Independence and faith help man live with effects of abuse
Walton Ngatai-Mathieson, of Ngāti Porou descent, is 61 years old. Walton knows his whakapapa and is very proud of where he’s from. He moved between living with several members of his whānau growing up and had a lot of whānau around to support him.
Walton was five when he was stung by bees, causing an infection in his eyes that eventually left him legally blind. He spent some time at Homai College for the blind in Auckland, which he enjoyed and started to learn braille. However, Walton developed epilepsy as a child and his grandparents, who were his caregivers, worried about his seizures and found it hard to look after him. They did not know how to get him through his seizures safely, so sent him to Gisborne Hospital.
Walton went on to spend 14 years of his life in State psychiatric institutions, including the child and adolescent unit of Lake Alice Hospital near Whānganui, Hastings Psychiatric Hospital, the psychiatric unit of Cook Hospital in Gisborne, Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital near Te Awamutu and Porirua Psychiatric Hospital near Wellington.
Walton suffered neglect and sexual, physical and psychological abuse in care. He also received unmodified electro-convulsive therapy, or ECT, paraldehyde (a powerful sedative) and other improper treatments and was made to spend significant amounts of time in seclusion. He described Porirua Psychiatric Hospital as the worst hospital he spent time in, and Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital as the best. Despite knowing Lake Alice Hospital has closed, he remains scared he will be sent back there.
Walton never knew he could make a complaint to Police about what happened to him at Lake Alice. When he was sexually abused there, he was only 12 and did not understand what rape or sexual abuse meant. When he was raped at Porirua, he was older and understood. Walton told staff at Porirua he wanted to charge the person who raped him. They responded by locking him up and giving him paraldehyde for complaining.
The Government awarded Walton compensation for the torture carried out against him at Lake Alice. He found the process of seeking compensation okay because he had a lawyer to help him, but he considered the amount of compensation he received inadequate. He received no compensation for the sexual abuse he suffered there because his lawyer never asked him about sexual abuse. His lawyer knew nothing about it and so did not include it. No one told him he could seek ACC compensation or that he could make a civil claim for abuse he suffered at institutions other than Lake Alice, such as the sexual abuse at Porirua Psychiatric Hospital. His lawyer did not ask him about his experiences in other institutions.
The abuse Walton suffered and the effects of being kept in psychiatric institutions have had profound impacts on his life. Since leaving psychiatric care, Walton has worked hard to rebuild connections to his culture and his spiritual beliefs: “I am trying to reconnect with my whānau and learn te reo Māori, but my experiences in care continue to affect those relationships and my ability to learn. I do not like to talk about it with them or have them bring it up.”
Walton is proud of his independence. His faith and strength of character help him with the challenges he has experienced and continues to experience: “Things that have helped me since being in the community are the tools that allow me to be more independent, such as my scooter. I am very proud to be able to drive my scooter around town to get myself around. Becoming a Christian and joining a church has also helped me, I like socialising with my friends at church.”