Matthew is eighteen at the end of the year (2001) and knows the true meaning of crime. Since the very young age of eleven, he knew how to make terror a reality for dozens of people throughout Perth and its neighbouring suburbs. Has detention or being given time deterred him from his thoughtless, violent offences? That'll be the day! Sometimes freedom doesn't count for much. Would you prefer to live on the cold, damp streets in the face of the crime and drug scene, not knowing when your next meal is, bumming money and cigarettes at all hours of the day, being harassed by the police for pathetic, feeble excuses, having to look after yourself and living in an uncaring world where you're just another face on the streets, hope is lost and care does not exist?
Then again, if you do a crime, you get more luxuries than on the streets at a lesser cost. You have a roof over your head, a comfortable bed with nice, clean sheets, you don't have to worry about where you're going to stay next, three meals a day, hot showers, having people to care for your welfare, earning money for canteen food every week or two, playing sport, having a lot of fun without causing trouble, having a break from the drugs which leads to crime as a way to satisfy any visible habits, getting an education, having people to talk to, warm clothes, watch TV, doing something useful with your time . . . and the list goes on for even longer. Has it ever occurred to anyone that life is hard, especially if you're a juvenile on the streets? Detention’s the easiest option around!
Crime almost always stems from the family home, where their upbringing has affected them in some way or another. Matthew has five brothers and two sisters. They are aged one, two, eight, 12, 19, 20 and 26. His dad left the family when Matthew was two and left for Queensland. The violence and arguments were impelled from his drinking habits and so, he decided to leave, taking Matthew's oldest brother and sister. He's never talked to or seen them since but holds a photo of his sister's picture with her best-friend close to his heart. It never strays if he can help it. Mum has cancer. Although he only talks to his mum every now and then, the sadness in his voice makes him sound like he wishes he could have had a relationship with her. He's clearly missed out on the love he deserves, which has affected him emotionally and mentally. But he's just another face of a juvenile who calls the streets Home. He can't live with his mum because he always fights with his stepdad and suffered constant beatings.
So he began living on the streets since he was 11. He claims that in all the years that lead up to Year Seven, he was a nerd. One morning, he woke up and decided he wanted a change because of desperation. His first crime was to rob shops with the company of his 15 year old brother. It wasn't very serious at first but all juvenile delinquents start somewhere and if their first crime wasn't serious, in a lot of cases, it usually leads to it. On the few days he went to highschool, he was expelled six times - four for fighting and two for dealing marijuana and speed on the school grounds.
Banksia Hill (detention) became home on four occasions. Apart from visiting Rangeview Remand Centre (detention before going to court) about 110 times (he claims), Banksia Hill was an opportunity to 'chill out' for awhile. Of course if you didn't get caught one day, you'd be caught another. He claims to have tried to hold up a bank at the time when security was light. He succeeded until he began running out the door and was tackled by two security guards, which led to eight months imprisonment. The second time was for stealing a car - three months and stealing from a car, including the car stereo - a few weeks imprisonment. His latest sentence of six months, was for an assault which led an innocent person he was stealing from, to lose his eye. Serving six months is incomparably easy against losing an eye which will be a disability for a lifetime and the suffering . . . never ending!
Matthew commits crimes every day, just as if it was no big deal. It isn't to him! It's a matter of surviving or finding enough money for his needs and wants. His crimes are endless. He claims to have broken into up to and more than 50 cars a week when he was 11, broke into shops, armed robberies, snatch and run in shops, hijacked a car at knife point and plenty of muggings with violence.
Stealing cars is just as common for him as you eating breakfast. Six of those times, involved a high speed chase with him being caught only twice. One time, he drove down an alleyway and went through a fence before crashing into someone's backyard. The second, he rolled the car and crashed through a nearby property, landing in someone's swimming pool. ‘Commodores are the best but Ford's are the easiest to break into’ he said.
Another crime was to attach a rope to the handles on the old Telstra phones and connect it to a car. By driving off, the money box would rip open and the phone would come off the wall.
The easiest crime he believes, is to break into shops, steal all the cigarettes and money and sell the cigarette packs for $5 each, even though everyone else then resells them for a higher price.
The main reasons Matthew believes he commits crime, is for the drugs, boredom and to eat. The first drug he used, was marijuana when he was ten and a half, heroin when he was eleven and just about every other drug since. He has now stopped dealing in speed and marijuana and focuses on sniffing paint, which he believes he will always do.
When the time comes for him to turn up to court, sometimes he can’t be bothered. It gives the justice system an excuse to give him a bed ‘and the food is good in Rangeview’. If the police want him, they can come and get him themselves.
Besides incarceration, he stays at hostels pretty regularly. The only problem is, they're not meant for long term, so in the end, you’d always be told to go and find somewhere else.
So what does the future hold for Matthew? Probably something similar, he ponders. If he could turn back time, he'd like to change his drug habits, stop it all and get a job, wishes he could have completed all his schooling up to Year 12 and would love to be a police officer. The thought for two years, excites him with powers of arresting and chasing people, having a badge and the uniform. But then he decides, maybe it’s because of secretly being able to take drugs off offenders, corruption and greed. What stopped him thinking any further, was because he realised what they were really like.
Although he hasn't completed much of his basic education, he enrolled in TAFE where he started a floor and wall tiling course, where he lasted three to four weeks before he switched over to ceiling fixing. In eight months, he received qualifications from completing Certificates one, two and three, all at once. His first apprenticeship, was a chef. ‘But I was allergic to the oysters and I got massive rashes all up my arms’ he said. So he quit at the start of this year (2001).
Now that he's committed extensive crimes, the grin vanishes from his face when he realises how hard it is to be able to get a job. When he's 18, it’ll be a lot easier as he can get a police clearance but his crimes stay at the back of his police record for the next eight years. ‘If your over 18 and you've got some convictions on your record, they take it off after eight years if you've stayed out of trouble’. I don't know if he's right or not, I wouldn't know.
When I asked him if he ever felt for his victims, he said ‘I feel bad for the victims now but at the time, I didn't care. I didn't care about anything’
As Matthew takes each day the way it comes, he seems monotone when the direction of his life pops up. It's like he thinks about what he can't do, rather than what he can do, which is preventing his hopes from surfacing and offering him opportunities in life. He's been hurt too many times and love has been a severe disadvantage but there is no excuse for crime. I think he is at the point where he believes he is too old to be helped, the same feeling many teenagers feel on or around the streets. The world has given up on him, therefore he can give up himself and commit any crime his heart desires.