Abused, a drug addict and now a 'last chance'

A young woman has been given a chance to turn her life around.
A young woman has been given a chance to turn her life around.

Sitting in the Brisbane District Court dock, the slight woman in the grey hooded sweatshirt cuts a forlorn and lonely figure.

When she isn't wringing her hands or tucking her untidy dark hair behind her ear, she worries at the over-long sleeves of her jumper.

But when the court clerk asks if she understands the 50 charges to which she is pleading guilty, the 20-year-old stands and in a clear voice answers "yes".

She should understand the charges; she has had almost a year in prison to consider how she ended up in front of Judge Julie Ryrie yesterday.

But maybe it's something society needs to consider as well.

The young woman, who brisbanetimes.com.au won't identify, was jailed ahead of her District Court date in October last year, following a 14-month crime spree that intensified from receiving stolen body and tanning sprays, to fraud and threatening a shop assistant with a pair of scissors as she made off with stolen goods.

Combined with a multitude of stealing, break and enter, trespass and dangerous drug charges, the young woman's crimes made for a familiar, yet no less tragic, story: a young person becomes involved in drugs, commits increasingly serious and desperate crimes to feed a drug habit and is ultimately arrested and must face court.

The combined total of her crimes was found to have cost more than $42,000.

But there is something about this young woman which has the crown prosecutor, her lawyer and even the judge hoping she will be different. A chance for redemption, if taken with the same sincerity with which it is offered, may break the cycle.

The court hears that the woman was sexually molested by her uncle, through marriage, when she was a young girl.

The crown prosecutor tells the court her office had a file with the woman listed as a complainant, a file the woman's own lawyer elaborated on.

The case went to court when she was still a teenager and following her testimony, her uncle was found guilty.

But during the appeals process, the uncle's conviction was overturned, and the woman's mother and the  maternal side of the family, originally supportive, “rejected her”.

With the girl unwilling to be cross-examined a second time, or rehash the events, the case wasn't re-tried.

Abandoned by her mother and extended family, with little contact at that point from her father and having left school in grade eight, the woman turned to drugs to, as Judge Ryrie puts it, “forget herself”.

The court hears that the woman was lost and vulnerable, “preyed upon and used by men” and increasingly subjected to violence and abuse.

Among the many items stolen during her “out-of-control” 14-month crime spree between August 2010 and October 2011 were groceries, towels, sheets and clothes.

Noting the increasingly rash nature of the woman's crimes, Judge Ryrie says it was “nearly as if you wanted to be caught”, a statement that prompts the young woman to nod.

The court is told she weighed just 30 kilograms when admitted to prison, but a dedicated effort to improve her health saw her weigh-in at just under 60 kilograms almost a year later.

While in prison she had returned only drug-free urine samples. She was “doing her best” to pass numeracy and literacy tests and had recently achieved a C-grade in what was the equivalent to lower-level high school examinations.

Her first goal was her year 10 certificate, followed by her year 12 qualifications. Ultimately, she wants to be a youth worker, to help people who are in danger of travelling the same well-worn path as her.

She is well aware that she needs help, the court hears, and she is desperate to accept it.

Since her time in prison, the woman has re-connected with her birth father, but through her lawyer, she expresses reservations about accepting his offer of staying with him and his young family, without other support systems and rehabilitation processes in place to help guide the transition.

The court is told that she had spent time researching and contacting drug addiction support groups and rehabilitation programs while in prison.

Given the serious nature of her crimes, the crown prosecutor asks for three to four years — a head sentence the woman's lawyer does not contest.

As she stands to accept her sentence of three years with a fixed parole date of December 3 — deliberately chosen to allow time for support networks to be put in place to give the young woman the best chance of success in the outside world — the holes in the back of her leggings are obvious.

Not that there is anyone else in the public gallery to see them.

As Judge Ryrie hands down her sentence, alternately praising the young woman for attempting to reset the course of her life and noting the seriousness of the crimes she had committed, the woman stands alone.

Usually, even in the most awful or serious of cases, the accused can count on at least one supporter in the public gallery.

But there is no partner, no friends and no family to hear the lengths to which this woman has gone to try to improve her life; no one to turn and smile at, or receive a reassuring squeeze of the arm after it is all done.

Instead, the woman accepts her sentence, squares her shoulders and nods to herself.

She has been offered “one chance” to get her life back on track.

This story Abused, a drug addict and now a 'last chance' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.