It was one of the strangest prisoner interviews I’ve done in a while. Just me and a shoplifter who had already admitted taking spirits from a shop and was now telling me all about why she had done it.
For the interview itself, the confession was what I’d needed.
Yes, she’d taken the goods. No, she hadn’t any reason to think that she could take whiskey and vodka from the shelves without paying for them and yes, had she have got away with it she would have quickly sold the bottles.
Points to prove for a theft covered.
It’s at this point that the interview would usually finish but as I’d asked whether there was anything else she wanted to tell me, it being her interview, she’d propped herself up and opened up about not what she had done but why.
There’s a heroin habit that needs to be fed. A methadone prescription helps to an extent but it doesn’t see her through the whole day. Drinking her prescription in the morning under supervision of a pharmacist, come the afternoon the ‘rattling’ sensation returns leaving her with a gap that she has little choice but to fill by scoring.
The alternative is a crippling sickness as withdrawal symptoms take over, compelling her to find another fix and not letting her think about anything else until she has done so.
This means stealing although as she has suggested, as have many others to me whilst in similar interviews, she doesn’t want to be out running the risk of getting arrested for theft. She doesn’t want the hours spent in police cells, the drugs are the sole reason that she’s here.
The alternative she tells me is prostitution and the sexual abuse at the hands of rough, uncaring punters that inevitably follows. The shops closed, this is sometimes her only option and the sad stories she tells me about life on the streets I know are repeated across the country night on night.
She shows me her arms and the collapsed veins faintly visible under her needle scarred skin. Only the worn look in her eyes offer any real explanation for the premature ageing of her body, the unpleasant realities of having to inject heroin reinforced when she contorts her arm around to demonstrate how she reaches her few remaining useful veins.
The story starts six years prior being handed a drug by a ‘friend’ which she had thought was more innocent than the heroin that it turned out to be.
Addiction quickly took hold and took over, the years that followed were marked by consistent dependence on the drug, largely untroubled by spells in rehab.
It can be very difficult in our job to know what to think about some of the people we come into contact with. Addiction, poverty and unfortunate circumstances push people to do some terrible things. It’s easy to label someone as a ‘junkie’ or a ‘drunk’ and slam the cell door.
From time to time we are presented with timely reminders that the question of why is just as important as what and that there’s always room for understanding, for compassion.
Having listened to the girl’s account and her acknowledgement that people think she’s ‘just another junkie’, it was clear to me that there’s no such thing.