Shaun Michael's story

‘I want to reach out to the kid inside of me and always want to protect the kid I fucking couldn’t save. I was just a kid. I look out here [in jail] at the young fellas [and] it’s like looking at myself and I’m trying to protect myself. It’s a constant reminder of me.’

Shaun grew up in Brisbane in the 1980s. His father was a ‘cruel’ and ‘violent’ man although he ‘tried his best … to be a father’. Shaun’s mother was one of the Stolen Generation.

‘She was a good lady, my mum, she tried her best … White society I have no respect for it at all.’

Shaun wasn’t interested in attending school and hung around with his cousins, wagging school and smoking marijuana. One night, when he was 11 or 12 years old, he was picked up by police.

‘They arrested me … they knew who I was. They knew my last name. They knew my parents … they didn’t give a fuck. They just went, “Send him to [juvenile detention]”. I wasn’t charged with anything and I found myself in a youth detention centre.’

He was put in a single cell.

‘I spent most of my time trying to learn how to make a bed … [and] taking my clothes off, bending over and showing my arse to the motherfuckers.’

When he was released he went back to living with his parents and ‘running the streets’. He was often chased by police because he was on the streets, not because he was committing crimes.

‘They’d always harass us kids.’

Soon, Shaun was picked up by police again and placed in a remand centre. He found the culture violent and, because of his young age, he was a target. Many of the older boys would ‘beat up the small fellas [and] most of my time was being hit around by [other] fellas’. He was also frequently isolated from other inmates.

‘Most of the kids were up in remand … Me? I got the dungeons … Lower remand was a place where no one was supposed to go but this is where they kept me.’

He was physically and sexually abused in these ‘dungeons’ by staff.

‘That’s all they ever did … they’d take all your clothes off you … turn [you] around and [make you] squat … and ‘cause I was one of those kids I said, “Nah, you can’t do that shit”. So then they’d leave [me] in [my] cell … Ended up in time out … They said they had no choice but to keep me.’

He spent 12 months in the centre. He still finds it difficult to talk about his sexual abuse.

‘[They’re] ‘sposed to look after you in the boys’ home … [but] touching and wanking … you didn’t expect [it].

‘I found myself going through this fucking trauma for over a year … I had no idea … I lost it. I couldn’t give a fuck what happened … I went crazy.’

Since that time, Shaun has spent much of his life in jail. He believes police, courts and jails are racist.

‘I look back on it all the time and of course, it [racism] happens to me today … These courts make it that difficult, and the people that work in here [jail] are racist … I have no respect for the white society and the law. I couldn’t give a fuck.’

His intimate relationships have been fragmented and he finds it difficult to trust anyone. He relies on himself and keeps to himself.

‘When it comes [to] people … [who] try to get close to me I brush it off.’

His relationships with his siblings are difficult too but in jail he has been able to connect with other Aboriginal men.

‘I love my culture, I respect it. If it wasn’t for jail, I probably wouldn’t know my culture.’

And while he believes there needs to be more Murri counsellors working in the drug, alcohol and trauma counselling programs available in jail, he understands how difficult that is to put in place.

‘They [Murri counsellors] can’t keep up. They going through grief themselves, as much as they’d love to admit they can handle it [they can’t]. It’s shit. None of us can handle this shit. We need to fucking come together and build a stronger community … but we [are] all different clans. We [are] all mixed up … Australia’s just a fucking dirty place … there’s no excuse for Australia.’

His brothers and sisters received a very minimal amount of money as compensation for their experiences in care. Shaun believes that the amount was ridiculously small.

‘You want to give me money? Give me a million, two million dollars – change my life. You want to change people’s lives give them a certain amount of money [that will] … help them change their lives.’

Shaun has four children he is very proud of.

‘They’re not ashamed to write me and say hello to me and come up and hug me. When I go home, when I get out, my kids they sit on my lap, they don’t leave my side.’

Because of his traumatic experiences of abuse he understands the pain of others and tries to help the younger inmates.

‘Most of these kids [in jail] are fatherless and I try to be a big brother or a father to all them … There’s nothing more important to be a great father and a good leader. That’s all I look forward to.

‘I’m a really happy person. I pick up the other fellas in here, and … I’ll try and make them get over their … sadness.’

He also intervenes to stop them getting into further trouble inside.

‘They’ll say and do things in here that are just a bit stupid because it’s a damaged place to be … Saying something [won’t help them]. They forget, so I’ll quickly interact and I’ll get in there … I haven’t stopped trying. I always try.’

When he was in the remand centre he received letters from his mother.

‘My mum … stressed to me how important it is for a kid to know what education is … [She’d] say read the Bible and teach yourself about the religion … so I learnt how to read the Bible before any other book, I learnt how to read and write through the Bible … I’ve never been to school. I learnt to read and write in here.’

Shaun still reads the Bible.

‘I read it all the time … if I got nothing to think about I just pick it up and I’ll look at it and it’ll say something that’s so magical and … [I feel as though] I’ve got nothing to worry about.’

When he gets out of jail, he wants to be respected for his achievements inside, teaching himself to read and write and undertaking a range of courses, and he hopes to keep on helping young Aboriginal people by being an advocate for child safe programs and policies. He believes that Aboriginal people need to be included in any discussions about their children.

‘Let the [Aboriginal] people take care of their own people. Give them the respect they need. Let the leaders have their say.

‘[If] my kids get something out of this then I might yet make it out of here … this is my goal, to leave some type of story.’

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