Born in New South Wales in the mid-1970s, Paul grew up in a dysfunctional household that set him on the wrong path at an early age.
‘A lot of domestic violence’, he told the Commissioner. ‘Women’s refuges, sexual abuse, which in effect caused behaviour issues at school and other behaviour issues that were looked upon as uncontrollable at the time, but looking back now they’re actually patterns of – cries for, sort of, something was wrong.’
Nobody asked Paul what was wrong. Instead, the authorities made him a state ward at age 10 and sent him to a government-run receiving centre. There the staff separated him from the other kids – who were all older than Paul – and put him into a dormitory on his own, supposedly for his own protection. A few nights later Paul was sexually abused by one of the nightshift workers.
‘I was awoken by someone, you know, touching me, so to speak. And I just froze. I didn’t know what to do.’ The same thing happened the next night. ‘The next time I sort of was a bit resistive. And I ended up absconding. I couldn’t stay in that place anymore.’
Paul spent a short time on the streets before he was caught and sent to a state-run boys’ home. He escaped from this home several times but was always brought back.
‘One particular time when I come back, Mr Jonas, the housekeeper, decided to strip me naked and put me in the corner. And everyone was laughing at me. It was a very horrible moment, actually.’
Around this time Paul hit a turning point. ‘At one stage I think I was going reasonably okay, but I don’t know what triggered me to go downhill from there, but between there and [the next home] I just become very destructive.’
In some ways, Paul’s new, more aggressive attitude helped protect him. At 14 he was sent to another state-run boys’ home where one night a guard lured him into a private room with the offer of free cigarettes. Once inside the room, Paul saw that the man was watching a pornographic film. Paul took his cigarette and sat down.
‘And at the end he ended up asking me, you know, did I get an erection from it or how do I feel about it, and show him. And I felt that quite invasive. And at that stage I’d already been through all that and I just told him to basically piss off. And he called me an ungrateful arsehole and told me to go back to the dorm.’
Paul did, and the guard never bothered him again. Later Paul discovered that many of the other boys had been approached by the guard in a similar way. Not all of them were capable of telling the guard to ‘piss off’. Some had been severely abused.
At 18, Paul left state care for good. He ended up ‘drifting’ for the next few years. ‘No direction. No wind in me sail, going against the tide of adversity, in and out of prisons. Shipwrecked on the rocks of prison, so to speak.’
His crimes were mostly theft related. ‘No violent crime. That’s one thing I can honestly say that I never inherited was domestic violence or sexual crimes. I don’t believe in it. I think it’s despicable.’
He suffered from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. He found it impossible to maintain jobs or relationships long-term. ‘The impacts have been diabolical for me and society. I’ve left a destructive ripple effect on society with criminal activity.’
But unlike many of his peers, he never turned to drugs.
‘I’ve always looked the ghostly face of evil in its eyes. I’ve never really applied the blanket effect on the world by drug use. Never had to use drugs to put the blanket on – “The world’s too hard” kind of thing … It’s something within me that just keeps me going. I don’t know, it’s just like a sixth sense, the spirit tells you what’s right and what’s wrong.’
These days Paul uses ‘mindfulness and radical acceptance’ to cope with the ongoing psychological impacts of the abuse. At the time of his session with the Royal Commission he had just completed a course in community work and now aims to get a job in that sector, helping troubled youth.
‘The road that I’m on now is the road that’s going to keep me out of jail. You know, all this adversity and all this institutionalisation that I’m breaking away from, and all the crime and the behaviours and everything that’s led up to – even today has been a great lesson for me. It’s given me the ultimate wisdom. I’m turning all that pain into a positive.’