Michael was over six feet tall, muscular and intimidating. Depressants like heroin and alcohol often have a subduing effect, but when Michael was intoxicated he became threatening, even violent.
Although he had never hit any YSAS staff, he overreacted at the slightest rebuke. When he went to jail for assault, robbery and grievous bodily harm, he spent the time doing weights, and he returned even more muscular and intimidating than before.
One day Michael was really distressed. YSAS Director of Services Peter Wearne was aware of Michael’s mood swings and worried about how staff would manage him. But once the anger subsided, Michael’s aggressive facade crumbled, and he began to relive the trauma in his past. Peter remembers seeing this muscular, intimidating man curled up on the floor in the foetal position, his head cradled in the arms of a female staff member, as he begged his father not to rape him. “Every time you looked into this young man’s eyes you could see that hurt little boy who had no control over the horrific things that were done to him,” says Peter.
Given his bulk and belligerence, Michael could too easily have been taken at face value as a violent young thug. “But if we’d seen only the anger, and the overreaction, and the threats of violence, we would have missed what was going on for this boy,” says Peter. “You can’t just react to what makes you fearful. You can’t just react to the superficial. You have to see that young person in a different light.”