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How a dream job became a nightmare

‘I’m awake again, shaking, sweating. My heart is racing and I stare into the dark. I can’t close my eyes. I fear the images – too many to count. They swim behind my eyelids; I am drowning in their terror. Suicides, heart attacks, murders, car crashes. The images come again and again. All the dead people . . . I have to touch their legs, their arms, reach into their pockets, look into their unseeing eyes for clues.’

From the moment two police officers walked into his primary school to give a talk, Simon Gillard knew he wanted to be a policeman. It was a dream that stayed with him right through high school, and as soon as he was old enough he applied to join the force.

He began as an optimistic young probationary constable with a great sense of humour and passion for the job. But as his career began to build, so too did the number of cases he worked on, from high-profile murder investigations to paedophile rings, suicides to the investigation even of a fellow officer.

As the cases mounted, Simon started to suffer panic attacks and to drink heavily. Nights were the most difficult: he would shut his eyes only to be tormented by nightmares about missing young women, and schoolboys not much older than his own son, whose lives had been devastated. He sought help but was encouraged to just ‘go back to work’ and ended up making four attempts on his own life. He was later formally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and invalided out of the force.

In this powerful memoir, Simon reveals the details of the cases he worked on, how the police force operates, and how one man’s life can spiral so out of control. He is now working to create awareness about PTSD and has written this book to help other sufferers.

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    May 1, 2017

    William Heinemann Australia

    288 pages

    RRP $34.99

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    May 1, 2017

    Random House Australia

    304 pages

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The day the police visited my primary school was the day that changed my life forever. When two young officers got out of their patrol car and walked into my classroom with their uniforms and guns I thought they were superheroes. In that moment I knew instantly I wanted to be a policeman.

No sooner had my love affair with the police begun, however, than I almost blew it. A girl I knew at school built a cubby house in bushland near her home, and together with my friends Travis and Chris I decided to kick it down. I have no idea what possessed us to do such a senseless thing, but being stupid 11-year-old boys we were quite pleased with ourselves – that is, until Travis called me to say that two police officers had just been to his house about the cubby and had spoken to his parents. It seemed the girl’s cousin was in the police force and somehow the trail had led to us as the culprits.

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PTSD Survival Tips

Ten coping strategies from Simon Gillard’s Life Sentence.