Shannon reflects on what might have made a difference and reminds us that even self-confessed ‘bad boys’ can turn their lives around. Shannon’s story begs the question – did locking Shannon up in juvenile justice make a positive difference or did it just set him back?
I can’t think of what might have made a difference for me. If I’d had a father around, that might’ve made a difference. Who knows? And maybe if I’d been educated, if I stayed in one school instead of being in five different schools in a year? Maybe I would’ve been all right.
I started drugs and alcohol at a young age: nothing heavy, mainly marijuana. I moved out of my mother’s house when I was thirteen and I was staying everywhere and anywhere. Mum tried her hardest but she’s only one woman. She was a single mother trying to raise a bad boy. She couldn’t be my mother and my father at the same time and I took that out on her every day. I couldn’t understand why she was always moving us, why we were in and out of refuges, why she was always running from Dad. I didn’t know what was going on behind closed doors.
I was thirteen when I first served a sentence in a juvenile justice centre. I’d got into a bit of a fight with a bloke at the back of the pub. Stayed in juvie nine months and after that, it was just a flurry of crimes from start to finish. I was everlasting on parole with juvenile justice: just re-offending and re-offending. I did bad things but nothing real bad, you know: not stabbing people or hurting nobody. Nothing like that. The last time was mainly driving unlicensed. (I’m mad on cars, I love them).
I would’ve been about seventeen when I first went to Doorways. I had nowhere to go: I had nothing. That was the first time I ever asked anybody for help. They’re nice people, beautiful people. They got me a job out at Fletchers, the abattoirs and got me a house. I done everything right for a while: they got me in anger management counselling because I’ve got a problem with anger. And they got me relationship counselling.
In those days, I’d come in to Doorways and help out. Like they’d ring me up and say ‘We need help with a barbeque today’ so I’d come around and cook and they’d send me home with a heap of food and a couple of food vouchers and I’d be right. And then…I don’t know, I slipped back. My missus left me. We got into a big row and she took my son and that was it, I ended up doing two years back in Wello, the big man’s jail.
My mother has been there for me my whole life. She was there for me when I was in jail and out of jail. I stopped the way I was going because she started getting sick and I thought, ‘That’s because of me, stressing her all them years.’ When I got out, I went back to live with her for a long time until I got back with my ex. And now my Mum’s doing good.
I’ve been clean and sober since then, a year and a half, and it’s time to get on with my life. I couldn’t read or write but now I’ve done a literacy and numeracy course and like, I can’t read properly but I can read the paper and read everyday things. And I can surely tell you how much I get paid every week and how they’re taxing me. I’ve got a full time job as a boner, back at the abattoirs and I’ve got to just keep going.
I’m twenty five now and so I can’t come to Doorways anymore. Too old! But I still drop in and they always ask me if I’m right, if I need anything. I live close by and I walk past every day and they’ll stand there and have a yarn.
I’ve been blaming the police and the court system for years and then I realised it’s not them, it’s me. I’m the person who makes the choices. I’m the person who went out there to kick that car over and drive around the block and get caught, just for a drink or a smoke, you know? Goes way back to the family and the environment kids grow up in. Whether they’re shown the right way: whether they’re given what they need.
My little boy makes all the difference now: he’s a beautiful kid. I need to get a house for him. He’s only five now but hopefully by the time he’s ten or eleven, he’ll have his house. He’ll own his own house. I’m on the straight and narrow and this is where I’ll stay this time. I’ve got to muscle up and be a man… for him.
Shannon’s story shows that how easily young people having a hard time can end up in trouble. To reduce the number of young people ‘just re-offending and re-offending’ it’s time to redirect resources away from detention, and into prevention and early intervention.
A good first step in making change in juvenile justice is the current review of the Bail Act in NSW. Join our advocacy community to support Burnside’s submission.