For two years I volunteered for a third sector health and social care charity. Every Monday morning people who had been arrested and found in possession of, or tested positive for, drugs, are given one compulsory appointment. They are then given an assessment interview – recording information about their offending, housing situation, family & relationships, financial situation, drug use, alcohol use, and risk factors – to discover their individual needs. If the “offender coordinator” believes they are in need of further support, they are given one more compulsory appointment.
They may then be referred to other services which will help them with their relevant needs, from addiction treatment and mental health issues to housing and welfare. Beyond the second appointment their engagement with the service is voluntary. I sat in on many of the initial and follow up assessments. As well as going on community outreach visits. I kept a diary of my time experiences, with all individuals anonymised.
The room is silent except for the whimpers and weeping of a tortured young man. A man who has not yet reached the age of thirty, but feels he has little to live for and carries on his shoulder so much guilt, self-loathing and personal anguish that he has lost all hope and given up on life.
Just moments earlier his had been raving and waving his arms around, accosting me and my colleague who was attempting to interview him. He was expressing a deep inner hostility, a visceral rage and a resentment of the world that had chewed him up and spat him out.
That aggression was easier to deal with. One must remain calm and composed, empathetic but not indulgent, and coolly defuse the situation by refusing to match his confrontational manner. This however, this pitiful and poor creature before us, weeping like a child, was another matter entirely. The contrast from the angry young man to the rudderless tortured soul before me makes this moment all the more affecting and humbling.
For a few moments it becomes impossible to say anything. The mind searches deeply for words of consolation but none are formed. As the “offender coordinator” interviewing him looks upon him pensively, I wonder if she will manage to convince him to engage despite his obvious sense that life has become a great, pointless void.
In front of her is an assessment form with all of his personal information she has gathered. He is 29, he is unemployed and claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit; he has a criminal record consisting of a long list of shop lifting and burglary offences; he is on daily anti-depression medication and has a history of self-harming; he uses approximately £20 worth of Heroin and Crack on a daily basis.
The root of his inability to gather any motivation for change or hope is the fact that he has three children. They were all taken into care by social services and eventually permanently adopted. He will never see any of his children ever again. Other details of his family that he has given tell the usual story; he is from a broken home and has no contact with his father.
Thoughts pass through my mind about how his children must have suffered. The mother is already using the service having been referred on her arrest for shoplifting; she is also a habitual user of Heroin. The children of these drug abusers and prolific criminals must have suffered serious neglect and their lives are likely to have been put in danger. The man before me is therefore a child abuser, of a kind, a failed parent who has inflicted terrible suffering on innocent children who will be psychologically scarred for life.
Those thoughts pass through but they do not nullify the sympathy one feels for this poor soul as the sorrow seeps from his every pore. Notably his family details also show that he has no contact with his father and has two half-brothers. Even after just a little experience with the charity it is not too difficult to piece together his family history.
It is the vicious cycle: parents have children and then split up (if they were ever together) and then the children live in a dysfunctional environment usually with no father, often with a long line of father figures coming in and out of their lives.
When they grow up and have their own children; they recreate the same environment. Their own children become products of the broken home and are often abandoned by their father or failed completely and taken into care.
These families live in poor, run down estates plagued by moral poverty. All the ideals of the liberal left trickle down from the top until they reach the bottom, into the sewer beneath mainstream society where the self-satisfied social critics and intellectuals never see.
It is there that the ideological notions of moral and cultural relativism, of libertinism, and the undermining of the family as an institution, the weakening of the criminal justice system and “egalitarianism” in the rotten education system reach their natural conclusion by causing the poor untold suffering.
The British underclass festers in the harsh realities of the ideologies of the arrogant and distant elite.
In these crime ridden areas the only sign of the police is when they turn up (if they bother to), uselessly, after a crime is committed to gather details that generally lead to nothing. Those they do arrest often face great leniency for most of their crimes, and they come in and out of prison until they have a deep contempt and scorn for the law that fails to adequately punish them, and does little to rehabilitate them.
The estates are soaked in alcohol and rife with drugs. Young gangs rove the streets aimlessly; there is an unwritten curfew for the elderly and vulnerable and the residents live in amidst dilapidation and decay. There is camaraderie amongst the community, but this is marred by the fact that they spend so much time selling drugs to each other and stealing from each other.
The parents do not read to or educate the children themselves, nor do they instil much in the way of discipline. They send them to the local school which is generally terrible and a place void of authority or order. Having left school ignorant and practically innumerate and illiterate they enter adult life unskilled, unhappy and with no ability to aspire to anything other than crime, unemployment, or a low wage job if they are lucky.
They have children young, and as soon as they are born their fate is already settled unless they run into some incredible luck. The cycle is hard to break.
This is life at the bottom of British society; it is unforgivable, harsh and oppressive. That is in my mind as I try and stop myself judging this poor creature before me. The task now is to convince him that he must engage with the service in order to liberate himself from his awful drug habit and change his life for the better.
To our appeals he replies that the only thing he wants in life is “his kids back” and this is unobtainable. Beyond that he sees no reason to hope, no reason to give up drugs, no reason to better himself or to aspire to anything. As I look on I see my colleague struggling to formulate an appropriate response.
He is offered support with his drug habit and is issued with an appointment for a second assessment, only the first two appointments are compulsory, the rest voluntary. It could well be that he refuses to engage and then there is nothing we can do.
Another refugee of society lost, until the next time he is arrested in the process of obtaining money for drugs through burglary, mugging or shop lifting. Then he will be processed by the police, possibly he will be cautioned, maybe he will eventually serve a short stint in prison, and then we will see him here again.
A difficult first appointment at 10AM on a Monday…