When 14-year old Russell Manser stole his first car for thrills in Mt Druitt, he didn’t realise he would spend most of his life at odds with the law.
ABC’s Australian Story dove deep into Manser’s past, showcasing his incredible story of rehabilitation. The full episode is set to air on Monday May 30 at 8pm.
A road to redemption
“He was just a happy kid, but he started hanging out with a different crowd in his teenage years,” says his childhood friend, Sarah Johnson. She is one who watched his descent into a life of crime.
By his early 20s, Manser had an addiction to heroin. Consequently, he started holding up bank tellers at gunpoint to finance his habit.
“It was like a rocket ship, I just couldn’t get off it,” Manser says of his repeat offending. “What I’ve done was terrible but for a long time I didn’t realise that.”
Also, what he also didn’t realise – until an epiphany in jail – was the role hidden trauma played in fuelling his destructive behaviour.
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Healing from trauma, Russell Manser turned his life around
Manser went public about his shocking experiences as a teenager in a boys’ home and then prison. Sharing his story led to an official apology and compensation.
This validation empowered him to help others. Since then, he built a successful referral business guiding former prisoners and other institutional survivors who are seeking justice for their own sexual abuse.
Now his value as a role model for rehabilitation gained recognition from Corrective Services New South Wales.
“It’s fantastic to learn from people who’ve managed to move beyond their criminal life,” says Deputy Commissioner Luke Grant. The Deputy Commissioner invited Manser back into jails to tell his story.
In conclusion, former bank robber John Killick sums up the dramatic changes in his friend’s life: “It’s one of the great turnarounds. It’s a million to one chance.”
You can see Russell Manser and Peter O’Brien on the full episode of Australian Story on Monday May 30, 2022 at 8pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.