Written by Jade Ruston
WHAT A STORY OF REDEMPTION
It’s never too late to change your life in unimaginable ways.
“Sometimes I think how did a Lil blackfulla get here?” Until the age of 32, Jeffrey Amatto hadn’t yet learnt how to read or write well enough to send an email after enduring a large proportion of his life involved with drugs, alcohol, jail time and homelessness, as a consequence of an intergenerational unjust law system that has so far thrived off the suppression of indigenous folks in Australia. Now 12 years into his strong sobriety, Jeffrey is touring the country head to toe as the most influential and impactful keynote speaker and campaigner for more cultural rehabs and less jails, after being re-connected to his own identity played a massive part in his success in long term recovery.
When you think of Australian culture, do you think of Bondi beach and VB? Do you think about a shrimp on the barbie? That’s not exactly hitting the nail on the head. With this just being the tip of the iceberg in terms of dissociation to the real aussie way of life, it’s left a lot of people displaced in reality and disconnected to their own minds and essence of existence.
The call for more cultural based rehabs to be established across Australia for indigenous people has been making a storm in recent years. A call that is backed with undeniable statistics and positive rapport from both the indigenous community and their life cheerleaders. “Sometimes I pinch myself and think, is this all just a dream to be sitting here doing this? I’ve done so much!” Jeffrey beams.
“If we’re going to call a spade a spade, we should not be here today, indigenous people.
You’ve got every other race of people opening up businesses and owning nice things and living well which is great, but then I look to the left, and here we are as indigenous people sitting in the gutters with signs asking for money. As indigenous people our statistics in our own country outweigh that of any other culture with incarceration, with poverty, with mental health, with anything. You have a good think about that and you think, wow, how far behind are indigenous people in their own country. It just goes to show the damage that’s been done.”
Indigenous Australians have the oldest living culture in the WORLD. Since Captain Cook’s ‘discovery’ of their land, almost every trace of indigenous history has been destroyed, leading to mass poverty as well as a huge identity crisis in today’s community.
Fact – For decades, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders have been at the top of the list for being imprisoned with the highest rate of any other people in the world.
Fact – They make up only 3.2% of the whole population in Australia.
Fact – in 2021, out of all prisoners in the country, indigenous Australians made up a whopping 30% of them.
When petty crime that’s been fueled by substance and blood deep trauma is punished with jail time it keeps that person(s) in a cycle that is almost unbreakable and many have to wait 8 weeks before getting access to help which can be crucial.
“I’ve seen stuff in jail that would make a glass eye cry. It’s not rehabilitating our people, all it’s doing is adding trauma to the trauma. We can’t get well in a jail cell. there’s too much damage there to think that the system is going to get us well.
“There’s a lot of times that when I was locked up to when I was released, not much had changed.
I’m still getting out homeless.
I’m still getting out on center link. (Government help)
My mental health still isn’t right.
My addiction is still there.
I hadn’t dealt with any of that.”
Saldy it has become quite normal for an indigenous child to grow up thinking that abuse is part of the average lifestyle, often causing kids to become uninterested or unable to focus on their education and leaving them struggling to connect over common grounds with other children. The country has heard outcry about how the law system has conducted its rulings in biassed favour against, and is a matter often muffled by being swept under the carpet……. Until Jeffrey Amatto, a proud Wiradjuri man from Wellington, New South Wales, conquered risk after risk along a journey that has now positioned him boldly in front of politicians and ministers at the capital city of Canberra, who have direct influence in being able to make positive shifts be brought into fruition.
A cultural based rehab, specifically the Glen where Mr Amatto finally found his true self, is mindful of mental, physical and spiritual well being. The workers are usually indigenous and have been in less fruitful positions themselves once upon a time. They are mindful of gender, recognising that healing takes place a lot more efficiently with separate facilities for men and women. They teach life skills like cooking, taxes, how to build yourself back up again, manage and maintain relationships, they teach how to give back to people who are in the same kind of struggles and recognise that raw vulnerability is the key to serenity. So very different to a clinical ‘dettol smelling’ formal clinic run by staff who ‘wouldn’t know shit from clay’ having never had the life experience of growing up in similar shoes.
“It (the Glen – cultural rehab)gave me a brand new view on life that I enjoyed. I’m happy, I’m working for the first time in my life. I’m not going to bed with a phenomenal craving for drugs.”
Jeff had been in and out of jails and rehabs numerous times between the ages of 18 and 30 before he was able to kick the bucket clean after reconnecting to his culture at the Glen.
“Before going into that rehab I didn’t even know who my tribe was, I didn’t know who my people were, or where they came from, I didn’t know where I fit in in life. Finding out who I was gave me a fire in my belly because I didn’t know that my people had to go through what we went through just to get where we are today.”
“Now I can’t picture myself drinking or drugging again. It’s just amazing how the mind shifts, when the spirit is strong.”
It all started a few years into being clean from drugs and alcohol. Jeff sucked up the shame and embarrassment he felt about getting an education at age 32, went back to TAFE and absolutely smashed it, winning 4 awards within one year and leaving with a diploma in community services. Later he was approached by people from his hometown who had grown accustomed to seeing him ‘being a menace’ high on ice, heroin, drinking and crying. They were stunned to witness his recovery so much that after a few short uuuuuuummms and aaaaaaaaaaahhhs on Jeffs side, they encouraged him to return to the area and share his methods of abstinence with those who were still stuck inside their darkest minds.
“I started a facebook page just to show my journey and what I was doing, and before the week ended I was getting messages from other communities asking for me to come there and speak in their schools!”
The week passed well, as did talk around the town. Jeff made a leap of faith after experiencing consuming passion for this kind of advocation, he resigned from his job that offered him stability, and took off onto the road to share his experience in hope of helping others. Now……… he has changed the topic of discussion at the politicians table. He runs programmes for kids, targeting the young ones to make sure they have a healthy vision of what life looks like early enough to not go down a dark generational path, as well as adults like himself. Jeffrey is touring the country bearing hope and helping to REALLY rehabilitate people trying to come out of the prison system. It always pays off well to trust your gut!
“Pretty privy to be sitting in the government building down there, these are the people that can make the change if they are fair dinkum about closing the gap between incarcerated and mental health, all this kind of stuff only works if there are more cultural rehabs. There are not enough places like that in this country.”
In a very humble and bashful manner Jeff responds to praise given towards the level of success his example has managed to generate through the amount of other people being inspired to follow suit; “I don’t like to talk about that part much but I can honestly say that I think that I have been able to help a lot of people along my journey so far.
People have been able to heal enough to look after their families now and stay clean and sober after going through the experience of being re connected to their culture, to their roots, as a group of proud people that have managed to become a successful part in intergenerational change. That has a ripple effect as well”
He continues, “That ripples down to their kids and their brothers and sisters and their mums, their dads, their aunties, uncles. I like to think that I’ve helped one or two along the line.”
To end on a high, one person whose life has definitely changed in dramatically positive ways as a direct result of all of Jeffreys hard work is his mother. She was only 15 when Jeff was born and raised him by herself creating this beautiful, strong spiritual mother son relationship that is powerful beyond belief. For her to witness her child incoherent in a hospital bed after an overdose to then witness that same child travel the country inspiring others to follow a cleaner direction, she must be overwhelmingly proud and relieved beyond comprehension.
“I love her for the world. She did really well. I always say to her that just because
I was an addict, doesn’t mean you failed as a mother, you tried your best”
This journey to redemption wasn’t an easy sail. His mother had to pray for tough love to do the wake up call after years of pain and heartbreak.
“For her to say ‘son I can’t have you around anymore, you have to find your own feet because whilst you’re still able to come home and have a bed and have a warm meal, it’s doing so much mental damage.’ It was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do but I had no other opportunity to better my life, that was the last time I did ice.
I didn’t get help right away. I had to hit a lot more curbs and gutters for about another year or two, but there was no mother there to pick me up from it so it was either get better or keep living in this misery and pain and I just couldn’t do it to myself anymore.
Now I know that I can achieve anything. I can do anything if I want to do it.”
Not being afraid to show vulnerability is a massive strength that we often forget to be mindful of. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean weak. It means honesty, and that you have respect for yourself enough to care about yourself.
“Just because I’m sober now and doing all of this stuff and helping people and doing so much consulting for companies, I still struggle from time to time, I’m only human. Sometimes
I think I can’t show that stuff because of the work that I’m doing but at the end of the day I have to show my vulnerability and have a handful of other men that I can reach out to and say fuck it i’m struggling today. I’m not afraid to ring up a friend and say”
Hats off to you Jeff! A true warrior with a compassionate soul.