Disclaimer: This article discusses Aboriginal deaths in custody, which may be upsetting for some readers. It also contains the names and images of Aboriginal people who have passed.
I am sick and tired of hearing people say, “Well if they break the law they should be in prison”.
If you have that mentality you need to get your head out of the sand and consider what that person has dealt with in their life. Ask yourself, what happened leading up to that person falling victim to a racist system that is supposed to help us, but actually kills us and ruins families.
On the first day of September, in 2018, I lost my brother Nathan Reynolds. He died in custody, having an asthma attack. On that day, my life and that of everyone in my family, changed forever.
My big brother Nathan died on the cold floor of a prison, with no loved ones around him.
In a few months, my family will learn the exact circumstances that led to Nathan’s death at a Coronial Inquest.
But I don’t need an inquest to tell me what I already know – Nathan died too soon. He should be alive today.
I remember when I got the devastating call about Nathan’s death. I was numb, in total disbelief.
My phone was constantly ringing that morning, but I could not talk.
My partner had to answer all the calls. I avoided going to my Mum’s house for hours because if I saw her, it meant it was true.
Nathan only had a couple of weeks left before he was due to be released. We were all making plans. He was going to live with me.
To me he was the best brother ever. He left an impression on everyone he met, he had a great sense of humour, he loved his footy, golf, fishing.
My brother was 36-years-old when he died in prison, calling out for help.
I believe the criminal justice system does not help our people, it kills us.
It wasn’t only prison that Nathan found hard. Probation and parole was also a huge challenge for him.
My brother loved working as a tradie, but juggling his job with probation was a big struggle.
Nathan was required to report in 3 days a week, go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings once a week, go to counselling once a week, and community services every weekend.
Whilst Nathan had to complete all these programs he had to manage a full-time job. Work was important to Nathan; it was his grounding place and provided an income to support his family.
We all relied on him. Not only did he work for his bosses, Nathan was always fixing up all our houses. It made us all so proud that he was such a hard worker, after leaving school at 16 to become a gyprocker.
But the parole board also had obligations and programs for Nathan; he was constantly on the go. He struggled to keep up with all the appointments.
Nathan told me probation and parole did not take into consideration that was working full time.
He said 'it would be easier to go to prison than try to keep up with all the appointments'.
Yet here we are. Ironically the thing that Nathan thought would be easier for him, actually killed him.
I still have alarms on my phone to remind me to remind Nathan, he had to report to parole. I made sure he called or texted me back to say he has been. If I didn’t hear from him I would constantly text and call till I knew he had reported.
On the days that he was busy and lost track of time he would say “thank God I’ve got you to remind me, what would I do without you”.
I miss him every single day. I still haven’t grieved losing him.
I feel if I allow myself to go through those emotions, it will break me and I won’t have the strength to continue to fight the system that failed my brother.
Not only did probation and parole let me brother down, so did the corrective services officers and the nursing staff at the prison clinic, where Nathan had been plenty of times for asthma treatment.
Even over the phone, I could tell when his asthma was playing up. I could hear the wheezing over the phone and I would tell him to go see the nurses. And I always asked if he had puffers on him.
The night he passed, Nathan was treated for an overdose.
It angers me that they accused my brother of being on drugs, when he was having an asthma attack.
Now I have no trust in the police, corrective services or their nurses.
The Black Lives Matter movement that is happening around the world right now has given me the fire in my belly to fight.
Together, my family and I will continue to fight for systemic change.
I am determined to be Nathan’s voice since his was taken away, and I will be the voice for all the other black deaths in custody and for our people that are in prison today.
We want people to realise, there is racism against First Nations people in this country.
If you are a bystander and witness racism, stand up and speak out. But if your turn a blind eye, you’re just as bad as the racist.
Our family will fight for this cause and for our brother Nathan, as long as we need too.
To hear more about these issues tune into Living Black: Aboriginal Lives Matter on SBS On Demand: