I don’t know why those men chose me, or why they did the things they did – what I do know now, is that it wasn’t my fault and they were cunts. I know they are all dead now and I am not at all remorseful for being glad they are dead.
When I think back to all the running away from home countless times and being hauled back home every time by the police, or being expelled from every school I ever went to. The living on the streets, the booze, addicted to heroin and dealing drugs by the time I was 15. All of it makes perfect sense now – at the age of 52. Back then though, not a fucking thing made sense.
I first saw a psychiatrist when I was fourteen years of age and the last time was when I was just a few months into my sweet sixteen. After that it was councillors, parole officers and pastors. When I was arrested along with my addict boyfriend and our prostitute friend I was locked in the watch-house for a week. Then as I wrote earlier, declared a ward of the state and sent to Wilson Youth Hospital in Queensland (referred to by most kids as Wilson). I was ‘sentenced’ to stay there for an ‘indefinite period’.
Wilson was a maximum security institution with boys on one side of the place and girls on the other side. The atrocities that occurred in this place is well documented and were also included in the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions – better known as the Forde Inquiry. As a result of that inquiry and others, the place was eventually shut down and demolished – and not a moment too soon. Burn that fucker down. I drove by a couple of years ago and it’s all been replaced by houses, townhouses and units but there is no mistaking the hill where the original monstrosity stood- some things stay with you forever.
I don’t remember everything that happened in Wilson as it was a place where we were sedated with anti-psychotic drugs to keep us quiet – dumb you down – numb you down (chemical restraint). What I do remember is pretty fucked up and I have repeatedly tried and failed to just let it all go. Over the years it has been dredged up again and again when I am experiencing bad episodes of depression but also as party entertainment at many family gatherings. My family of course did not know about the abuses in Wilson because I never returned home once I was released – as my parents refused to have me back home. At parties family members would just joke about what a tearaway I was and about being in and out of Wilson.
Very few people realised the depression and anxiety this caused me. While writing this piece I researched Wilson and each day I seem to find another missing link – a snippet here – a snippet there, all sparking more memories that have resided somewhere in the recesses of my mind for nearly forty years. The process was slow because I took it all surprisingly hard. It messed with my head much more than I thought it would.
The worse thing for me was finding all the information about the young girls who had been in Wilson before me. The ones who were considered mentally unstable, uncontrollable or a nuisance and had been sent to the mental institutions for adults where they were raped by staff and other patients. Some of these young girls later committed suicide and the rest have led troubled lives and have been scarred for life. I knew this stuff had happened because it was always talked about amongst us girls in Wilson. I was always terrified that would be me one day – because I was mentally unstable, uncontrollable and very defiant.
I met up with a friend to discuss this and after chatting with him for a while I had an aha moment and said that for all of my life I have made light of my experiences, because my family had and that in doing so I had convinced myself that it wasn’t that bad – it’s how I coped at the time.
If you spend long enough with people who have been placed in institutions, the conversations about their experiences will tend to veer off into fonder memories -the fun times. Because all of these places indeed did have some ‘fun times’ – some acting out with your crew, some joy in a day, a screw (guard/officer) who was kind, moments ever so fleeting where you are reminded that you are alive – you are surviving.
Whenever my father and I discussed his childhood it was the good times he liked to talk about too. Yet the stark reality was he was abandoned by his mother as a three year old child, placed in institutions for most of his childhood, beaten, raped and dehumanised in every way possible – yet there were some ‘fun times’ – and those moments got him through. It’s the glimmer of hope that we hang on to when there is nothing else left. The uncertainty about when you are going to get out, what is going to happen to you next, are you going to get locked up again and how you can avoid it is uppermost in your mind. As children, having these concerns is not normal. Children being institutionalised is not normal. My father and I are just two of many thousands unfortunately.
I was with my father who was in his late sixties at the time, in the solicitor’s office when he received his payout from the government for the abuses and what he said while he sobbed in that tiny office still haunts me. He said “You know, the worst thing for me after all these years is that everyone on the outside knew what was going on – and they did nothing.”
Again I am reminded that it’s not our suffering we struggle to cope with – it’s the loss of that leaning in, that feeling of connection. We as people need to lean in more – we really do. And yes I was also kicked in the guts with dads words – much later though, because in that rare moment we were holding space together. We shared true and raw pain. It was a time of leaning in, he needed and more importantly, wanted me there to lean in to. Yes, leaning in to each other – like we should have all those years ago when I was ten years old.