Not born to be bad: Grandma’s heartache for her criminal boy
Fresh out of jail and on the run, a teenager calls his grandmother to say he is alive but her relief comes from having a brief glimpse into the broken and traumatised mind of her young criminal.
It wasn't always this way, but the Ayr grandmother knows years of childhood trauma, foster care and unimaginable sights has scarred the young boy she loves so deeply that he feels safer with his "gang" than in society.
The grandmother, who cannot be named to protect her grandson, says no child is born to be bad as she gave the Townsville Bulletin an insight into the start of her grandson's life that led him to crime.
Her story comes as the city is gripped by the worst crime crisis in decades, with juvenile offenders making up the majority of those responsible.
The issues behind juvenile offending is proven to be complex with intergenerational and childhood traumas huge factors in moulding a future criminal.
Despite the facts, the grandmother said behind each statistic is a child who suffered greatly at the hand of others.
The "handsome" boy, with an enviable smile and "heart of gold" will turn 16 years old soon after spending most of his teenage years behind bars.
He was seven years old when his mother gave him up to the state, succumbing to her "uncontrollable urges", including drugs and alcohol.
He spent four years in foster care and bounced around many homes, some of which make his grandmother shudder.
It was these crucial years of development where it all went wrong, according to James Cook University lecturer Dr Mark Chong.
The criminology and criminal justice studies senior lecturer said life-changing consequences came from childhood trauma, which varied from physical abuse to family disharmony.
Dr Chong said many studies had argued that maltreatment could disrupt the physical matter of the brain, and in turn affect cognitive development of a child to the extent they become hyper-vigilant.
The grandmother had experienced these behaviours after she applied to become his carer when he was 12.
"He was broken … he didn't know where he belonged," she said.
"He was in a constant state of fight or flight and every now and then something would trigger in his brain and he would snap.
"It was almost impossible for him to ever switch off from that state as he needed constant adrenaline to keep functioning."
There were nights were she was so afraid of her own grandson she would lock her door, scared a violent outburst could kick in as she slept. He could never remember his violence.
Tearing up as she spoke with the Bulletin, the doting grandmother made the heartbreaking decision to stop caring for her grandson after she conceded there was no way she could save him from harming himself or others.
She finds peace knowing they shared treasured memories together and that he has those to look back on while he sleeps in his cell.
"You think love can fix it, and you want it so badly, but not even all the love in the world can help a boy so vulnerable," she said.
He went to live in a residential care home with other boys, but was soon mixed up in drugs, theft and hot cars.
In the last two years he had been in and out of Cleveland Juvenile Detention Centre, a consequence Dr Chong said came mostly from his childhood traumas.
He said children often gave signs of future criminal activity, including bullying in boys and social withdrawal in girls.
Dr Chong said the damage could never be reversed, but prevention was a better option than a cure.
"However, this is a tough task to accomplish particularly because these families in need are often plagued by overwhelming problems," he said.
The woman, a devoted Christian, believed introducing more chaplain programs or religious workshops into the detention centres gave the children some insight into "what they were created for.''
She had taken steps to approach religious leaders in the juvenile detention system.
When her grandson wasn't locked up, he was running.
She doesn't know where he goes or what he does, but he calls regularly to calm her worrying mind.
"He knows we love him and we will always go into bat for him, but he has decided that this is a better place for him," she said.
"That is tragic, but he knows the rules, because there are none."