‘I grew up with a family of six. It was like a normal family and then I was the only one out of the six who got into trouble with the law. I was like, you’d explain the black sheep of the family; I was always slow to learn and stuff, but ended up getting into trouble and eventually into a crime thing and ended up going to boys’ homes.’
Russell was about 10 years old when he first went to a Queensland boys’ home that was run by the Marist Brothers. It was ‘very violent’ and Russell was sexually abused while he was there by a visiting priest as well as older boys. ‘If you didn’t do it they’d bash you and stuff like that’, he said.
‘I still remember the priest’, Russell said. ‘I remember the old barn, like an old horse barn. It was pretty bad, like he used to get kids to do other kids as well, like sexual favours and stuff like that. It ended up, I don’t know, becoming sort of routine. ‘Cause I was that young I thought, "Oh this must be life", you know? I ended up getting out of there and I was out for a while and then fell into some more trouble with mates.’
In the late 1980s Russell was 12 when he stole a pushbike and was sent to a Queensland Government youth detention centre. In the four or five months he was there he was subjected to regular physical abuse.
Leaving that centre he spent the next few years in and out of another government youth detention facility where he was physically and sexually abused. One of the visiting teachers had a room upstairs in the centre and used to ‘take you up there and just do dirty things to you’, Russell said. A guard would also sexually abuse boys and force them to perform sexual acts on each other. Russell recounted being strip searched after visitors had been or sometimes for no reason at all, and during this process guards would fondle his genitals and digitally penetrate him.
Boys who misbehaved in the facility were put into isolation. ‘We used to call it a dungeon’, Russell said. ‘And they’d bash you and put you in there, and it used to be pitch black and like a mattress on the floor and cockroaches, thousands of cockroaches in there and you’d hear the noise of their wings. They’d be feeding off your blood and stuff, where you’d been bashed. They leave you there for four or five days and just terrorise you - like you’d ask for a drink and they’d throw water on you and stuff like that. It was pretty bad.’
Russell told the Commissioner he’d suffered a fractured skull and jaw from beatings from guards and had lost all his top teeth after being kicked in the face by them.
After leaving the detention centre Russell started using drugs and drinking alcohol to block out the memories of abuse, ‘then it went to spray cans, then smoking heaps of pot and then using powders’. As well as alcohol he drank methylated spirits. ‘Back in the day where you used to drink metho, but now they put stuff in it and you can’t drink it anymore. I used to drink heaps of metho and I used to sniff like, glue.’
Russell spoke to the Commissioner from jail where he was serving a sentence for drug offences. ‘Even today I still have dreams in my cell and wake up sweating and that. It’s pretty frightening sometimes.’ He’d tried to get onto drug programs while in jail but had been told, ‘you can’t do it because you’re illiterate’.
He’d never disclosed the sexual abuse which continued after he was admitted to an adult prison at the age of 17. In that prison he’d been raped by several other inmates. One of the prison staff was an older woman who’d bring him cigarettes and slip them under his door. ‘She seen heaps of things what’s happening but she never used to say much you know … She used to say, “Don’t worry”, you know. She used give us cigarettes and stuff. I don’t know if it was just to cover it, stuff like that.’
Russell said he’d tried to stay out of prison but ‘too much stuff’ came up and he ‘started getting into amphetamines’, and living on the streets where ‘it was pretty bad’.
He’d never had counselling and had survived because he was ‘pretty strong inside sometimes’. At the time of the Queensland Government redress scheme he thought of applying for compensation but didn’t because he was ‘scared’.
When he heard about the Royal Commission he thought, ‘Yeah, I should talk about it’.
‘Like as I got older, I just started committing bigger crimes like armed robberies - stuff like that. And I think from growing up in boys’ homes and sexually abused and stuff, I would hate to see anyone else … for some other kid, happen to them.’