Ruben was born into a hard life at the end of World War II in Brisbane. ‘It was only my mother brought me up’, Ruben told the Commissioner. ‘I don’t know who my father was.’ Ruben stole money and food when he could. ‘You know how you are when you’re young. You’re wild.’
When he was 15 Ruben was picked up by a friend in a car which turned out to be stolen. Police chased them down and Ruben was charged along with his mate. Ruben was sent to a reformatory to the west of Brisbane. There physical and emotional abuse was a daily ordeal. Ruben was also assaulted sexually.
Ruben admits he was not much of a fighter and was picked on immediately. Complaining to the guards was pointless: ‘You’d be branded a dog and they’d stand over you more’.
Once Ruben was working in the kitchen and hid some butter in his pocket for later. As he crossed the compound the Superintendent was there searching the boys. Ruben’s theft was exposed.
‘He was abusive to me, very loud and screaming in my ear. I jumped up and threw a punch at him.
‘I was put in the cells.’
Ruben came to the attention of a warder, Mr Lamb. ‘Lamb would wait ‘til after dark and he’d come over at 2 am when I was asleep and woke me up and want to have sex and all that sort of thing, you know. Very painful and I was crying just about every night.’
Lamb threatened Ruben to keep him silent, saying he would make sure the boy never left the reformatory if he said anything.
Ruben made several escape attempts. He was returned to the boys’ home each time by the police, no questions asked, and severely disciplined. But on his fourth attempt Ruben finally succeeded. Aged 16 he ran from the reformatory and made it all the way to Sydney, where he lived rough until he turned 18. He was then able to return to Queensland safely. The government lost interest in juvenile offenders once they reached 18.
Ruben kept quiet about his abuse. ‘I never told anyone. Not me mother or anyone. I was too ashamed.’
He worked in many jobs over the years, but was held back by his lack of education in his early years and while in the reformatory. ‘No education, nothing at all. You weren’t rehabilitated, you just learnt to hate more.’
He has had trouble trusting people all his life. And alcohol has been a problem too. ‘I’ve got the cirrhosis. I never stopped drinking, thinking about it.’
Ruben eventually wrote down his experiences and presented his account as part of the Forde Inquiry in Queensland. He received a cash redress payment, which he characterises as ‘peanuts’ compared to the difficulties he has endured since his time being assaulted and abused as a child.
Ruben would like to see children in care given a chance to speak up to someone they can trust. ‘Some psychiatrist should go round to all these homes and talk with the boys and find out if they’ve got any problems. Someone independent.’