Joshua Bolton: After spending 12 years in prison, this former bikie was determined to turn his life around

Headshot of Ben Harvey
Ben Harvey
The Nightly
Former Comanchero Motorcycle Club member Joshua Bolton has turned his life around and is now working for The Whitehaven Clinic, helping troubled youth get there lives back on track.
Former Comanchero Motorcycle Club member Joshua Bolton has turned his life around and is now working for The Whitehaven Clinic, helping troubled youth get there lives back on track. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Redemption stories are always risky when the would-be redeemed have been on the road just a short time.

Joshua Bolton has been walking that road for six years and there is no guarantee he will stay on it, however determined he might be.

This 34-year-old carries a lot of violent, destructive baggage. He has demons.

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Holding his two-month-old son next to his fiance Sheldon, Bolton doesn’t look like one of WA’s most dangerous men but for the best part of 10 years, he was.

Bolton was a founding member of, and enforcer for, the WA chapter of one of the world’s most feared organised crime organisations.

He was a patched bikie capable of casual, sudden and ferocious violence.

A drug user who cared little for what his addiction did to his family and friends.

A criminal — thief, thug, drug runner and standover man — who thought he knew how to play the cops at their own game.

A prisoner who walked amongst murderers and rapists in almost every jail in WA but was so confident in his fists that he feared few.

Joshua Bolton is the real deal. A hard, professional criminal.

He is also living proof that the road to an outlaw life doesn’t run one way; that there is a lay-by to pull into, collect yourself, and contemplate a U-turn.

Rewind 20 years and observers of his life would struggle to understand why he would ever be in the position of requiring redemption.

This junior PGA golfer-turned-WAFL footballer should have made a living from sport, not meth.

FAMILY CIRCLE

“Narrogin was the perfect place to grow up in because it’s a sporting town,” Bolton says.

“I was involved with footy, basketball, BMX racing and golf. I always had a strong competitive nature from having a big family circle around me. Every day after school would be sports.”

When he wasn’t pushing himself on the field, Bolton was “out bush” with uncles and cousins. The son of a Noongar father and Yamatji mother enjoyed listening to the stories.

“Within that culture, you grow up quick and learn the dynamics of family life,” he says.

A prison life was virtually guaranteed by Bolton’s decision to become a bikie.
A prison life was virtually guaranteed by Bolton’s decision to become a bikie. Credit: supplied/supplied

“The bonds I shared with family elders past and present are strong so you are raised with a sense of collective responsibility. No matter what you do you’re a representation of your family.”

That family was rightly proud when the beefy 18-year-old was drafted into the WAFL. Nobody could have predicted the sudden slide into a life of crime precipitated by the recruitment.

“I moved from Narrogin to Mandurah to play with Peel Thunder and around the same time my nan passed away,” Bolton recalls.

“She was the mother figure in my life as mum had left the family when I was two years old when she and dad separated.

“In the city the challenges were immense. You had to adapt to a different lifestyle; it was much faster-paced and I was often disconnected from the close-knit family community I was used to.

“I started to stray into a life of small crime with mates, where I could fund my lifestyle without the stress. We called it easy money. My life was then about getting away with as much as I could and staying ahead of the chase.”

In 2009 the then 19-year-old failed to stay ahead and he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years jail for aggravated burglary.

It would be the first of the many stints behind bars. A prison life was virtually guaranteed by Bolton’s decision to become a bikie.

THE CODE

“I had an older brother that hung out with the clubs and I used to look up to them and their staunchness,” Bolton explains.

“For me it was never about what a club could do for me but what I could do for the club.

“It was where I was able to take risks and live on the edge without fear because I was connected to a group of lads who loved riding their Harleys. You can feel a strong sense of pride and connection in that moment.”

“I enjoyed the lifestyle, the brotherhood and the code.”

That code prevents Bolton from talking about details of his time as a one percenter. He doesn’t need to because his many court appearances tell the story for him.

Police investigations showed he joined the Comanchero at a time when the powerful club was fighting for a foothold in the west coast’s underworld.

Former bikie Joshua Bolton with friends.
Former bikie Joshua Bolton with friends. Credit: supplied/supplied

The gang’s genesis is convoluted but it catapulted onto the police radar after a firebombing at the Coffin Cheaters clubhouse.

Bolton later rose through the ranks because he was prepared to take greater risks.

“I learnt to do the things no one else liked doing,” he says, ominously.

“I initially thought that my path lied with a certain club, then after being a nominee I realised that it wasn’t for me and went back to my original club.”

Bolton is reluctant to go into further detail but police investigations suggest he flirted with becoming a Rebel.

His underworld allegiances were tested but the constant in his life was the clang of a guard’s keys as his prison cell was locked.

PRISON LIFE

“I went in and out of prison from 19 to my 30s,” he says. “All up I’ve done 12 years in prison either on remand or sentenced.

“Prison was home for me. It was my comfort zone. It was the place I would get healthy and repair the damage from drug abuse and partying.”

It was little wonder he felt comfortable behind bars; Hakea Prison, in particular, had been turned into a defacto bikie clubhouse.

Prison guards were scared to go into certain wings and Bolton’s towering presence was one of the reasons why.

Police investigations showed he joined the Comanchero at a time when the powerful club was fighting for a foothold in the west coast’s underworld. 
Police investigations showed he joined the Comanchero at a time when the powerful club was fighting for a foothold in the west coast’s underworld.  Credit: supplied/supplied
Prison guards were scared to go into certain wings and Bolton’s towering presence was one of the reasons why. 
Prison guards were scared to go into certain wings and Bolton’s towering presence was one of the reasons why.  Credit: supplied/supplied

The overt power play was a political embarrassment for the McGowan Government. A crackdown by the prison riot squad was ordered and plans for a new supermax punishment compound — designed specifically for people like Bolton — were unveiled.

Bolton wasn’t phased.

“I could reach the ultimate peak of fitness and get my body ready for when I was out,” he says.

“I’d train myself mentally as if any day on the outside could be my last. Not fearing the consequences meant I felt there were no rules or anything to stop me.”

In August 2017 Bolton committed a crime that had far-reaching repercussions, both good and bad.

TURNING POINT

Drug dealer Denis Brown was in his Ellenbrook home when Bolton knocked on the door.

Court transcripts show the then 27-year-old had been recruited by Comanchero associate Darryl Peter Haddrill to collect a Harley Davidson that Brown was holding as security over Haddrill’s drug debt.

Wielding a crowbar, Bolton forced Brown into the boot of a car and drove him to a bush site.

Bolton opened the boot and bashed his captive. He then held a handgun to the back of Brown’s kneecap and demanded to know the whereabouts of the motorcycle.

Brown gave up the location but he was still subsequently bashed with a broomstick, had his feet doused in kerosene and ordered to pay Haddrill $70,000 to cover damage to the Harley and as compensation for the inconvenience.

“This was a premeditated action intended to use force, fear and intimidation,” District Court Judge Linda Petrusa said when she jailed Bolton for eight years.

It was the longest stretch Bolton had faced and the enormity of what he was doing to Sheldon started crushing him.

Joshua Bolton with his partner Sheldon and 4-week-old son Josh.
Joshua Bolton with his partner Sheldon and 4-week-old son Josh. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Sheldon had been with him since they were 19. She left him countless times but was always drawn back.

“Trying to be there for Josh to get off his addiction, his choices within his lifestyle and the people he associated with, plus trying to keep our relationship strong, was hard and heartbreaking,” she says.

“It was difficult to see my own friends and family starting their own families whilst mine was on hold because Josh was always in prison.”

Sheldon had seen her partner’s meth-soaked highs and lows (“it’s almost like waiting for the storm to pass so we could pick up the pieces,” is how she described life with her erratic partner) but she worried the latest jail sentence might break him.

She could no longer disguise how broken she was during her jailhouse phone calls and the quiver in her voice was killing Bolton.

“I heard there was a lady who was doing counselling and she was coming into the prisons but you had to pay yourself,” he recalls.

“It meant you didn’t have to wait to start rehabilitating and could do it on your terms, not when the prison seems fit, which is usually at the end of your sentence.”

The “lady” was Tabitha Corser and the counselling service was called the Whitehaven Clinic.

“I decided to book in a session, this was in 2018. I started to find solutions to why my life wasn’t working and I was able to heal things that were unknown to me that was affecting my life.”

With two years to go before he was eligible for parole, Bolton had a choice.

“I was aware where my life was going. I needed to decide to either stick with club or keep moving forward with my life and building a life for myself and my family.

“When I got parole, I started training with Tabitha to get my accreditation to work as a counsellor.”

HELPING OTHERS

Bolton is now carving a niche as a counsellor able to talk to bikies on their terms.

“There is and always will be a level of respect for me in that world, whether the OMCG or prison environment, because of the name I had built and recently because of the changes I’ve made,” he says.

“The credibility and respect is mutual, not only with the club I was with, but other clubs as well. Not many people leave with a good name once you leave that life, though.

“I have lived experience which is a huge advantage in building rapport and trust with clients. I can show empathy, and it’s real empathy, because I’ve been in their shoes.

“I know the struggles and I know how dark the world can get. I understand the disconnect from everyone that you love, the depression and anxiety and the anger that comes with that.”

WHAT NEXT?

It’s difficult to know when redemption has been achieved. Perhaps for the Josh Boltons of the world the journey never ends. Maybe the years of selfish violence condemn them to walk the road forever.

Bolton has a tiny but compelling reason to keep moving forward.

“I know how easy it is to slip into old patterns and in the past I wouldn’t have cared about the consequences of doing that,” he says, in a nod to his newborn son, also named Joshua.

“I watched many people in prison do it tough, having their kids in their life through the phone and a social visit. I never want to feel those pressures by going back inside and being separated from my little family.”

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