How do you break free from a cycle of crime, violence or disadvantage?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

From the high ranks of bikie gangs to serious drug felonies on the streets of Cabramatta, how do you turn your life around when violence and crime are the norm?

Do circumstances dictate our path in life or can effort and freewill change it?

Physically abused as a child, Brent was 12 years old when he ended up living on the streets and getting involved with crime. As the seriousness of his crimes escalated, he joined a bikie gang, finding comfort in its camaraderie. While spending time in a maximum security prison, a warning from his son would make him take a hard look at his life.

Born in Australia to refugee parents who didn’t speak any English, Tony had trouble communicating with them and lacked direction in life. At 14 and already a member of a drug gang, Tony was hooked on heroin, selling drugs and had a number of offences on his record. It would take him a near death experience to lead him to his faith and ultimately, help him turn his life around.

Zak was very young when his father, El Sayyid Nosair,  was sent to prison for his involvement in the assassination of Meir Kahane, an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi who had founded Jewish Defence League. Three years later, Zak was shaken to his core when he found out his father also helped plot the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing from his prison cell.

Zak had to reassess his belief system passed on from his father and make a conscious effort to change his worldview. Today he speaks out as someone raised by an extremist but who chose the path of nonviolence. 

This week, Insight hears inspiring stories of people who have broken free from a cycle of disadvantage, violence, crime.

 

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Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE:  And welcome to you all. Brent…

BRENT: Good evening Jenny. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Hello. How old were you when you committed your first armed robbery? 

BRENT: About nine, ten, somewhere around there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you do?

BRENT: Basically approached somebody and demanded their money and, um, yeah, it was armed while I did it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Armed with what? 

BRENT: Like a pole sort of thing, a stick.

JENNY BROCKIE:  How long was it before you got caught for what you did and went to juvenile detention? 

BRENT: Probably about the fourth time, the fourth time I'd been charged they decided that I really wasn't conforming, I guess, and decided to pull my bail and not only that I didn't have anybody to sign my bail which back then…

JENNY BROCKIE:  How old were you at that stage? 

BRENT: About thirteen, about twelve, thirteen, so you really needed a guardian and you needed a parent to be able to, you know, sign you out and you to be able to get home. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you didn't have one? 

BRENT: No.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Where were your parents? 

BRENT: Um, separated by that stage, wasn't sure where my mother was and my father was, yeah, moved on with his life with his partner at that time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you were just living on the streets? Where were you living? 

BRENT: Basically yeah.  I went to exactly that, living on the streets and when I had money, I guess, in either hotels or motels and if I didn't steal cars and sleep in cars. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  When did you leave school? 

BRENT: Year 7, about halfway through year 7 so that twelve to thirteen year old period. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you were in foster care for a while? 

BRENT:  I was in foster care, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How did that happen? 

BRENT: Yeah, I was obviously a troublesome student that had to go to the principal a lot and had no stability. I was, I guess, rebelling so they knew that there were problems.  I was taken out of my father's custody at that stage and put into a refuge which then went into foster care. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what was foster care like? 

BRENT: The people were good. I won't sit here and say it was terrible, they were families with other siblings but for me it was very hard because I didn't belong there. It wasn't my family. They're not my mum and dad, they're not my sister or brother so it was tough. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Last week we took you back to where you grew up. Let's have a look.

 

VIDEO PLAYED:

 

BRENT:  This is where everything began, this is what moulded me to become the monster that I once was. Twenty years ago at least since I've come anywhere near this particular town. This is… probably the biggest step I've taken in my life at the moment coming back down here.

You didn't have to go far to get into trouble here, you get in trouble in your own street. Domestic violence was rife, child abuse was rife, sexual assault was rife, and crime was rife. Like it was just what it was.

I used to come down here, go up to the oval up here for my football training and I used to cut through this bush here. Two other perpetrators that molested me lived in that house right there and yeah, they'd wait just here in the bushes and, um, bail me up. I felt so lost and I just felt like no one cared and for me it was like, well, this is how it is.

It all began from a very, very young age, you know, that life of just taking and not giving a damn about what the consequences were, stealing money from the milkmen, next minute you're jumping counters and robbing tills, you're kicking in doors and taking people's drug money. That's how it began. 

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You described yourself there as a monster. Why did you use that word? 

BRENT: Because I was, I just, you couldn't restrain me, you couldn't stop me. I would just instantly go from zero to a hundred and just the more blood that I could see in whatever I was doing, the more excited I got, the more my adrenaline pumped. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of things did you do? 

BRENT: Oh, just, I wanted to fight everybody, I wanted to, I wanted to just, I wanted violence. I wanted to just be the most feared, most aggressive person that I could be so no one would ever come near me or no one would ever hurt me again.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You talked there about being abused.  How often was that happening and how old were you when it started? 

BRENT: Never gets easy talking about it but um, from about the ages of, age of about nine through till actually a bit earlier, just before nine, through till I was, you know, just after ten.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You became a bikie around fourteen years ago. Why? 

BRENT: I wanted to feel camaraderie, I know that's a little bit sort of cliché, I suppose, because everybody sort of uses that, but to grow up the way I did I was looking for a brother, I was looking for, you know, someone to tell me it was going to be alright, someone who'd fight the wars with me side by side, someone who I could rely on.  And the life that I'd lived led me down to that path of gangs, street gangs which then led onto, you know, clubs scene and, yeah, it became something that I, I grabbed with both hands and really, really embraced as something that I could, I guess, be okay to live with.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was your role in the bikie gang? 

BRENT: I was the sergeant at arms. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you were an enforcer? 

BRENT: Basically, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what did that involve? 

BRENT: Looking after our own backyard. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tony, you were involved in a gang that sold drugs in Cabramatta in the '90s.  Tell me how you got involved with that criminal gang? 

TONY:  It started in high school, but coming from, you know, a refugee family, I was born in Australia and so um, we didn't have much and so growing up …

JENNY BROCKIE:  Your parents came from Vietnam? 

TONY: Yeah, yeah, I was born here so, in Cabramatta those times it was just like the natural thing that everyone just got involved in, you started in high school. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How old were you when it started when you first got involved? 

TONY: I was twelve, twelve, thirteen years old, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And why did you join the gang at twelve, like how did that happen?  How were you introduced to that whole idea? 

TONY: Yeah. I didn't know it then but obviously now time's passed I look back, I come from a large family and my father was an alcoholic, he was a woman beater, he beat my mum, he beat on me and I look back and it was just this deep desire of wanting to be accepted or affirmed from my father which I didn't get which I found in a gang.  I just couldn't wait just to grow up and protect my mum and my sisters from this guy. I began to hate and despise my own father so I, you know, I took to the street and um, really, the person I hated most I became in year 7. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you mean? 

TONY: Well I became a violent person, I became an angry man, a little boy and I just couldn't…

JENNY BROCKIE:  This was at twelve? 

TONY: At twelve, yeah. I just couldn't express myself properly and the way I would express myself is through violence. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of violence?  

TONY: Fighting, I was a bully in school. I extorted kids. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Extorted them? 

TONY:  For money. You know, it was like ten bucks a day or I'll bash you sort of thing. I went from one school to the next and…

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you got kicked out all the time for fighting? 

TONY: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And then for drugs? 

TONY: And eventually for drugs, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how did you get involved in the drug gang, in the criminal gang? 

TONY: So I would just be a little guy, get called into a van, you know, straight after school they'll come pick us up. I remember the first time I ever did it, jumped into the back of a van, I'm thirteen years old and I pick up a machete and it's like half my size, you know, but I remember feeling this adrenaline thinking okay, well this is going to get serious and you know, let's go for it. And being young…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you use it, did you use the machete on people? 

TONY: Um, I'd rather not say. We did some things but obviously you look back now, there's many things that I'm ashamed of. But being young, you don't think about consequence. All you think is about is being accepted, showing loyalty and honour to those guys that I thought were my brothers anyway. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You're both doing this sort of stuff at a very young age, you know? 

BRENT: It was, it was a way of life, wasn't it. You didn't survive, I guess, being in that environment unless you, you know, really stepped up to the plate. No one wanted to be that weaker guy.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tony, we've got some mug shots here of you as a teenager.  When did you first get into serious trouble? 

TONY: Oh that was thirteen years old there and so that was done because we went off and took care of a guy. We went to his house and, without going into too much detail, I got caught for it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Before you move on, took care of him meaning what? 

TONY: Well, just roughed him up and so um, you know, yeah, that's, that's the orders we get. Right, go out, go round, teach him a lesson, he owes money.  If he's owes, get some money off him.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You look really disconnected in that shot there. 

TONY: Yeah, and as the photos come along, you look in my eyes I'm just a young little boy seeking acceptance and obviously found it in the wrong place. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was that for?  What had happened there? 

TONY: I sold it to an undercover copper. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You sold drugs to an undercover cop? 

TONY: Yeah, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what happened to you as a result? 

TONY: Well I got locked up and so I remember sitting in Cabramatta Police Station and calling my mum saying, it was difficult coming from a refugee family as well, it's just my Vietnamese wasn't that great, their English is no good and so I can't have a deep conversation with my parents.  I remember getting a phone call, I called my mum, hey, could you come and get me and bail me out? And she just said Tony, you got yourself in this mess, get yourself out of it and she hangs up on me.  And so I get locked up and at thirteen, fourteen years old and sitting in my cell. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How long were you locked up for? 

TONY: About four months. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  In juvenile detention? 

TONY: Yeah, yeah, it was like a little tug of war going on in my heart. Just I was angry with my father, I was angry at the system, I was angry with my friends. Out of the whole gang only one guy came to visit me and these were my so-called brothers that I thought, you know, had my back and but you know who your real friends are. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  This is fourteen, you're about fourteen when that happened? 

TONY:  Fourteen years old yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  That didn't turn you off? 

TONY: Absolutely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Doing what you were doing? 

TONY: No, it turned me off that gang, turned me off those group of guys. And so I'm angry, I’m sitting in my cell thinking you know what I don't need them, I don't need my family, I don't need nobody.  I was just an angry little boy.  One side was a dark said saying you know, I can't wait to get out and show everybody I don't need nobody. The other side was like, you know what, I just want to make my mum and dad proud. They didn't travel all the way on a boat, risked their lives for me to live this kind of life, I knew that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And at that stage what happened?  I mean when did you start using drugs yourself? 

TONY: Yeah, so I got released at fourteen years old and I was determined just to make it work, dealing drugs for the next eight years I become a drug dealer. And I'm not dealing on the street, I'm dealing to dealers that deal to other dealers and so I've rented out houses, I buy my first gun at fourteen years old.  And that's when I started dealing drugs, but then what came along with that was the addiction. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what were you using? 

TONY: Heroin. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much were you using, I mean how seriously were you using? 

TONY: A lot, a lot.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You talk about those two sides of you.  Did you have a sense of right and wrong or not? 

TONY: I believe I did, I went to church every week. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  During all that time? 

TONY: Absolutely, yeah.  I was raised in the Catholic home and yeah, didn't matter where I went. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how did you rationalise all of that? 

TONY: All I was taught was to go to church and I was raised going to church so my mum and dad would jump in the car, go to church Sunday, Monday come home, my dad would beat my mum. That was just, I was trapped in this so-called, I would say, religion, you know? Knowing a sense of right and wrong but not living it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Brent, you also spent time in juvenile detention? 

BRENT: I did, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  As a child and as teenager? 

BRENT: Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How did you react to that, being locked up? 

BRENT: For me, I know this is going to sound silly but I found comfort in it because my so-called mates that I was, you know, out and about doing whatever I was doing with was the family that I so longed for. Say for example get arrested on the Friday, Friday night seemed to be a good night where a lot of youths would be arrested through the city and all of a sudden I'm in Minda next morning and it's Saturday morning…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Minda is a juvenile detention centre in NSW? 

BRENT: Yeah, and then we’ve got Rage on the TV in the main room, we’re all up there dancing and having a good time and having brekkie.  Like the night before you were free, you know, like realistically there's a big difference between that and freedom. It didn't register.  It was like well, I'm here seeing the boys, it's all good. I'm here with the family and it become to the point where you wanted to try and get to certain boys homes, because your mates were at certain places so, you know, it would be like I'm going to and catch up with the boys and depending on the crime you did you'd sort of either be praised as you come in or laughed at. Oh, you got caught for that, oh, mate, that's, you know, all of a sudden your credit's going up, you're starting to look a bit bigger and braver and people started to acknowledge that you weren't just this abused soul that was just destroyed. You're actually coming across as somebody who'd become notorious and feared and, you know, and that become empowered. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you have a sense of right and wrong, your own sense of what was right and wrong? 

BRENT: Look, I obviously knew what was right and wrong.  Did I care about what was right or wrong back then?

JENNY BROCKIE:  Zak Ibrahim, thanks for joining us from Pittsburgh.  Tell me about your father, who was he and what did he do? 

ZAK:  When I was seven years old in November of 1990, my father assassinated a Rabbi in New York City and from his prison cell he was subsequently sentenced to life in prison for his role and relationship with the men that were eventually involved in the World Trade Centre bombing in 1993. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Just to get a sense of your father and his connections, I understand that Osama Bin Laden donated $20,000 to your dad's legal defence for the killing of that Rabbi, is that correct? 

ZAK:  That's correct, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how strong was his connection with that group? 

ZAK:  You know, it became stronger and stronger till the day he went to prison. You know, I have lots of memories of my father as being a very kind and humorous man, he wasn't radicalised when he came to the United States. He was born and raised in Egypt and came to the US for the same reasons that many people, you know, immigrate to other countries. He started a family and, you know, was very clear that he loved us very much and I would say when I was around six years old that he began to interact with these men that would eventually be involved in this violence. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you remember your father changing at all? 

ZAK:  Well you know, even though I was so young, there were definitely experiences that I had where I saw that he was changing. You know, there was one point in particular after listening to a sermon by the blind Sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who would eventually go on to mastermind this bombing, that we were driving home and I could see on my father's face that he seemed frustrated or angry and I took this intensity as some sort of piety.  I thought perhaps he was just becoming more religious and I asked him when did you become such a good Muslim? Because I interpreted his devotion as, you know, something positive and he said:  "When I came to America and saw everything that was wrong with it", and that was really the first insight into how his ideology was starting to change. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  When your father first went to gaol for the killing of the Rabbi, what did you make of him then? What did you understand of what was going on and what he was? 

ZAK:  My mother tried her best to shield me from a lot of the fallout, particularly the media attention and things like that. You know, my father declared his innocence. He claimed to be innocent of the entire thing so the first time we went to visit him in prison, you know, that's, that's how I felt. And even still in my young mind there was a way for me to justify this action by saying well, Meir Kahane was a bad man so perhaps he deserved it, particularly because there were some adults who believed that.  So it was very confusing as a young child to hear that, you know, there are some murderers that are justifiable and others that are not. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And while your father was in gaol for that, this was when he was part of or helped in the plotting of that first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993, when did your view of him start to change? 

ZAK:  Well, I would say it was after the bombing.  The FBI came in and began investigating and actually looked through a lot of the evidence that had been collected from our home and translated a lot of it from Arabic to English that they realised that books they thought contained poetry actually had bomb making manuals and things like that in it. It became clear that my father was not as innocent as he'd claimed and so not long after he had been sentenced to life, my mother decided to end communication with him. But I spent several years visiting him in prison and talking to him on the phone on a regular basis. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you ever think that you might follow in his footsteps as a child? 

ZAK:  I was fortunate that I was so young when my father went to prison, as strange as that sounds, much of the strength that he had over me went away.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you ever share his hatred though as a child, given that you were being indoctrinated with some of that?

ZAK:  Oh, of course I did.  You assume that your parents have your best interests at heart and when they tell you is the truth and so, you know, I certainly grew up fearful and hateful of people who did not fit into a very narrow idea of what it meant to be good. You know, I showed hatred toward, toward Jewish people, toward gay people. It was the surest way for me to realise that what I had been taught was a lie the first time I made a Jewish friend.  I was sixteen years old and we were not natural enemies.  We, you know, our religions did not seem to matter and this was contrary to everything that I had been taught. But it was the first time in my life that I thought perhaps the things that I had been taught to believe were in fact a lie. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kane and David, you're brothers.  Kane, you're the youngest.  What were you born into?  What sort of family? 

KANE:  Oh, it wasn't really a family.  It was pretty much broken and torn apart by crimes and drugs. Mum, who was a heroin addict.

JENNY BROCKIE:  When did you first take drugs yourself?  

KANE: I think I was about thirteen.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What, what were you taking? 

KANE:  Speed. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What other sort of trouble did you get into? What were you doing? 

KANE:  So through sort of teens into earlier 20s I was selling drugs, I was taking heaps of drugs, yeah, stealing cars. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  David, what about, what about you, what was your life like?  Were you getting into trouble as well? 

DAVID:  No, I had a, I had a bit of a different, look straight away I'd take the adult approach to it all. I was the oldest so I think it's because I wanted acceptance, I went down the complete opposite way. I wanted to help people. Like from a kid basically I had to look after my brothers and sisters so I had so much want for acceptance that that overpowered me being a bad person. Like I could easily, I know inside of me I know if someone asked me to do something bad, I could do it. But the want to help and the want to be acceptance and the want to have love from someone just overpowered it for me and the rage, by God I had that rage as well. I felt it but I threw it into my sport. I was…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Threw it into sport? 

DAVID:  To sport, yeah.  I was very sport orientated, I had a good friendship group because I had the sport friendship group. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you …

BRENT:  That's that camaraderie, isn't it? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yeah, belonging to a group. 

BRENT:  Having that family, that group, that brotherhood. 

KANE:  Different support networks, like David didn't go back with mum when we had the opportunity to move back.  So he went with a good family.  I unfortunately moved back with mum and was in that environment and it was just drugs and everything were around me a lot. 

DAVID:   And I know, I know I went to another foster care home but, like it wasn't good for me, it was just, it wasn't, I don't know, I don't know what it was, it was just, it didn't…

JENNY BROCKIE:  It didn't work? 

DAVID:  Yeah, it didn't work.  But I knew if I was going back there, I was gone, it was streets, there was no food, no clean clothes. I never went to school, reading and writing… I just can’t do it basically.

JENNY BROCKIE: Can’t do it at all?

DAVID:  I can read and write, yeah but it’s hard.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tell us a little bit about what you've done with your life?  What you do for a living and that kind of thing. 

DAVID:  Yeah, I work for myself, I'm a builder, carpenter, like I've got my own business going. I've got a family now, so I've got my house paid off. It's good, it's great, it's great now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how does that compare to what's happened for you Kane? 

KANE:  Very different. I'm starting to get to that stage where I've, I  have my own business now but it took me a long time to sort of wake up to myself and realise what I was doing was just on a very self-destructive path. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How long were you using drugs, Kane? 

KANE:  About ten or eleven years. 

DAVID:  We had a massive falling out because I would try and try and try and try and try and push and push and prod and get him jobs and the thing I've learnt from it is you can't. The amount of times that I tried to get him right because I saw good in him…

KANE:  Someone's not going to change unless they want to. 

DAVID:  Yeah. 

KANE:  It's just not going to happen. 

DAVID:  It's got to be self-driven, you can't push it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why did you eventually stop? 

KANE:  My friends became like my family and I was getting to a point where a couple of very good friends didn't want to hang out with me anymore. I was getting too bad for them or you know, they just didn't want to be seen around me and for me that really hit home and I was like okay, I'm stuffing up here. It's not anyone else's fault because I used to blame everyone else, it was never my fault, but I had to sit down and really take a hard look at myself and go okay, this is my problem, I'm stuffing up here. How can I rectify it? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Zak, when did you start pulling away from your father? 

ZAK:  Well it really wasn't until I would say I was probably sixteen or seventeen and my life was so difficult after my father went away, you know, I was bullied very, very badly in school.  I would get on the phone with my father and I would talk to him about the difficulties that I was having that week and there was nothing that he could do to protect me or my family and it got to the point that I thought to myself, you know, well if you really cared about your family, you should have stayed and protected them. And that feeling made me start to move away from my father.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was it difficult for you to change the way you looked at the world, given the kind of influences you'd grown up with, with your father with such extreme views? 

ZAK:  Absolutely. You know, to be honest, it's a struggle every day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  In what way? 

ZAK:  You know, when you're taught these things from such a young age, well you know, I think with stereotyping with, you know, we as human beings we generalise, that is what we do. You know, so I think that inherently inside of all of us there is a bias one way or another. You know, for me it was very much a struggle and you know, to this day I'll catch myself thinking a certain way and realise that I need to adjust my perspective.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Everyone here tonight is talking about their struggles to break free of either their background or the situations that they got themselves into. I wonder why do you think you didn't become radicalised, given your father's influence?

ZAK:  Well I think that as strange as it sounds I think I was fortunate. I had choices that many other people don't have. It could have gone either way but I had options and for too many people they have very little or no options at all and I see a lot of similarities between the stories that we're hearing today and the struggle that many people go through, as far as their identity, being immigrants, feeling isolated from society, lack of opportunity. You know, those are the things that we need to work on if we want to defeat something like terrorism. It's very easy to kill terrorists but it is extremely difficult to change the reasons that people can be compelled to join these kinds of groups and that's why I became an advocate for peace because I don't think that there is a solution in violence, in solving these problems.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Braiden, you're Brent's son.  How much did you know about what dad was getting up to as a bikie particularly?  

BRAIDEN:  To be honest, during the early stages, not much. Um, it was quite hard to determine what was bikie activity and what was just a normal day. You know, it was, oh, dad's gone, he'll be back later or he might not be. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  When did you realise it was violence and crime? 

BRAIDEN:  Um, probably a couple of years after, maybe like one or two years after I realised he was in a bikie gang and it wasn't exactly the best kind of standing. And I guess it was a bit of just repressing things within myself, not wanting to think that, you know, my dad was doing those things. Not wanting to think that he was out maybe hurting people or you know, stealing, and I guess just because I never wanted to inflict that on someone else so feeling that someone that I was related to was doing that, I guess was harder to realise than actually just kind of pushing it down. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  When you were twelve or thirteen you decided to confront your dad about his life. What did you say to him? 

BRAIDEN:  Gee, well, I basically said I've taken a deep look inside myself and I don't want to go down the same path. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  He was in prison at this stage? 

BRAIDEN:  Yes, he was, yeah, I didn't go into detail but I essentially said that, you know, I now know kind of the extent of what you were involved in and I don't want to see myself go down that road. I don't want to end up where you are so my ultimatum was essentially to say if you involve yourself again after you get out, I do not want anything to do with you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was it like as a thirteen year old, twelve or thirteen year old making the decision to do that? 

BRAIDEN:  Um, it just, I don't know, it broke my heart because you know, all I ever wanted was a normal dad. I mean all I ever wanted was a normal family but I just wanted to be a normal kid and that was kind of taken away so yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you decided you were going to lay it on the line for him? 

BRAIDEN:  Yeah, 100 percent, if he was willing to change his life I was willing to accept him and that was what I wanted. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And Brent, you're in gaol, you're serving six years for importing commercial quantity of drugs? 

BRENT:  Correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And your thirteen year old says you better clean up your act or I don't want anything to do with you. How did you react? 

BRENT:  I was gutted, absolutely destroyed. You know, at that was at that stage, you know, my pride and joy was my first son. I had a daughter also but this is my boy. This is my boy looking at me saying dad, this is how it is and I was like oh, righto, and I didn't know how to take it because I had years of gaol ahead.  I was still an angry man back at this stage and so I didn't know whether I mean I could get into a fight, I could use a knife, I could be doing another ten years.  So it was very hard because at the time obviously as a father I wanted to give my son that 100 percent commitment, I love you my son, I will come home and be a good role model and a dad. Someone that, you know, you can look up to and be proud of. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what did you do? 

BRENT:  I made a choice that I needed to either be a man and step up and come out and be a father to Braiden and my daughter at the time, or I was going to lose my son and it was very firm.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how many years were you in gaol before you got out and were able to try to reconnect? 

BRENT:  Three, well out, out.  So I'd served my sentence and I got my parole and I only got to see Braiden I think four times in the years I was in gaol. 

BRAIDEN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you're still working on this relationship? 

BRENT:  Yeah, it's only been a few weeks, prior to that was nearly two years since I'd seen my son. 

BRAIDEN:  Yeah. 

BRENT:  Being here today is part of the healing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And Braiden, what it's been like for you? 

BRAIDEN:  Well, yeah, I guess as Brent, dad, put it, like it was a healing process, you know.  All wounds heal with time but man does it take a long time. You know, some days you sit there thinking like, you know, he could just change and you know, like this is all wasted and I guess maybe being left to my own machinations as a child it was kind of, you know, just sitting there and going oh, it could happen, could happen, could happen.

Sorry, I guess, I kind of messed up because I let it get to me and I built a bit of an emotional shell and so all these things kind of contributed to me  going yeah, no, I don't think I want the relationship. I think that maybe I was trying to show that, you know, I was like oh I'm tough.  I can do it without a dad but, it's all I wanted was, you know, to have that, that father son bond that I guess everyone longed for. Like it's just, it's one of those innate things.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tony, how bad did things get for you? 

TONY: Um, really bad. So twenty one years old, you know by that stage I've had six friends dead, three of them shot and so I knew if I continue down this road I was either going to end up dead or in gaol just like them. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What prompted you to change? 

TONY: Well, death really. This was the darkest period in my life. I come home from a club one day and you know, I sit in my room, left to my own thoughts, spiral down this path of depression so I get some heroin I haven't used for a long time. I've got no tolerance for it and I put some in a syringe and I put a lot in and I inject myself. I dropped to my knees and started overdosing at twenty one and from that day I relapsed and for the next two weeks I'm sitting and I'm not taking heroin to get high, I'm taking it just to be normal.  What I did was I went into my room and I locked the door, closed the blinds, make sure no one's around seeing me and as I would get the needle ready and tie up my arm I would break down and cry. And I would say, and I'll cry out to God, I said God, if you can set me free, if you can help me then I need it and then I would inject myself and doze off and just try to forget my problems and that was just a way of escape for me.

I went to the church where I was raised up at and I got down on my knees and I began to weep and cry and just a broken man and said God, if you're somewhere out there then you made to make yourself known to me because I'm about to just end it and I said, with tears running down my eyes, I just said if you're out there then just please give me a sign. The next day I'm walking through Cabramatta and there was this church, the Potters House, and they were singing, they were rapping, and this guy handed me a flier and the flier read:  If you're looking from a sign from God, here it is. The very next day I get this handed to me and right there and the guy said Tony, do you want to give Jesus your life? I said absolutely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you found another community? I mean this is interesting, you moved from the gang to another community? 

TONY: Absolutely, yeah.  So right there and then, that was the 8th of February 2004, I said God, if you died for me then I'm going to live for you so I laid down my life right there and then and I've never looked back. 

 

VIDEO PLAYED. 

 

FABIAN:  There is a lot of things to a bike itself, right from a nut to a bolt to a screw. It's all about customised really, design your own bike and at the moment we're designing low riders.  I went to this Deadly Bike Program with all me mates and that was the best thing that ever happened to us. So ever since then we've been coming every once a week. It keeps my mind off a lot of things, keeps me out of trouble is the main one. When I was growing up I got into a lot of trouble so I'm trying to throw that at the door now and if it wasn't for this program I think I'd be still in trouble right now.

Start screwing that bolt on.

That's my sister, Courtney, she's pretty much gone through what I've gone through. It's really important for her this program itself.

COURTNEY:  Coming to Deadly Bikes has helped me with my social life, like socialising with everyone.  I'm pretty shy, it builds my confidence up.

MAN:  When you go for a ride this pedal's level.

FABIAN: Yeah.

COURTNEY:  I like that we all just come together as a big community, like a big family.

FABIAN:  I found myself in a way. Like I found the old me, like the old happy me. 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Fabian, what have you been through? 

FABIAN:  I've been through a bit.  Yeah, at a young age I was growing up and I never had my mother and father around, or we never did so that was the main thing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you got into trouble too? 

FABIAN:  That's how I lived, with trouble. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of trouble? 

FABIAN:  Stealing cars, getting into a lot of gangs, um, sort of, a lot of burglary a lot, just for cash. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You went to gaol, what was gaol like? 

FABIAN:  Yeah, it was different for me. It was like home but it wasn't. When I first walked in, just looked really weird, really different, like I could fit in, so it was really easy for me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Your mum had been in gaol? 

FABIAN:  Yeah, she had been in gaol too. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And who looked after you growing up? 

FABIAN:  My grandmother did. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how do you get on with her? 

FABIAN:  We get on like a house on fire, she was really wise, really respectful woman, she loved everybody the same. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Fabian, what we just saw, the Deadly Bikes Program that you're involved with, you both said that's really important to you.  Why is it so important, given your backgrounds? 

FABIAN:  To have an opportunity to have a second chance and to have it at a young age, not many people, no one gets it at all. No one does, it's like…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you say that, that no one gets a second chance? 

FABIAN:  Well it depends really where we like, we’ve all, where we come from.  So, but this program has helped us a lot.  It saved us!

JENNY BROCKIE:  Courtney, what does your older brother tell you to do? What advice does he give you? 

COURTNEY:  Oh he tells me off all the time, yeah. Um…

FABIAN:  Because I love you. 

COURTNEY:  Keep my head on straight and what not. But yeah, yeah, he helps me out a lot. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  In what sort of ways, tell me a little bit about?  

COURTNEY:  With my confidence and social life.  Like I'm so shy and just to do things and get out there and…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Fabian, what turned you around? What changed you? 

FABIAN:  The ambition of having nothing, growing up with nothing, so I wanted a whole lot. I was growing up with a lot of mixed emotions.  One of them mainly was not having a family.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what about work, have you got a job? 

FABIAN:   I'm a maintenance worker. I do full time job at our local indigenous co-op. We go around and do maintenance to all the properties that we own. The majority of them are elders and the best part about these elders is they're family as well.  So my job role is helping these guys out through thick and thin, so cutting their grass what I really do and anything around the house to lifting to anything, their health wise, just anything. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kane, what's it been like trying to find a job? 

KANE:  Trying to get a job was quite difficult. I applied for about forty different places, I sent out emails, I rang, I made phone calls.  I think my downfall was I was very honest about my past and my history and most people would just go yeah, no thanks, see you later. And then I got a chance, one guy saw past it.  I don't know whether he respected my honesty or how open I was but he gave me a chance and took me on. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Let's have a look at what you're doing now. 

 

VIDEO PLAYED. 

 

KANE:  Come on mate, you've got it. Good, very good. Try one more. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, good, good job.

I got into personal training when I was transitioning from getting out of drugs and that. A lot of people tell me that I just changed one addiction for another.  I don't know whether I did but it is quite addictive lifting weights.

Lift up, shoulders back, control, control, keep it tight, tight, tight.

So I try and teach clients the right way to train, right way to eat. Part of everything that we do here is creating new habits and it takes time.

Are you right mate?

MAN: Once I retired and was looking for something to fill the time in with, I discovered this young man and haven't looked back.

KANE: I tell all my clients anything they want to know about my past. I'm an open book with them. It has to go two ways.  If I want to know stuff about them, I can't be hiding stuff about me.

MAN: I admired what he'd done with his own life and I tried to think in the beginning, well if he can do that for himself, I'm going to let him work on me too. 

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why personal training? 

KANE:  I guess it started with David when I moved in with him, I started going to the gym and I started eating what I thought was healthy food back then. Let's not get into it and I started feeling stronger, I started functioning better, I started looking better.

JENNY BROCKIE:  David, what do you make of your brother's change? 

DAVID:  I'm rapt, I'm rapt. I was very hard on him growing up. Like I was very blunt and I didn't understand why he was doing it and I've learned that along the way but like now, I didn't speak to him for about five years and then I tried.  When he lived me with we were good for about a year when we went to the gym and we started eating healthy and he started coming with me and I had him on a good and then he lapsed and then that was, I was like I'm out, I'm done. And then I didn't speak to you for another good five years and then I had my son. He tried to contact me a couple of times to say I'm doing well now and I was just, no, I'm out, I've tried 30,000 times. I've had so many fails, I'm out, and then yeah, I had my baby boy and he sent me a text saying look, I've really changed my life, I really want to meet. 

KANE:  Yeah, I do want to fight any more. 

DAVID:  I don't want to fight any more, if you see the size of me you'll beat the shit out of me.  

KANE:  Oh, God. 

DAVID:  Basically yeah, from that moment and then I hadn't spoken to him for years and he turned up at the hospital and held my baby boy.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Brent, what are you doing now? 

BRENT:  Wow, what am I doing now? I'm the founder of a national not for profit charity called the Heavy Hitters Foundation. And I come out of gaol with the vision that I wanted to do something great. I'm a survivor of three suicide attempts, I live with two type 2 bipolar and there was two men that had lost their lives due to suicide in segro whilst I was in there and for me that was really big shock. Not a shock, a shakeup, a turning point and I come out and did the old sort of I don't have a trade so for me it was just shit kicking.  I'm not allowed to say that, kicking around, just getting work wherever I could that was within the local community. 

Anyone that would give me a start because parole was so strict on me not being able to go across this border which was 10 Ks from where I lived but there was work north. In a couple of years in I was able to get work in the construction, just labouring and stuff like that, but it wasn't my passion. My passion was to share my life's journey in helping others. Last year I become the first man or first person in the world to cycle 4,564 kilometres from the Gold Coast Snapper Rocks in 45 days to Cottesloe Beach in Perth and I did this connecting with country and community all the way along to raise awareness for mental health. 

Since doing that I've completed an iron man, I'm a 135 kilo man and it's something that you don't like to see in a little tri suit but I've done it and covered in tattoos mind you. So today I work as a charitable, I guess a charitable man who delivers workshops and supports people living with mental illness and people who are survivors of suicide attempts. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Is it ever tempting to go back to your old life? 

BRENT:  No, no, not at all, I just had my very first family holiday. I'd never had a family holiday. To do that I had to sell the last of my past life which was some fine time pieces and some jewellery that I'd hung onto for many, many, many years and I was making plenty of money that I thought it was cool to walk around and flash and, you know, I was able to give back to my children something special. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Braiden, what's your relationship like with your dad now?  

BRAIDEN:  Um, amazing. You know, just constantly growing I guess is the best way to put it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You said it wasn't easy though? 

BRAIDEN:  No, God no, no. And I mean that in the best way that I can.  I guess now recently turning eighteen, being able to talk to my father as a man, as opposed to as a child, is just wonderful.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tony, you're a Chaplain now at a high school, is that right? 

TONY: Yeah, I wear many hats. Before anything I'm a father and husband but I'm also just a father to a lot of street kids. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Now you talk to those street kids about choices and consequences. If someone had talked to you like that as a teenager would it have worked do you think? 

TONY: Playing the ‘what if’ game is really fun, you know? But if I look back and I think if someone was there to mentor me and show me right from wrong, then perhaps I would have made the right choices. I work in many high schools, I go around sharing my story. I pastor the Potters House Church in Liverpool but I also run drug education workshops around. I do a lot of mentoring.  I run and just started the Choose to Change Program which is aimed towards men, to inspire and challenge men to be husbands and fathers and leaders in the community which is being successful there. I'm mentoring guys, one in particular is spending nineteen years in gaol, he's come out, it's been a year now, he's off drugs, got a home, got a job, doing fantastic and so that's just one of many. So it is more than a job for me, it's my passion. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Zak, your dad's in prison for life. Do you ever see him? 

ZAK:  I haven't seen him since I was twelve. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you think you'll talk to him again? 

ZAK:  You know I'm not sure. After I started speaking publicly about six years ago he actually sent me an email from the Bureau of Prisons and we exchanged communication for a few months and entered the conversation quite of naively I thought I would ask him many of the questions that I had thought about for much of my life about why he chose the path he did and you know, if he had any regrets. Things weren't that easy. He was in the process of appeals and couldn't really be very forthright with me and although I was raised Muslim, I'm an atheist now, he became fixated on the fact that I was no longer a Muslim and basically told me that if I returned to the religion that all of the fallout of dealing with the experiences I had as a result of his actions would go away, which was not something that I wanted to hear obviously. You know, so I'm not sure.  I'm not sure if it's possible for us to have a healthy relationship or not, you know, but it's something that I think about quite often. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you all think some people are able to break free of a dysfunctional background or a difficult background and other people aren't?  

BRENT:  Can I put that blatantly like from my point of view? You've got who hit rock bottom before you can come back up and I mean get real deep and go right back into here to heal yourself.  Go in and accept, it took me over thirty years, and face it and come back out and grow from it.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Thank you so much for joining us and thank you to everybody for joining us tonight and sharing your stories.   It's been great to talk to you and that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking on Twitter and on Facebook.  Thanks everybody.