‘When we were young kids we got bashed and told we were worthless and rubbish and shit, and then later on in life you think you’re that. “So if everybody keeps telling me I’m bad I must be bad, so I’ll be bad then”. And then I become bad.’
Tomas spoke to the Commissioner from jail, where he has lived most of his life, having spent only three out of 40 years on the outside. Most of his crimes, he said, were violent. He traces the roots of his aggressive behaviour back to the abuse he suffered as a child.
Tomas was born and raised on a farm in rural New South Wales. It was a good life until he started going to school where his teachers mistook his dyslexia for stupidity and antisocial tendencies and labelled him ‘disturbed’.
‘They thought that I had problems because I couldn’t read or write, so my way of getting out of the schoolwork was I’d start mucking up in class. So I’d take attention off the schoolwork and then, “Oh, he’s the bad kid, put him outside”.’
High school wasn’t much better. After a few days the teachers shifted him to the ‘too hard basket’, taking him out of class and making him work each day as the janitor’s assistant. Tomas left the place in his early teens when his parents split up, and moved with his mother and siblings to the city.
In those days when a single woman with five kids moved into a new neighbourhood it tended to cause a stir. So it wasn’t long before welfare knocked on the door. Tomas recalled, ‘They had all this wisdom on how they were going to fix me up and make me a better person. That’s when all the stuff sort of started’.
Welfare were only interested in Tomas. His siblings remained at home for the whole of their childhoods. They all grew up without any trouble and never went to jail. Tomas, on the other hand, was removed from his home and set on an entirely different track.
They sent him to live on a farm ‘right out in the middle of nowhere’. The manager was a man named Mr Reid. Reid lived alone in the main house on the property; Tomas was put up in one of the little huts nearby. At first, Tomas didn’t mind the placement. As a country kid, he was happy to be working outdoors. Then one night it all fell apart.
‘It was a really cold night, I rode the motorbike back in. I come in and my hands were shaking. He said, “What’s wrong with you?” I said, “Me hands are cold. Been on the motorbike”. He said, “Well, come here”, and put them under the hot tap, and he’s holding me over the top and I sort of felt uncomfortable.’
Reid then started groping Tomas’s genitals and tried to kiss him. Tomas pushed him away, ran out of the house and barricaded himself inside his hut. Reid followed and tried to break in. When that didn’t work he started threatening Tomas, saying that if he didn’t come out he’d be sent to a boys’ home. Tomas ignored him and eventually Reid went away.
A few days later the man again tried to abuse Tomas. Afterwards, Tomas decided to kill him. He found a gun and would have used it, but there were no bullets. So instead he contacted his family and asked them to move him to the boys’ home. He never told them, or the welfare officer, why he wanted to move. ‘I was too ashamed’, he said.
Tomas lived out the next few years in two boys’ homes where he suffered brutal physical abuse. At 14 he went back to live with his mother and then quickly took up an apprenticeship with a man who was a ‘druggie’. From there he got mixed up in drugs and crime. He developed a violent temper that was exacerbated by alcohol.
‘From what had happened I had a lot of anger inside me. Didn’t trust anybody, and as I started growing up and having relationships I’d be very dominant, standing over women and – yeah, I was a nasty person.’
As soon as Tomas was old enough to go to jail, that’s where he went, and he’s lived there off and on ever since. At the time of coming to the Royal Commission, he was a few months away from release.
Over the years Tomas has gained much insight into his behaviour, his crimes and his past.
‘I had to. Because I want to go out there and be a member of the community again, a proper member, instead of that angry boy. Now I’m an adult and I’m in here for an extremely violent crime, 25 years ago. And nobody deserves to go through what I went through and become who I become.’