reece Benjamin's story

‘I think that burden that I’ve carried all these times … I’m trying to suppress them [memories] … by taking drugs. When you’re sitting … in your cell and you ain’t got no drugs and them thoughts coming into your head – it’s hard sitting in that room.’

Reece was diagnosed with a behavioural disorder and prescribed both Ritalin and dexamphetamine from the age of five years old. When he was about six years old, his parents separated. He remained with his mother in Brisbane.

Before Reece’s parents married, his mother had a heroin addiction and she returned to the addiction when she became a single parent.

‘I was a very uncontrollable, wild, outgoing kid when I was young. I grew up around a lot of violence, a lot of drug use, a lot of alcohol abuse … Mum got to the stage where she couldn’t control me at all, no matter what she did she couldn’t control me or settle me down … all I wanted was my dad at that time.’

Reece was first placed into foster care when he was eight years old. His behaviour remained challenging. He vandalised his foster homes and stole the foster parents’ cars. He moved from foster home to foster home.

When he was 12 years old he got in trouble with police and had to appear at the children’s court. The judge suggested that Reece go back to live with his mother. But, because of her addiction and ‘all that she had put me through’, he didn’t want to go back to his mother. Of the several alternatives presented to him, he chose a Catholic-run boys’ home in regional Queensland.

‘Allegedly it [the home] is meant to be that’s where eagles, young eagles soar, but more or less I took a big nose dive.

‘Motorbikes, horses, swimming pools … very appealing to a young kid … they tell you about all these outings that you go to … so I said, “All right, I’ll give it a go”.’

Reece was 11 years old when he went to the boys’ home, where he was brutally bashed and sexually abused.

The boys lived in cottages and had ‘cottage parents’ who looked after their everyday needs. Reece’s cottage parents were ‘very violent towards us kids’.

‘We were made to call them Mum and Dad … that was hard, you know what I mean, to call somebody else your mum and dad. It’s not right. I didn’t like it anyway. But if you didn’t do it, they’d flog you.’

Reece was sexually abused by one of the Brothers, Brother Paul.

‘I used to wet my bed at night. The Brothers come round and do checks. Brother Paul would come round, they used to change my sheets in the middle of the night … and that’s when I was sexually abused, was the first time I was sexually abused. He’d come in to check my bed to see if it was wet … it happened quite often.’

Reece was also sexually abused by Brother Finnian, who ran the medical unit.

‘He used to call you up to medical … make you pull down your pants and [he’d] say, “Oh you might have something wrong”. He’d start pulling on you and playing with you and I found that very strange … I felt very uncomfortable with it … as a kid you’re scared. You’re confused and you’re scared you don’t know if it is right or if it is wrong.’

He wasn’t able to report his abuse to any of the other Brothers as he believed they wouldn’t take the abuse seriously.

‘To go to one of the other Brothers and try … to tell them, it’s like, “What are you talking about?” … and [they’d] give you lollies and soft drinks and [say] “That’s all right” and “Come on, we’ll go motor bike riding or horse riding to take your mind off it”. But then it happens again that night.’

Reece was also aware of other boys being abused and physically assaulted.

‘I knew that they were going through the same thing that I was ‘cause we used to tell each other and talk to each other about it.’

He remembers the physical assaults as well as the sexual abuse.

‘They had a strap, it was three pieces of leather stuck together with three fifty cent pieces in the middle of it … And … I was playing up … I went to get the strap and … he [the teacher] went overboard. He belted me from head to toe with the strap, from the back of my neck to the bottom of my heels.

‘ … that week I went home for weekend leave. Got home, black and purple bruises … I got home and my dad said “What happened?” … Dad took me to the doctors … the doctor took photos and my father went to the papers … got [the teacher] sacked from [the home.] That physical abuse was happening every day to 10, 15 kids a day.’

When Reece was 12 years old his father was finally awarded custody of him and Reece went to live with him.

‘If it wasn’t for my dad I wouldn’t be here today.’

While Reece ‘always had a home, always had a dad there’, his behaviour was still difficult.

‘I was always out, never home, I was always out on the streets, hanging out with the street kids … I’d come and go as I please. He disciplined me but, it’s like he gave me free rein because he knew what I’d already been through … Like he said “Son, I can’t undo what’s already been done … And he was my best mate. We talked about a lot of things. He knew.’

Reece began smoking marijuana when he was 12 years old and started drinking alcohol when he was 14.

‘When I started using intravenous drugs, that’s when I started getting in trouble with the law big time … I was 18 years old when I first went to jail.’

Since then Reece has spent many years behind bars for a range of offences. He has also had a drug addiction for most of his adult life.

He stopped taking Ritalin and dexamphetamine when he was 15 years old and, since then, has managed his anger and behavioural issues himself.

‘Back in my [late teens] and early 20s I would unleash on the first drop of the coin … but being in jail … I’d come up with strategies and ways in my own head to suppress that anger.’

Reece has never reported his sexual abuse, received counselling or received compensation. The Royal Commission is the first time he has spoken officially about what happened.

‘I just want peace. Closure. Sometimes it is easier talking to a stranger … for me telling you [the Commissioner] what I’ve been through … it takes courage.’

He is hopeful that he can ‘kick’ his drug addiction and work towards having a more stable life.

‘I’m a strong spirit. I’m a strong person. I’ve been through a lot … I want to change my life … There’s no doubt at all. I want what they’ve got. I want to wake up and I want to go to work. I want to have a job, I want to be able to have a nice car, and buy nice things and have a nice family and have a nice house and have a good life and live the rest of my life. There’s no doubt in my mind that I want that but I just haven’t had anybody to show me how to get it.’

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