One particular Life Story from a young guy impressed me so much I have reproduced part of it here. I’d written it for the Salvation Army in Australia as part of a promotional effort for a Red Shield Appeal. He was courageous and disarmingly honest. Many of the details have been changed to protect his identity.
This is his story.
If it is true, that ‘all you need is love’, how does it happen that a young boy can be given nothing, no love, and then grow into a young man who has the world at his feet?
When he was 10 years old, Ben Staples was sent, alone, on a plane from New Guinea to Australia to try and find his mother. He’d been abused and bashed. Isolation and violence was always just a breath away. The boy’s heartache ran deeper than the Torres Straight over which the Qantas 727 flew.
‘I was meant to be met at Brisbane airport by my mother but she never showed,’ says Ben, now 20 years old.
He explains that his mother had left him and his 8 brothers and sisters (only two of whom he knows) when they were quite young.
‘She led a very promiscuous life where we were born, and word got around quickly about all of us kids. There were rumours about which kid was whose. She couldn’t manage at all and didn’t want to be around us any more so she took off for Australia.
‘I managed to track down my father but he didn’t want anything to do with me because of my mother.
‘I had some family problems all based around different forms of abuse. I was pass the parcel with my family. I had behaviour problems and was quite violent – I took everything people would say the wrong way. I’d flip out.’
He kept hearing bad things about his mother but he didn’t know her. One day he said that he wanted to meet her.
‘My grandmother went ape-crap because apparently there had been some custody battle when we were all little kids … So from that moment on, that side of my family disowned me.’
(There is a well-known quote from John Powell which rings true, Our lives are shaped by those who love us and by those who refuse to love us.)
So he’d been put on a flight to Brisbane, as an unaccompanied minor. His mother didn’t meet him, but a distant aunt did pick him up. As they drove toward the northern NSW town where she lived they tried over and over to reach his mother on her mobile phone – and eventually got through.
‘She was out west somewhere, I don’t know where. I asked her why she’d left. About her drug use, about my brothers and sisters … She rambled on. Couldn’t give me any answers. I didn’t know what she was on about.
‘I put the phone on speaker and passed it to my Aunt to talk to her. My mother started talking about me in a really nasty way. I heard it all. It crushed me but then I realised that I’d already gone ten years of my life without her and I could keep doing that.
‘If it only causes pain, then no contact would be better. I’ve heard it said about smashed up relationships – that they’re like glass. Sometimes it’s better to leave ’em broken than cut yourself trying to pick up the pieces’.
Ben stayed with his aunt for a while but he admits to being unstable and ‘mouthy’.
A merry-go-round of youth refuges and youth detention centres followed. He was now ‘homeless’ and a ward of the state. He used alcohol and marijuana and amphetamines and ice. He fought and bashed people and got kicked out of one refuge after another.
‘I was a ruin. Self-harming, depressed. Then I started hitting people again – got in trouble with the police. The littlest thing would make me snap. I’d go haywire.’
In mid-teens he happened upon one particular youth worker and a refuge for young people in crisis. It became his saving grace, his sanctuary. And it saved him.
From the outset Ben knew he was in the right place. He was welcomed. He felt relaxed. ‘It means a lot when you know that someone actually cares. And to trust them enough to tell them what’s weighing you down, what’s making you cry at night.’
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. He was still getting into trouble with the police. There were charges of assault and aggravated robbery.
The refuge manager explains that the violence stems from his rejection and anger.
‘It’s learned behaviour from when he was young. He had to fight. He’s a big personality and his erratic behaviour has often led him to being put in the “too-hard” basket. He’s learning restraint now and how to deal with things differently. He’s intelligent and caring and kind-hearted. He’s developing into a person with a lot of potential. We feel it has been a privilege to get to know him.’ The manager is plainly proud of the progress.
Ben now lives independently in what is called ‘transitional accommodation’. He is studying at uni and loves dealing with people. He is one of those expansive personalities who motivates others and makes things happen.
He’s let go of his original family. These days, family includes a host of friends and fellow students. He is grateful for any little thing that comes his way, like a piece of furniture, a kind word, or some work to do. He is on a springboard to a new life.
And the antidote to the suffering and rejection? The magic ingredient seems to always come back to love. He has managed to transform his pain into a creative force. He’s been brought back to life again.
by Mark Koehler
Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes – Ella Wilcox.