‘I know what a lot of my issues are but I can’t do anything about it. It pisses me off because this time, I could be using it to try and do something to make my chances better for getting out and it’s not going to happen. I don’t want to come back. I’ve been coming back for like 20 odd years.’
Renata was just nine or 10 years old when she started living on the streets of Adelaide in the early 1990s, so any schooling she’s had in her life has been from inside prisons. But she says the education available from the prison system is simply not good enough and, with five years left on her sentence, she has already done everything they have to offer.
Until the age of seven, Renata had been living with her aunt and uncle, without knowing they were not her real parents. When the truth came out, she was returned to the care of her mother, who she said was ‘a bad drinker’.
‘My mum was at the pub all the time and I think she was a bit too scared to make lots of rules and stuff for me so I pretty much did what I want really. I hardly ever went to school. I’d go up the pub with her all the time, bringing her home and stuff. I thought it was great at the time.’
She started hanging out with kids on the street and that’s where she ended up herself. She stole things to get by and would often drink too much just so she could stay at a detox centre overnight and get fed. She was a ward of the state at the time and would get placed into community housing units but she’d always leave to be with her friends on the streets.
When Renata was about 12, she was staying with her boyfriend – who was 10 years older than her – and another street kid in a squat in the city. One day a man offered them all some drugs which they took. She spotted the man on and off over the course of the day.
That night, when they were all asleep at the squat, she woke up to find a strange man on top of her and the man who gave them the pills watching from a doorway. She woke up her boyfriend and the men ran off, but they soon came back and brutally beat her up.
Renata’s boyfriend took her to the police station to report the incident but she said the police did nothing other than talk to her for 20 minutes and offer her a lift to a friend’s place. She was offered no counselling and she doesn’t know if child protection were called, despite her being a state ward.
‘I think I was a bit of a problem as far as the police were concerned, like always getting reported missing then [having] larceny charges and stuff. They either didn’t believe me or didn’t give a shit. I don’t know.
‘I think 'cause I was pilled … I don’t really actually remember. All I remember is waking up with him on top of me … Because I was out of it, it’s sort of good I don’t really remember anything, but now that I’m older it’s disgusting.’
When she was 13 she became pregnant to her boyfriend, who was convicted of carnal knowledge as a result. She had her daughter when she was 14 and they moved in with her mother for a while, but not long after Renata went back to living on the streets. Her mother cared for the baby until she lost custody of her. That daughter is now grown up with two children of her own and Renata remains in contact with her.
‘She’s amazing, considering having me as her mother. She’s done really well, she’s great. She knows a lot of the stuff, all the jail stuff and the drug history and all of that stuff, but she doesn’t know about that [other] stuff.’
Renata said finding long-term safe housing has always been an issue for her and feeling unsafe where she lives has, in the past, turned her back to drug use. She said the way prisoners are released does not help.
‘I’ve never ever left here with housing. I’ve always ended up going in a roundabout way getting housing … I think that would make a big difference.
‘I think that’s what pisses me off as well, like the fact that I know I can do it but when everything starts, when things start going wrong I have a tendency to just …
‘And leaving here, you don’t leave with anything … they pretty much kick you out the door.’
She said things would be better if there was more help for people before they got into trouble, instead of after.
Renata is now keen to access proper trauma counselling to work through some of the problems she’s had in life. She said that while she felt like a tough kid at the time, she now recognises her life could have taken another route.
‘My foster parents, they were normal I suppose. It was a good upbringing up to then … I always think if I’d just stayed with my foster parents, I think life would have been so much different.’