Newcastle law student and prison mental health advocate Damien Linnane has launched his memoir.
The book, titled Raw, is an intense journey through a life that began with a father who abused both Damien and his mother. The trail of torment continued for years, further facilitated by his father's new romantic partner.
"While I've still written the book to be entertaining, the underlying message is the importance of speaking about trauma you've experienced, which is something I feel very strongly about," Linnane says. "Because trying to bottle up and repress trauma I experienced in childhood is what led to me having a nervous breakdown, committing a crime, and ending up in prison."
The peak of Linnane's own troubles came when he was convicted in 2015 of burning down the Armidale home of his then-girlfriend's ex-partner, because she told Linnane the man had abused her.
Linnane, who had no prior criminal history, was imprisoned for 10 months on two counts of maliciously damaging property, being armed with intent to commit an offence and maliciously damaging property by fire.
While in prison, he wrote a masterful fiction novel, Scarred, set in Sydney. The book jacket says "it explores the addictiveness of vengeance and the tragic mistakes made by the misguided".
Once out of prison, Linnane got his life back on track, earning a master's degree at Charles Sturt University and eventually, writing the first draft of his memoir, a solid 163,000 words (the final book is about half that count) about his personal trauma as a child and young adult, and his adult life experiences as well as his various job experiences (including in the military) and people he met along the way..
Raw is an exacting count of Linnane's life, flowing with details and observations that give it a novel-like feel. It has been cathartic for him personally, but time and knowledge has made him braver about telling his own story.
"I've always been a candid person, but the only thing I found it hard to talk about in the past was the abuse in my childhood," he says.
"Over a decade ago a partner at the time figured out I had experienced a lot of trauma, and asked me if I wanted to talk to her about it. But I wasn't ready yet. It felt like this dirty secret and I didn't want to burden anyone else with it.
"I thought trying to bury and overcome it was a sign of strength. It wasn't until after my crime that I finally realised I had to talk about it to someone. The first time I told a stranger I was abused as a child it was indeed challenging.
"Today I get booked to give talks on a variety of subjects. If it's relevant as part of my talk to tell a room full of strangers that I was sexually assaulted, I don't find it challenging at all.
"And there's no reason it should be difficult for me to say that, because I didn't do anything wrong, and now that it's no longer a secret, I don't feel like it's this burden I'm carrying everywhere."
The final version of the Raw was written over five months during the pandemic lockdown, with Linnane guided by professional advice and criticism, much of it from Newcastle writers, and verified to Linnane's satisfaction by a trove of documents he obtained through freedom of information requests that detailed evaluations about him written by various government agencies through his life.
While his stint in prison made headlines, Linnane has moved far beyond that dark moment.
"You could say the memoir covers my journey trying to figure out the underlying reasons for all the bad choices I made in my life," he says.
Now, his future has never been brighter.
"As well as doing a PhD looking at prison literature and healthcare, I'm also employed to make Paper Chained, an art and writing magazine for people in custody," he says. "I have my own art and writing projects, of course, plus I'm independently campaigning and lobbying for better mental health treatment in custody."