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Warren Joe's story

Born in the mid-1950s, Warren was taken from his mother ‘as one of the Stolen Generation’. Despite this difficult beginning, he went on to enjoy many safe and happy childhood years.

‘I was adopted to a white family … They were a beautiful family that I had. I was raised up with a good education and everything else like that.’

Then, one day when he was 12 years old, he found himself in the ‘wrong place, wrong time’ and everything changed.

‘I curse the day that this happened … Why did I have to go to practice at that time? I wasn’t going to go but I went anyway. After football practice it was just a little bit wet. Raining a little bit. And I was waiting at the bus stop just to get home and this car pulled up and all of a sudden I was bundled in the car and taken out of town sort of thing, just a little bit out of town. And I was sexually assaulted.’

There were several perpetrators, all of them men that Warren vaguely recognised from around the football club. They abused him for about an hour then drove him back to town, told him that they’d harm his family if he said anything and let him out of the car.

‘I was bleeding, I was sore. I came home late, sort of thing. And I got in trouble with that too as well, but I wouldn’t say a word to Mum or Dad about what’s happened. They knew the next day that something was wrong but they couldn’t put a finger on it.’

From then on, Warren was a different boy.

‘I isolated myself, even from my family. Every time they used to come near me I used to take two steps backwards and that. I wouldn’t let anybody touch me, not even Mum or Dad until probably about two, three months later … I couldn’t stand being hugged or anything like that sort of thing. I’d try and cover everything up. And I was more silent than anything else.’

People at school asked Warren what was wrong and he told them not to worry about it.’ That’s when I lost me classmates and everything else, even with the teachers, because I saw everybody without faces anymore. Yeah. And I started playing up.’

A friend introduced Warren to ‘sniffing glue and petrol, which took everything out of me mind so, you know. That went on for a couple of months and I was in seventh heaven, I suppose one could call it.

‘Around my 12th year I was introduced to alcohol and I was drinking badly and coming home late, getting in trouble. But the more punishment that I got, the more satisfaction I get. I was always looking for something to give me pain, sort of thing. But then I’m still alive, I’m still with it. By the time I was 13 I was an alcoholic.’

Warren started wagging school and getting in trouble and was soon made a ward of the state and sent to a government-run home for Aboriginal boys.

‘Within three weeks of me being there I was raped by a couple of inmates in there. Then the superintendent … he started abusing me as well.’

Warren wasn’t alone. Many other boys were abused as well. ‘You’d hear some rustle at night time, one of us was dragged out of bed either by the superintendent or by the seniors.’

He left the home at 15 and returned to his parents’ care. He felt ashamed about the abuse and frightened that they might ‘disown’ him, so he didn’t talk about what he’d been through. After a short stay, he took off and lived on the streets.

In the city he met some boys his own age who taught him how to get by.

‘Within about two months I was streetwise then. I knew every back alley and every street there was. And I used to do like break and enters, do all these other things and then they said “Look, we know we can get easier money”.

‘So one night I followed them and we done some sleazy things, you know. Yeah. And what I done was I closed me mind, I shut off me mind. Because in them days what money they give you is like having $500 in your pocket.’

By age 16 Warren had ‘had it’. ‘I didn’t want to be this. I’d lost me family, I’d lost everything. I’d lost my dignity. I’m not supposed to be in this world, you know. And I bought a knife and I bought some liquor.’

He went to the park one night and stabbed himself. Two cops found him and brought him to hospital. Warren recovered and managed to get himself off the streets and into a boarding house. But his mind was so ‘upside down’ that he lost control one night and stabbed someone. After it was done he came to his senses almost immediately, called the ambulance and the police and waited.

He served a few months in a boys’ institution then escaped. At 18 he walked into a police station and tried to turn himself in. They told him to get out. Warren hit the road and travelled around for a while then committed a robbery and was sent to an adult jail.

He was only out for a short while before being imprisoned again. ‘I stabbed a bloke because he was a paedophile … But in the court I made up a different story.’

After serving that sentence, Warren repeated the same pattern. ‘I did the same thing when I recognised this other person. And I got life for that. Forty-two years I’ve done in the prison system. And my mind’s – I don’t know what love is now. I don’t know what emotions are. I’ve lost everything …

‘I still have shame. I still believe it was my fault, you know. Every time I walk down the street or every time I see somebody, I keep thinking it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have been there.’

Warren tried to make something good out of his time inside. ‘I started helping the young offenders to get their lives together before they get out of jail.’ He also visited some juvenile justice centres and talked to the boys.

Warren believes in the value of talking, having experienced it first-hand. In the late 90s he spoke about his painful past for the first time, opening up to some people who were visiting the jail.

‘I was brave enough to tell them my story. And I think that made me more stronger. It took a lot of weight off me shoulders.’

Warren is out of jail now and living with his sister.

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