16 days, 16 stories

Alphonse Balacky and Katrina Francis

Alphonse and Katrina take us deep inside a life of violence, sharing their stories of growing up with abusive fathers, and the ongoing work required to stop the cycle of domestic violence. Through honest personal stories, we learn how to silence the monster and what makes people change.

Funded by the State Library of Western Australia, 16 Days, 16 Stories is a courageous new collection of stories presented in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence, recorded for the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

Alphonse and Katrina take us deep inside a life of violence, sharing their stories of growing up with abusive fathers, and the ongoing work required to stop the cycle of domestic violence. Through honest personal stories, we learn how to silence the monster and what makes people change.

Content Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains themes of family and domestic violence that some listeners may find distressing. If you have been impacted by family or domestic violence and are in need of support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.

Copyright © 2019 Katrina Francis and Alphonse Balacky

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Katrina Francis and Alphonse Balacky. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Production by Rita Saggar and Claudia Mancini. Recording by Terri Bellem.

Photo by Abby Murray.

View Story Transcript

Katrina: My name is Katrina Francis.

Alphonse: My name is Alphonse Balacky.

Katrina: We both facilitate a men’s behaviour change program in Broome called Change Em Ways. I grew up with my parents with, you know, living in FDV, family domestic violence. And then, I mean, violence was all around. It was something that, you know, as a child growing up with it, I just thought, “Ah, that’s just life.” That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s normal. Like, my parents fight. You know, my dad comes back home and, and you know, he really mistreats my mum. He’d be out with the mates and he’d come back, and he’d beat my mum and, you know, we’re there as the kids and I’m the oldest of four. We would be, I’d be the one helping my mum, you know, just getting my siblings together and we would be, you know, finding the right time to, to run and escape. But by that time, my mum would already be, you know, she’s already battered and, you know, blood here, blood coming out of it. That’s what I would put up with at home. That’s my life at home. You know, so it’s just something that just came normal, like, yeah, it’s just, it was everywhere in the, in our community.

Alphonse: Well, that’s very common to us, too, as well. I grew up in, well my mum, actually, she had like, passed away due to inflicted wounds from domestic violence and stuff like that from. And you know, I’d be the one in the middle, being the oldest, you know, being the oldest out of my siblings, you know, like similar story to Katrina. And, again, I’d be in the middle. I’d be like, pushing dad away, kind of trying to be the peacekeeper, you know, getting knocks and bumps and punches and everything from the father and, you know, and all that. And to me that, that sort of, I thought that was, oh, that’s how, you know, people are supposed to live.

Katrina: We knew we didn’t want to go through what our mum’s been through and what our dad’s been like, but I suppose living in it, it was just so hard to stop and to get out of it and to control our own behaviours. And you know, I mean every time Alphonse would, and it was always when there’s alcohol involved. I would say alcohol and drugs and, with Alphonse and I, you know, with our time living with violence, there would be a lot of alcohol and drugs involved. And then when it’s time to, you know, when Alphonse sobered up and, you know, just looking and now he’s regretting, “Oh my, what have I done?” So, we were living in that cycle of violence and, you know, he would say a lot, “You know, I don’t, I am so sorry. I don’t want to be like my dad. I don’t want to do this.” But it took us so long to actually find that, you know, a way.

Alphonse: You know I’ve been to a lot of rehabs. You know, I’ve been to a lot of places, you know, to do programs on FDV and stuff like that. But it always, there was always relapse. There’s always relapse. And what made me come out of that and to make a change with myself, I had to go to prison to find out that I need to change seriously, I need to change. I’ve used weapons and stuff that, you know, that’s not funny. You know, I used weapons, machetes, knives, you know, I even got few stab wounds on myself as well from Katrina, just in in self-defence and stuff, you know, and things like that. Either one could have been gone, we wouldn’t have been here, you know, but because I have acknowledged that I need to change, I got to change for my children and for my wife’s health and I can’t keep putting her through all the traumas and all the agony and all that thing. So, it took me to go to prison to realise that. I had to self-reflect, you know, on what have I done? I’m not like this person. I’m more of my grandfather, you know, I’m not my dad, you know.

My children’s self-esteem was really low, they had low grades. Very low attendance, very low of everything. And I really took the time in prison to really cry, really cry, cry to myself and say, what am I doing to my children? What am I doing to my wife? What am I doing? I’ve created a monster in me. I’ve created the monster in me, not my wife created a monster in me not, you know, anybody else created monster in me. I have created that monster in me through my jealousy, through my control and my controlling behaviours, and my drinking and drugging, they weren’t helping, you know. And feeling sorry for myself, self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. And it wasn’t, you know, who we really were, you know, there was a light, you know, that at the end of the tunnel that I needed to go and see.

Katrina: It was all about blaming each other and revenge, at first. That was what we’re living. And Alphonse used to always say, “You made me do this.” We hear that a lot. Every man, “It’s what you’ve done.” You know, they will try and look for a fault. And that’s what we found with a lot of men, also. And it’s, you know, it’s something that they, I don’t think they really realise that they [are] doing that, but like Alphonse said, it took him to go to prison to actually realise, “Whoa, I’ve lost my family.” You know, I’ve given up the house in Broome, I’ve took my children and we went to my grandmother’s country, which is south of Broome 200, about 200 kms, or 170 kms, out of Broome. And I suppose Alphonse might’ve heard some stories from the outside connection he had with his family. He must have heard of stories that we’ve moved. And then I think that sort of told him, “Whoa, Katrina’s serious. I lost my family. She’s not going to accept me back.”

Alphonse: What made me change is, you know, my children, you know, listening to them, crying, listening to them sobbing and seeing and hearing what we’ve been going through. This experience with trying to get a Working with Children Check. There were some jobs, you know, I’m available that, I was, you know, applying for. So, I’ve applied for the Working with Children Check and then it came back; declined. And I was thinking, “Man, what are they doing?” You know, what’s going on, you know? A lot of frustration and anger, you know, you know what’s happening? You know, I didn’t touch my children. I didn’t hit my children. I don’t, you know, I didn’t do this to my children. I didn’t do that to my children.

So [I] read the letter and the letter was saying, okay, it’s not, it’s not that the children seen or it’s not the children was being hurt by you or [by] you doing anything physically to the children or anything. It’s what the children seen and heard, and how the children [are] being affected, you know, their little hearts were broken, and exposed to domestic violence, to my violence. I showed a very ugly side of me to my children and then that’s why it was declined. And I had that conversation with them over the phone, you know, saying like, how come, this is? Well, it’s not what the words that you were saying, it’s not that you hurt your children or, or done anything wrong to your children. It was what they’ve been exposed to, you know, even though you were in the other room, you and your wife arguing and carrying on, but they heard everything and sometimes they would see what I’d be doing to Katrina, you know, and that really broke their hearts, you know, tore them apart. And I didn’t realise, you know, I was really, “I am the man. I’ll tell you what goes on. I’ll say this, I’ll say that.” And not realising that I’ve really broken my kids’ hearts. And that’s what broke me. That’s what broke my heart. I felt very, very broken that I’ve done this to my children. I need to do something about myself.

Katrina: From what I could remember, it was that point when Alphonse and I said, it was even shocking to me, ‘cause I thought you would have a negative Working with Children Check if you [had] physically done something to a child. That was also my understanding. But then when that came out, it was an extra big turning point for us. That’s when Alphonse and I said, “No, my gosh, like, we didn’t know this.” So, then that’s when we sort of realised, wow. So, if they could say this and if that’s why, well then that mean our children are really affected by our behaviours. Our children is really in need of help. Then that’s when we’d said we need to stop.

Alphonse: So, I said to myself, you know, “I need to take responsibility.” The man, I need to take responsibility and own up to my problems. I need to own up to what I’m doing, what I’ve become. I’m the perpetrator. I am the one who needs to change. It was my admittance that really got Katrina and myself focused on we need to, I need to change it. And having the help from her, having her, you know, really sticking right behind me and saying, you know, thank you. That was my support. She was my support.

Katrina: You know, when Alphonse and I first met, I mean, you know, we related with, you know, the stories we were talking about and you know, we related in so much areas. And he’s, you know, a bit older than me, but, you know, it was like we had so much in common and we felt like we could talk to each other about anything, the deepest, shameful-est secret, we could talk about it to each other and you know, and we could also encourage each other and support each other.

Alphonse: Well, the organisation Men’s Outreach, Aboriginal corporation, that really, you know, ‘cause at that time, and when I was in prison, they were doing the re-entry stuff that you know, they go into prison and speak to the prisoners on who’s coming out. I used to go to them just to let out, you know, just to let out steam, just to have someone to talk to. And that’s when they pushed more because I was saying, “I want to change. My children need me to change. My wife need me to change. That’s why I want to change.”

Katrina: We also had a strong, strong, Aboriginal worker of Men’s Outreach. He was, you know, very well-known, family-related connection. And he’s an uncle as well. And just you know, a local man of a small community, Broome. And he pulled us up together and he said, “Look, you two really, really can make great success. You two are both crying out for help and you two both want help.” Now this, you know, it has to start like, you know, he sort of mentored us and he said… I kind of think it was something that we needed for an elder to sort of pull us up and say, “You don’t want to treat your wife like this, Alphonse. You don’t want to treat your children’s mum like this.” And, and then sort of also given me a few words, you know, on the way, you know, as a woman, as an Aboriginal woman should, you know, have self-respect. He said to Alphonse, you know, gave us a few strong words and, and that really shook us and that really is, you know, it was an eye-opener, as well. Just to add on to what we’ve already been exploring. So it was just all about, you know, with that, that’s from a very, you know, strong, strong man that we deeply respect.

So, you know, and then it was sort of okay, there was another, a solution we found that okay, cause it was a time also that one of us had tried to give up cigarettes. Oh, lots of, many times. I think the last time it was me, yes, and then I would always, you know, ask Alphonse if he could buy me a packet if he’s going at the shops or you know. You know, in our Aboriginal culture we like to share and we like to, so, you know, I would say, “Hey, can you know, if you’re going out, can you ask your dad for some spare cigarettes for me?” Or ask your sister, you know, or I would call them and then they would send back the cigarettes with Alphonse. And we were both, you know, there were times where Alphonse would give up and then I would be the one buying cigarettes for him or, or bumming some cigarettes off someone and, you know, just doing these favours and I just thought, “No, we can’t do this.” So, then we thought that was one of our learning curves as well, when we realised, hey, okay, if we want to give up cigarettes, look, why don’t we just do it together? So, then, when we done it together, there was great success. Till this day we don’t smoke. So, then that was also something that we’ve learned, and we’ve reflected back on and we said, hey, you know how we’ve given up cigarettes together? It didn’t work when we to do it one by one, like on our own. But when we did it together, it worked. And then we thought, “Well, so, that’s maybe what we have to do. Now we give up the alcohol together. Now we, you know, support each other and that’s sort of how we moved on. Supporting each other.

Alphonse: So, we’ve maintained our you know, giving up cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, everything. We didn’t, you know, didn’t tend to relapse on that because we didn’t feel there was a need for it because, I’ve found happiness with just a normal high, our normal, you know, a normal adrenaline that we have and being happy from each other, being happy, looking forward to going on fishing trips, looking forward to going on in a hunting trips with my wife and children. Before it would be me and the boys. Well, you know, stuff that, I’m not gonna be with, sorry boys, but you’re going to have to take your own road, ‘cause this is my road. My road is with my wife and my children.

Katrina: When the community started to recognise that, hey, these two quietened down, these two are really starting to do good. You know, we see them around more often together now and more family time. You know, they started to recognise and see the difference. And then we started to have great support and, and just someone within our community saying, “Hey, you guys are looking really good there. Good on you. Well done. What are you guys doing?” You know, those just motivated us to continue on, you know, we’re doing something good.

Alphonse: Even now talking about it, you know, I really want to shed a tear, but because, you know, we’ve gone so far now, I’m not gonna because I know that we are reaching for the stars and we are doing well. We need to spread this message out. We need to give this out to people who are stuck in the cycle, you know? And yeah, I suppose, you know, being, being a man and especially a man talking about how I treated my wife, man, I feel really sick in the stomach on, you know, the things, but I have to bring it out. You know, they need to hear this because it’s something that I really want to educate other men, other perpetrators on what domestic violence is. And that it’s possible to break it. It is possible to break. Very possible. You know, and the willpower and admitting that you have a problem. But you need to admit it. As a perpetrator, you got to admit the things that you’ve gone through, the things that you’ve done in your life. And once you admit that, then you know you’re on your way.