Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Useless Junkies or People?

This was a totally harrowing programme to watch the night before last, highlighting very graphically (think before you decide to watch this clip) the horrific misery of drug addiction. I'm glad I watched it, but it was difficult to watch. Ben was miserable and his family were miserable. It was brave of his family to allow their story to be shown but it would be wonderful to think it might have put off someone from going down that path.

Prisonworld is, of course, full of people for whom drugs is a part of their story. Some were addicted and getting a prison sentence has saved their life and they have managed to get clean. Some had never touched drugs at all and have only taken drugs since coming into prison, perhaps even getting to the stage where it is an addiction. Some were drug dealers, smugglers, couriers, and of course of those some were small time and some were big time. I've never used drugs myself but I've come to hate them with a passion as a result of seeing the devastation they cause. The addicts are miserable. So are their families. And of course there are also other victims - drugs are expensive and have to be paid for, sometimes through crime.

And yes, I do know lots of folk use them recreationally and don't get addicted. They would, with some justification, point to my drinking a glass of wine sometimes of an evening and say "that's a drug" and so it is, I admit it, though thankfully I'm not addicted. So also caffeine is a drug, which I've lapsed back into big time in spite of my good intentions, here and the first part of this last year.

I really hate heroin, cocaine, cannabis and all of them. I hate the whole world that goes with it. Crime, lies, violence, deception, death, and all kinds of unimaginable seediness. Legalising drugs might take away some of that, but it certainly wouldn't take away what Ben went through. From what I gathered from the program, Ben's family helped him fund his habit, with good intentions, although his poor father was then obliged to keep working till 71 when he died from cancer without having the opportunity to retire. I can imagine I might put up the finance too if it was one of my children. Parents don't want their daughter funding their drug habit by prostituting themselves or their sons doing so by mugging old ladies in the street. No wonder they subsidise them.

I've no idea what the solutions are, although I guess making simplistic pronouncements obviously isn't one of them. It's complex and we need to face up to that.

Certainly, amongst other things we need a different attitude, as a society, to the problem. In this country, there are huge waiting lists in some areas to get access to rehab, or a methadone prescription as the services are hugely under-resourced and stretched beyond capacity. It seems to me that the powers that be probably reckon there's no votes in helping drug addicts. Tabloids paint them as the villains and people don't want to see "useless junkies" getting taxpayers money.

It's my privilege as a prison chaplain to love people for a living, but do you know what? Even if you hate "useless junkies", then for selfish reasons alone, you should want to help them, as you may save yourself being a victim of their crime, or from having to fund through your taxes a costly prison sentence (well over £30,000 a year I think) for someone who might instead be working and paying tax.

Ben's story showed powerfully how low drugs can take a person. It also showed that drug addicts are real human beings with feelings, who didn't plan to be drug addicts and who wish they weren't . Their offences may offend us a lot, but they are still worthy of our compassion. And prayer.

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