Roland John's story

Roland had a difficult start in life. His mother was abused by his father and she experienced mental health issues as a result. In the mid 1960s, when Roland was three, she was placed in a mental health institution.

He got passed around to live with various family members in regional New South Wales until the late 1960s when he was made a ward of the state and sent to a government-run boys’ home. This was the first of a number of institutions Roland was placed in, and he struggles to remember all the names and dates.

He said physical abuse was common everywhere he went, but he was sexually abused in at least two of the homes. The first he can remember was in Sydney, when he was about 10.

‘There was a bloke, he was only a young man, by the name of Dave. He was one of the staff carers there. He used to watch the kids in showers all the time.

‘He’d wait until the other kids were asleep, and he’d come in and start playing with you and things. He used to take us down into the office downstairs, because most of the nights he was there by himself. This went on for a number of years there, at least two or three years. I couldn’t, you know, trying to say anything to anyone about it, you just couldn’t report it.

‘I’ve even been to his own place, his personal house. He done sexual activity there. Even with his wife and his own kids at home. The first time he said to me, “Don’t say anything to my wife and kids”.’

On one occasion, Dave attempted to rape Roland.

Roland said he can’t remember caseworkers coming to check on him, and in any case he’d had enough beatings from people in his life that he didn’t know who to trust anymore.

‘I got sick of being there. I think I started to get into trouble and running off the rails because of the abuse that was happening.’

After a couple of years, he was sent to another home. He again fell in with the wrong group and got into trouble, and when he was 14 he was sent on to a reform home. At this place, he was abused by a staff member who would watch the boys showering together and would make a group of boys masturbate together. It happened a number of times over the six months he was there.

Roland said often he would get himself into trouble so he’d be put in isolation and could get away from the abusive environment.

‘I tried to forget about it but now, you know, another bloke I know is doing the same things I’m doing. He mentioned it to me and I started to talk to him about a few places, and he said, "Yeah, it happened to me there, there, there – every place I’ve been".’

When he was released at 18, he got a job at a truck yard, where the boss took him under his wing and acted as a father figure. That man’s support has continued through much of Roland’s adult life, but Roland has had some troubled times, mostly fuelled by a long dependence on alcohol. He calls it ‘liquid fire’.

He was in a long-term relationship and had two children, but that broke down and he didn’t see his sons until much later in life. He married again and had two more children. However, Roland is now serving a jail term for violence committed against his wife and a neighbour when he was drunk and ‘blew a fuse’.

He said being in jail for the first time reminds him of being back in the institutions of his youth and makes him scared of what might happen. ‘The walls have ears in here.’

This also makes it difficult for Roland to take part in treatment programs for anger and domestic violence, because he is scared about revealing the child abuse in his past to other inmates. He has not been able to access counselling while in prison, despite repeated requests.

‘Back in 2010 when a domestic happened then, I sort of went off because my wife was aggro towards the kids again, and I just hate abuse and it doesn’t matter who it is now, I just sort of go off. I went to a psychologist.

'We were doing a lot of counselling, what they call brain spotting, to find out what’s happened to you in the past and where it’s burned into the brain. She said from what I’ve told her, she’d need at least three to five years to help me.

‘It’s hard to open up and keep telling the same story over and over again to every different counsellor.’

At the moment Roland feels that he has nobody to turn to, but he’s keen to get out and get some support to help him avoid another jail term.

‘Hopefully, fingers crossed, this will be my first and last … I’ve been hiding behind the alcohol for too long, I’ve got to tell my story and get it out there, and get me the help … It’s a wonder I’m still intact.’

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