Gary O'Reilly isn't the kind of guy you’d want to mess with. He’s big, bald and looks like he might just be a crim. It's not far from the truth. Gary was an inmate at Fremantle Prison as a young man during the 1970s and 80s.
He spent more than eight years in the maximum security jail after a troubled upbringing and making a series of poor choices. He even managed to escape over the barbed wire and shattered glass-topped fence one time, before being unceremoniously thrown back in jail a few days later.
These days he spends his time talking about his experiences to young people in schools as part of crime prevention agency Outcare's Keeping Kids Out of Crime program, in a bid to stop at risk youth heading down a similar path of self destruction.
His delivery style doesn't pull any punches; he tells his disturbing story with a matter-of-factness that is intended to deglamorise the idea of prison among young people brought up on a diet of television cop dramas.
“I spent 16 hours a day, seven days a week for eight years in a cold room no bigger than a bathroom,” Gary tells his audience of classes of school students from Years 6-7 up to Year 12.
He also tells them about the trauma of surviving regular beatings in prison, an attempted rape, as well as several attempts at taking his own life. You could hear a pin drop when he stops for a breath.
Gary believes the seeds of his horrific experiences were sown when he was a young boy. His parents were both alcoholics and unable to hold down jobs, his father was violent, he was unpopular at school and the victim of severe bullying. He was desperately unhappy. With no role models to teach him how to make good decisions, he started on the slippery slope to a life of crime. And he paid the price.
Gary is determined that his experiences not be wasted; he has made it his mission to tell his story in the belief it might prevent others from treading in his unhappy footsteps. The program he presents at metropolitan schools, which is funded through the Office of Crime Prevention and local government councils, targets primary and secondary students by embracing “education through credibility”.