My goofy brother

by Michael Pollard

My mum and dad split up when I was very young, and I didn't see my dad for a long time. The only man in my life was my grandfather, who I was very close to. My grandfather died when I was about 12, and I started getting into a bit of trouble. Maybe I was taking out my anger on other people.

I was living with all women, I had no male role models. My mother is a smart woman, and when she heard about the Big Brother program she thought it might be just what I needed. It wasn't until only a month before I met my Big Brother Joe that I found out that she had put me on the list to be matched with a Big Brother. I was quite nervous about meeting someone totally different, but I didn't say no.

I remember the day Joe first came around to the house. He was waiting out on the front lawn for Shauna, who was the organiser of the program at that time. One of my little cousins came in and said there's a strange man on the lawn. We went out and saw this goofy-looking man there. He introduced himself, and I quickly decided he was a really nice guy.

It's hard to say what I've got out of having a Big Brother, because I don't know how it would have been if I hadn't been with Joe. But I know definitely if it wasn't for him, I'd have been in a lot more trouble.

The first time I went to court, for assault, Joe got me a lawyer, and he asked me to promise him that I wouldn't get into trouble again. I could see how much he cared, because I knew that he didn't have to do this if he didn't want to. But he made the effort to get me out of trouble because he cares, and I thought that if he's making this effort, I have to make the effort to keep myself out of trouble too.

When I made a promise to Joe, I felt I had to keep it.

Around Riverwood where I live, it's very easy for boys to get involved in gangs. There's nothing new about that, gangs have been around for a long time, but the gangs are getting bigger and into more serious crime. When I was a kid, we might see a pair of shoes outside a house and someone would run up and steal them. Now I've got a friend who's going to court for stabbing someone in a home invasion. He's a really small guy, who wouldn't have the courage to do something like that on his own, but when the gang gets together they gee each other up; "Let's go rob a bank", and if someone says no they don't want to, they get called a pussy, and eventually they do it. They suck each other into it.

Gangs are about being territorial. If you're a teenager around here, and you're not from Riverwood, you're a threat. If one of the Riverwood guys spoke to you and you gave a smart-arse answer, you'd probably be bashed. Someone from another area hanging around another gang's territory is like someone coming into your home uninvited.

Some suburbs have a bigger gang problem than others. You don't see them on the North Shore because around there you don't have to do crime to get money to entertain yourself. A lot of people around here don't have jobs, and they do crime to make money.

It's also because people around here have a lot of time on their hands and don't know what to do, so they hang around on the streets and make trouble.

There is a good side about gangs, and that is loyalty. I know there is always someone watching my back, and someone from a gang will always protect another member no matter how dangerous it is for them.

I finished year ten at school, but because my grades weren't good, I want to TAFE to do a Certificate of General Education. My plan was to join the army, but I injured my back and so I won't be able to do that. My Auntie is starting a trucking business, and I'll be getting a share of that. I'll be working as an offsider until I get my license.

In the meantime I've been building a granny flat in the backyard with the help of two friends. We mixed the cement by hand day after day for a long time! I'm living in the granny flat now with my girlfriend.

Having a Big Brother has meant I can do a lot of things I would have missed out on otherwise. There are things you can't ask your mum to do, like go and watch a football game. But with Joe I go to the footy, go rock climbing, four-wheel driving, golf; stuff you can't do with females. Some things, like golf, my friends would not be into, so I would never have tried them if it weren't for Joe. I was surprised, but I enjoyed golf! Another time, Joe and his brothers helped me learn to do back-flips and now I can do them really well, especially on the trampoline. At the Men's leadership Gathering in Tasmania this year I helped teach a lot of older guys how to do them too. It was mad!

As well as doing things together, there were lots of times when Joe gave me advice that helped me get through hard times. He told me that I should treat others the way I would like them to treat me. I hadn't realised that before - it was always just me and my friends against everyone else who I treated like shit. At first I just said "yeah, whatever" and ignored what Joe was telling me, but after a while I matured and it started to sink in. Nowadays I actually listen to what people say, because I've learned that some things can be helpful.

There was one incident which I particularly remember. When I was fifteen a friend and I robbed a guy our age on the street. I ended up in court. Joe was really shocked; he couldn't believe I would do this after promising him to keep out of trouble. He asked me why the hell I did such a stupid thing and I said "I wanted to teach him a lesson!". He was really angry and said "And what do you think he learned? You're the one with serious criminal charges, police and courts turning your life upside down and he's at home taking things easy... yeah! he's really learnt his lesson hasn't he?"

I think Joe has learned some things too from being with me. I've never lied to Joe because he's never lied to me. I don't think he realised how hard life can be for teenagers until he understood where I was coming from. He learned that if you're a teenager you don't actually have to be doing anything wrong for the police to pick on you. I've been searched by the police for just sitting on the corner doing nothing. Once I was playing basketball with some friends and because the clothes I was wearing matched the description of someone else who had just done a robbery, the police slammed my head into a wall, handcuffed me and searched me. When I told Joe what had happened, he was furious, and he managed to get me a written apology from the police.

I was lucky to have a Big Brother. I have spent every Sunday for the last five years with Joe. I have met his family, who have all accepted me too. We will be friends forever.

My life is in pretty good shape, I've got my own place, a girlfriend, I'll soon be earning money. In a few years time I see myself having a good job, a nice car, being married and living in a nice apartment.

I'm lucky to have a plan for my life; a lot of my friends have had their future planned out for them - they are already in jail and they are staying there. Maybe if they'd had Big Brothers too things might be different for them now.

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