Thursday, November 01, 2007

A success story

Once in a while I wander by The Policeman's Blog, although it's been a while, since I thought PC Copperfield had stopped blogging when he wrote a book and decamped for Canada. Apparently he's been joined by a co-blogger calling himself PC Bill Sykes. This caught my eye, probably because I have a little boy called Dai, too.
A long time ago, I came across a lad called Dai. He was the smelliest junkie-beggar I’d ever seen. His hair was matted and filthy, he sported a massive, unkempt beard that looked like birds lived in it and he never, ever washed his clothes. I had no idea how old he was when I first saw him, but if you’d pushed me I’d have said in his mid 40s.

He used to hang around the shops by us, begging off people who were almost as poor as him. But he was polite, softly-spoken and basically honest, and I felt sorry for him. All the same, I warned him to knock the begging on the head. I saw him again the same week, and gave him a sterner warning. The following week I saw him twice more in the same spot and this time I left him in no doubt as to where this was going. ‘Look, Dai,’ I said. ‘If I see you begging here again you’ll be arrested.’

Next Monday, there he was. I arrested him. I locked him up again on the Wednesday of that week. And the week after. And twice the week after that. He was always the same. Lilting Welsh accent, no trouble, always told you where the sharps were (a main point of etiquette between drug users and those searching them).

Over the months, his condition deteriorated.

One day, after I’d locked him up yet again, we had a bit of a heart-to-heart. ‘You do know you're going to die on these streets if you don’t sort yourself out?’ I said. ‘That's no way to go, is it?’

He’d always resisted small talk, unlike many professional victims who can’t wait to unload their tales of woe. But now he started telling me his story.

He had moved to the city because of a girl. She was beautiful but she had a secret; she liked to play with needles. He joined in, and for a while things were great. The fun soon turned sour, though, and she kicked him out. With nowhere to live, he ended up in a hostel. Being from a small town, and shy, he found himself bullied and robbed almost daily by the other residents.

By now, his drug use had got much worse. He started living rough. Old warehouses, empty terraces, park benches, begging for the money to buy mean little bags of gear from the rat-faced local dealers.

‘I never thought I'd end up in this state,’ he said. ‘But I just can't face going home. I don't want my mam to see me like this. Plus, here I got my methadone script sorted… I’d have to wait for it back home.’ Like I said, he was honest.

‘Look,’ I said. ‘Why don’t I give your mum a call? You can’t go on like this, can you?’

He agreed. I called his mother. She was thrilled to the point of tears that I’d rung. She’d not heard from Dai for two or three years, and had feared he might be dead. She was desperate to see him – literally – and she told me how much his young brother missed him, too.

He wasn’t ready to talk to her just yet, so I kept up the calls, reassuring him that his family didn’t care about his problems, they just wanted to see him and help him sort them out. I also spoke to a housing association and drug workers back where his mum lived, and arranged for them to take him on when he returned home.

Eventually, he got himself on a train back to Wales and that was the last I heard of him.

Until a year or so later.

A Christmas card arrived at the nick. Inside it was a photograph of a lad in his 20s, clean-shaven, sitting near a Christmas tree with a big grin on. It was Dai. He had a job, a girlfriend, and a flat, he said. He was off the gear and had radically reduced his methadone.

His mother added a little note. She said we had given her best present any mother could get. We had given her back the child she thought she had lost. Most of the coppers in my nick had locked him up at some point or other. That card did the rounds. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Once in a while, there's a happy ending.

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