It has been six years since Damien Linnane was sentenced to jail for 10 months for firebombing a home in Armidale in NSW's Northern Tablelands.
Today the 36-year-old is an accomplished artist doing a PhD while editing a special-interest magazine from his base in Newcastle in the state's Hunter region.
"I'm definitely the exception rather than the rule," Linnane said.
"I see a lot of people with disabilities going in there (prison) and come out a lot worse."
Linnane is studying a United Nations-funded PhD at the University of Newcastle, based on his lived experiences as someone with autism dealing with the law in NSW.
His research is focused on 'funding to improve the rights of people with disabilities who are impacted by the criminal justice system'.
"I want to help try and stop this downward cycle of people coming out worse than they went in," Linnane said.
While incarcerated from 2015 to 2016, Linnane wrote a book titled Scarred. He also became a self-taught artist, with queues of fellow inmates lining up to have photos of their family, dogs or pets sketched.
His artwork is displayed on a billboard in New York City and in a gallery in the San Francisco Public Library.
For work, Linnane is the editor of the Corrective Services NSW-approved art and writing magazine Paper Chained, which is distributed to about 1200 people in prison.
But his life could have taken a darker turn at any point in the last seven years since he was sentenced to two years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 10 months.
He torched a house on Ash Tree Drive in Armidale on November 29, 2014.
The house belonged to a man who Linnane's then-partner alleged had sexually abused her as a young adult.
"That really triggered me and brought up a lot of bad memories," Linnane said.
"And I pretty much had a nervous breakdown. And I went to take the law into my own hands and get revenge against that person."
Linnane said he carried about 20 years of trauma since he was sexually abused as an eight-year-old by a so-called 'family friend'.
A young Linnane tried to tell his parents at the time but they did not believe him.
"I just tried to bury it," he said.
"And then, about 20 years later, my partner at the time, and through no fault of her own, and she was just sharing with me, she told me she had historically been sexually assaulted."
Linnane had been studying at the University of New England while working as a combat medic with the army reserve in Armidale.
He thought he'd learn skills with the reserves that would enable him to protect himself after a childhood that made him subconsciously feel vulnerable and lacking in protection.
"But it ended up being a really counterproductive environment," Linnane said.
"There were a lot of abusive and angry people in there. And that was actually making my trauma worse. And I'm very happy not to be in that environment anymore."
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Linnane advises those not to "bottle up childhood trauma" but to talk about it with someone.
"It doesn't have to be a psychologist, it just has to be someone," Linnane said.
"Because you've got nothing to be ashamed about.
"For 20 years, the fact that I'd been abused was like this dark secret I was carrying around.
"There was nothing for me to be ashamed about because I didn't do anything wrong.
"And once I started talking about it and getting therapy through that problem, it was actually really incredible."
Linnane appeared in the Armidale Local Court in November 2015, where he was sentenced for two counts of maliciously damaging property, being armed with intent to commit an offence and maliciously damaging property by fire.
After a series of 'exhaustive psychological assessments', Linnane was thus denied an Intensive Corrections Order (ICO), which would have reduced his time in prison so he could spend it on parole.
In making her decision, Magistrate Karen Stafford acknowledged Linnane's high-functioning autism and actions meant he needed to undergo significant supervision and treatment in the community.
Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.