living with former prisoners has its good points- rehab part 7

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We had to go to a fellowship meeting each night, so after all day hearing crying and a shitstorm of wasted lives, smashed families, broken dreams, we had to hear it all again every night, only with prayers and biscuits. In drafty halls. I liked the prayers, though they were Godless to appease the non believers. That’s all the higher power stuff. Plus I liked the more dramatic stories, you could tell they quite enjoyed telling them, particularly the narcs. They really, really still loved heroin and no matter how much they said life was better now, without it, some wistfulness in their eyes, like a guy talking about his first sweetheart, body glistening with sweat and chlorine at the open air swimming pool, you can not replace that longing look, even if you can replace the longing. And though I’ve never taken smack, nodding out in a room where no one cared, seemed better than sitting , freezing, in a church hall, with broken ribs, and my mug of instant coffee with its granules floating to the top, tepid, nauseating, and listening to all this very depressing stuff. 

And of course I was part of that shitstorm. I would put something out now and again. Not always nice. One guy said he drunk drove and either caused a death or life long injury (not to himself) and my first thought was wanker, you are getting a clap for honesty, for sharing, while some poor bastard is a parapalegic, pissing into an ergonomic bottle, talking maybe with one of those electronic Brief History of Time voice machines, wishing you a slow and painful death every day, or perhaps he or she is already dead, and everyone said well done for saying that, how brave, and I stood up and said boy am I glad they took away your driver’s license.

 

One girl, her dad was the king of some sweetie emporium, so she always had sweets, and strangely, great teeth and a knock out figure, she came up to me and looked at the cross around my neck and said, how could you say that, you, a Christian, you should forgive him. And I just wanted to kill her, and him, and explode the sweetie factory, for good measure.  What would Jesus do. He’d forgive and turn the sweeties into loaves and fishes, and the water into tepid coffee.

The ones I hated the most were run by these Hells Angels reject types. Bald on top but long ponytails, pot bellies, would laughingly say only poison now was Starbucks and cake. Their stories usually involved hot chicks lured by the promise of good drugs, cars, fancy watches ( they were really into their watches, surprising now as most had no jobs and really only had to show up for meetings) swallowing condoms full of drugs, near death experiences, waking up in alleyways covered in piss and shit and vomit, how the piss is a relief at first when you are bursting and its warm, but how it gets cold real quick and stinks, collapsed veins that means there are fewer places to inject ( testicles for guys, dunno where the girls did it) how easy it is to get drugs in jail, how you have to be really tough in jail, how jail makes you worse unless you find God or Allah, how you go out and score as soon as you get out. And everyone would  nod and smile like yup, been there, nearly died four times, those times I was covered in shit ,wasnt sure it was my own ( cue laughter of recognition) and I wanted to just stand up ( but I couldnt cos my ribs were killing me) and shout oh fuck you, my dealers were my doctors, it was all very nice, my little green NHS script, before that, in the States, other script pads, before the days of computers, and I never shat myself , not literally, and I never did all that stuff. This was like some Guy Ritchie movie I couldn’t follow.  I never even stole anything and I raged this thought to my mate G, and he said, maybe you stole your kid’s mum away from them. And then I cried for real. That made sense.   I mean if someone said it, like, in a made for tv movie, I would have said what shit dialogue, but it got to me. And after he said that I stopped being so obnoxious in meetings, stopped glaring at the fat Jim Carrolls who had not died, died died, or written anything half as good as the Basketball Diaries,  and started to really listen, trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything, I could relate to. And in one meeting this beautiful girl, I mean drop dead gorgeous, smart, young, she told a story bout getting some gig at a doctor’s office or pharmacy and my ears pricked up. She mentioned the V word, Valium was her poison too and she did lots of the same shit I had done only was younger and smarter and got better faster. And I fell a little bit in love with her. And I wanted her to take me home and fix me and I would do exactly what she told me to, but I could not because I was about half way through the programme and and already decided to move back to London. And she could not have done that stuff anyway. And I would have just egged her, like don’t you miss it just a bit, I mean not the almost dying bit, but all the other good bits, the feeling calm all the time? And I am such a salesperson I can’t help thinking we might both wind up back on it, but she was and is still strong and doing really well in her recovery. And so I love her from afar. 

There was one point in my flat when everyone except me and this other girl had been in prison. And we left the flat to rush to a meeting and the girl responsible for the keys left them inside the flat. And this was handy, cos there were four guys who could break into a house quickly, softly and without breaking anything. So one shimmied up the drainpipe and we got the keys. Another time we went out to do our basic food shopping and we all had to sort of babysit each other, like couldn’t even walk through the alcohol aisle. And one of the guys picked up the loudspeaker and said, “Today check out our discount on our own brand seeded loaf, and Michele, put the Smirnoff back.” That was probably my first proper laugh there. I liked hearing my name on the loudspeaker and I was no where near the booze, but I enjoyed the joke. The guy didn’t even get in trouble for using the loudspeaker. I didn’t like that guy all that much but he gave me a book called The Shack about what happens when a man’s daughter is brutally murdered, and he meets all these spirit guides. And I cried my eyes out every page of that book , and anyone who has ever lost anyone they loved, they should read it. And it hit me then that everyone who “fixes” on drugs then fixes on something more acceptable, like sweets, or exercise, or meditation, or meetings.  And I told G I don’t fix on jackshit, only pills, only specific pills and specific alcohol, and then I read the Shack, I read it constantly, in bed, like porn. Only not like porn cos it didn’t make me feel sexy, it made me cry til I was practically sick. And I got it. I fixed on death. Which is like the worst thing to fix on cos everyone dies, often way before you do. TBC

 

 

 

rehab part six, i learn to live with a projectile vomiter , a stabbing guy, and teen who is not my own

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Group therapy is riddled with the sort of words I despise. And at the end you’ve got to hug people who may have hair growing out of their nostrils and ears and you want to say, you know they have devices for that, I’ve seen them in the back page adverts of The People’s Friend, but you hug them and say shit like “powerful story, I could relate on so many levels” while you imagine that one long strand of nose hair growing downwards each day. This guy, he had something to do with Iraq, and his participation in a war he did not believe him, it made him crazy, and he was not on the front line. And I should have thought poor you, poor you having to do this thing you despise for money, that you think is immoral, and all I can think about is how when you cry, the snopt creeps down the nose hair. You are fucked to the very core, you feel , wrongly, perhaps rightly, never having been in the situation myself, responsible for deaths of small children in a foreign field, to provide for your own kids, to keep them in the style in to which they were accustomed, but that’s not even what you talk about. You talk about how you let them down by being pissed. Like all of us, on drink or drugs, with kids who we embarrass at some point or on a daily basis. We feel your pain, but we so don’t do nose hair.

And yet while you sob and weep and we nod and rub his heaving shoulders, I think of devices to zap that hair. each day I mentally recorded the progress of this strand and thought, oh, he could do a Rapunzel, except his name was Nigel, and the woman in distress would say Nigel, Nigel, let down your hair, so I may climb thy golden stair, and some sad fuck into cats and yoga, a bit like me, actually, she would climb up this strand of hair and find to her horror and disgust that it was not the hair of an Adonis in a tower, but the single nasal hair of a chubby bloke with emotional incontinence and a refusal to address the nasal and ear hair issue.And she would get to the top and shriek and unwittingly fall down and seem to commit suicide, and wind up in rehab , like me.

This guy ruled group therapy. He told the same story over and over again, about letting his kids down at some sporting function by arriving pissed. He got pissed because he could not deal with his role, however miniscule, with what he felt, what I feel now, after sitting on the fence, and despising all that not in my name shit, placards held by twelve year old kids who lived in zillion pound houses,all that was the illegal war against Iraq.

No one else could get a word or problem in edgewise. In group time.  

Except when I felt bad, which was most days, I was more or less like the nasal hair Iraq sporting event guy.

Except my sadness was more selfish than his. At least he was crying for a whole nation. I was just crying for Paul, and for others I had loved so much, who had died too young.
And I sat in that chair every day, and one day this kid came in, a little older than my own son, and he said he wanted to live in our flat. He needed a mother. He was a grumpy teen who worked on a burger van, and he just didn’t seem all that different from the teens I had left at home: grumpy, opinionated, angry, into his junk food. Mess everywhere. Except he was into his weed more so than normal. Not even sure my kids ever touched the stuff. And we had explosive rows. Mum and teen sort of rows. One of our mantras was “patience and tolerance” and I would say ______, I am trying so hard to access my patience and tolerance, but I feel so much like punching your burger and weedy detox eyes lights out.
There was another woman, arrived in such a state she had no idea where she was or how she had got there. She smelled very badly, of piss, and sick, and other bodily waste products. Someone said, ah, all your senses are heightened as you are no longer under a chemical cosh. And I said, nah, she just really stinks. And she wondering around, pissing and vomiting and looking confused. This is not abnormal. Then one of the group leaders, sensing my midway point on the road to recovery, asked if I would be her buddy. I said, but she’s pissing and projectile vomiting, and she doesn’t know where she is.
He looked at me as if to say, “So , what’s your problem with that?”
I said I didn’t feel well enough myself to handle her welfare, but she came to live with us anyway, and pissed and threw up for a few days and then when she sort of woke up, I asked her if she knew where she was and how she got there. She said, “Last thing I remember I was trying to sell my flat. Was it to you?” Did you buy my flat and bring me here?
I said no, I had been living in a bedsit, I was dirt poor and we were both of us unwell, which is why we were here.
And then I had to tell her the rules. “No drink”
Fuck that, she said.
“You can’t go anywhere , even to the shop, without two other people.”
Fuck that, she said.
I said they had detoxed her and now she had to learn to live without drink or drugs.
Fuck that, she said, I have to go, I have to sell my flat.
But who to? Maybe they thought it was just some drunken babble.
“No, it was a real deal, with lawyers and everything. Oh, I detox all the time, then I am OK and get drunk again, but first I have to sell my flat. Can you ring my lawyer?
“No, I said. “I think you should stay here longer than the detox bit. Otherwise you’ve paid all this money just to piss and puke when you could have done it at home, for free.”
“The home I am selling, if you ring my lawyer.”
I will not ring your lawyer.
“Would you like to buy a house?”
“No, I want you to stay here and listen to some stories. Some are good, some are crap, but eventually something might sink in.

Then there was the French slasher, he had slash marks over the only clothes he owned, which is the ones the French cops brought him in. He said he lived in the red light district in Paris, he fucking ruled it, he was the main guy, drugs ,babes, babes on drugs, the lot. And heroin. His heroin detox was ramshackle, not through the support team but through himself. He left valium all over the flat. I found this the hardest part of my recovery. If he leaves it on the floor, he won’t know it’s missing. I also knew if I took it , I’d be back to square one.
I asked him, “So , what’s the deal with the knife slashes”
He said bad people were after him, it was safer to be in England. He needed some clothes.
“But you yourself, you are not a bad person,” I said, my eyebrows forming a little question mark.
“Mais non, a leetle brown dealing, but you know they want it, I provide how you say the service”
“But do you stab people?”
On occasion, but often it is not essential.
So I rang one of the team leaders and said oh the guy likes to stab people, should I hide the knives?”
“You are being catastrophic. Worst case scenario. Hide maybe the sharp knives”
“None of the knives in this flat can slice even a cucumber”
“Problem solved then.”
I grew to like the French stabber. He endured his detox manfully, vomiting quietly, taking the tablets at the required dose, being polite, being French, speaking in a lovely accent, even when his words were ugly. They got less ugly the less drugs he took. He had a beautiful wife. Maybe kids, I can’t remember. I pictured him in the future, a picture of health, Breton shirt and garlic round his neck, French stick under his arm, on a bicycle. People might stop him and ask for heroin, and he’d said “mais non, garlic.”
I also lived with women whose children were in the care of social services. There but for the grace of my still sane ex, would go my kids. Their stories are too sad to tell. My story, at times ,is too sad to tell, if not for you, for me. They wanted the kids, but they also wanted drugs. You really can’t have both and be a good mum. I found this out at great cost, to myself, and to my children. I alway operated under the illusion that if you hid it well enough, or it was endorsed by your doctor ( to me the most appealing part of the late 60s was manic prescribing of Benzos. Fuck free love. Sedation will do me fine.) it was all legit, it was all Soma. I only found out years later Soma was meant to be a bad thing. TBC

rehab part 5- I get on the train and go

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Rebab and such like, facilities for the nervously impaired, always looks great in movies with beautiful chicks. Think young Natalie Wood on a rolling lawn, with a starched white nurse, probably drip feeding her narcotics simply for being a teenager. Winona Ryder hanging with Angelina, eating Ice Cream in New England. Beatrice Dalle, heavily sedated before her lover snuffs her out and goes home to eat a life affirming pot of stew in Bette Blue, sweating in his wifebeater, remember all the great shags he had before the amor went fou. Even Cuckoo’s Nest with the hideous Jack Nicholson looked kind of fun, and everyone was sedated. Best of all was Valley of the Dolls, poor little Patty Duke, sitting in some sweating machine to slim down or calm down or something. Patty Duke was girl next door cute, also on piles of real drugs in real life, you know. And in the film bonkers, on shitloads of precious and marketable sedatives. So what I wanted was to be put in a sweating machine, on a rolling lawn, with a Valium drip, and somehow, I would get off drugs by being on more drugs, the same ones I liked. This made perfect sense to me at the time. And at the end I would emerge fresh-faced and dewy and forgiven, and get out, find another dirty doctor, but just HIDE it better this time. Or plan B, which was that I would be so sedated and lifeless, a Native American would come and suffocate me with a pillow. And everyone would be all like, “Oh, we should have just let her take drugs forever, then she would still be alive.”
But here’s the thing about rehab. They don’t give you drugs, they take them off you, and Valium is one mother of a drug to withdraw from, if you’ve been on and off em for most of your life. I was running for the shelter of my mother’s little helper waaay before I was a mother.
The people on heroin were off it in a week, sometimes less. They got sleepers and , I think, Valium, as part of their detox. I was the only Valium queen I think at the time I was there, and my detox took a month, gradually cutting down, but even when it’s gone, it’s not really gone, because it has a very long half life, and lurks about in your piss and blood and saliva for ages after you’ve taken your last one.

I can’t remember much about the train journey to Bournemouth, except my broken ribs poking out at jutting angles. My upper torso looked like a broken toast rack. When I arrived at the centre I was photographed (I still have it, I don’t recognise that woman) given some coffee, watched a bit of a film, and then saw the doctor, who made me spill all my drugs on the table. He let me keep the suppositories to stop throwing up. The rest he took away.
I was then taken to the flat in Boscombe which would be my home for the next three months. There were five bedrooms, dorm style, with wardrobes, a single bed, and a communal kitchen and living area. One lovely woman who had been there for a while was my “buddy” who looked after me for the first few weeks. Apart from her, everyone else in my flat had been on heroin and most had been in jail at some point. She had been on heroin, but not in jail. Every night we had to go to a 12 step meeting, either for Narcotics or Alcohol or Cocaine. I preferred the cocaine ones because the people, even off cocaine, were rather zippy and energetic. I didn’t like the Narcotic ones because the people there seemed from another planet. They would speak in street slang and prison slang and drug slang and talk really fast about sticking pins of brown in their pound coins with me going, what’s a pin, what’s a pound coin, what’s brown, and my translator would say, needles, heroin, testicles, and give me an extra strong mint.
There was one meeting, mostly guys in their 60s who had been young in the 60s, and they would laugh and say, “Back in the 60s man, drugs were really drugs, everyone had everything, and you got the chicks and the drugs and the music, and now here were are in a smelly, cold room drinking coffee and eating Rich Teas, but I love it man, I love this life.” But when they talked about the 60s, it seemed so much better. How on earth could being in this overcrowded room with guys who had like, had their legs amputated cos their veins had collapsed, drinking Costco decaff, how the hell could that be better than being high on drugs and having sex with beautiful women also high on drugs, while listening to, maybe Hendrix or the Byrds or Motown, I dunno, better music than Alan Dull Ray, who was on permaplay on the music channel in my rehab flat share. It was also the year PJ Harvey’s When England Shakes came out, and a friend of mine got me a copy and that CD was my salvation. I still get weepy when I hear it, and used to think , if I had only learned the zither and were multi talented, I could be in a puffy sleeved white frock making an award winning record, instead of stinking of stale rollies ( everyone smoked except me, they told me I was “Isolating” and I said, I hate the smell of rollies in my hair.) And when I used to sit bunched up in a chair, to hold my falling apart body together and my ribs in the place I approximated they should be, they said I was sitting in a defensive posture. I said I was holding my ribs in.
On one of the earlier days there, we had a “fun” afternoon out, bowling. There was a guy there with so many morphine patches on him, he was permanently on the nod. And therefore could not grasp the concept of bowling and for the short bursts of wakefulness, would try to participate, once, by being the ball and rolling himself down the aisle to knock the pins down. He ran, rather staggered, away a few days later. There was F, in and out of prison all his life, and now an all singing feel the love of recovery sort of guy. He chastised me for bringing a negative vibe into the house. I said I was on downers, and coming off them, and yeah, it sucked, and if I couldn’t say it sucked here, where could I say it. Then there was the chancer, the wrongun in a high achieving family. His best story was about bringing different girls home and his bed was in a tight spot, so that your feet hit the wall. He was caught cheating when his regular girlfriend noticed footprints on the wall that did not match hers. She said, “Those are not my feet,” and left.
Those are not my feet. I love that line.
There were days when it didn’t feel like rehab at all, but some strange awayday trip. Once day, during a glorious Indian summer, we all went to the beach, and I realised perhaps some normal family, like I was once part of, were on a budget break, and looking at all of us pale, thin, ghostlike apparitions standing at the sea front in dazed wonder.
We attempted a game of football, those of us who could stand and run. I sat on the side, feeling the sea breeze on my face, starting to think , maybe I will come out of this, and come to the sea, and the sea will be enough.
And a dog came and joined in the football game, and scored a goal. The woman who owned the dog came up to my new friend N, and myself. She was trying to work out the nature of our gathering. And trying ever so hard to find the right, English stiff upper lip way to ask what a bunch of half dead junkies and alkies were doing on the beach, playing football with her dog. “What is the nature of your gathering, what brings you all together?” And N piped up , “Drink,” and I added, “Oh, and drugs as well.”
“Freddie, woo hoo, Freddie, ” she shouted in a voice that was a bit too shrill to disguise her panic, to call her dog.” Then we’d head back to the clinic in the van, gather in the common room and get our post and notices and for those of us still on them, our pills. I was the last in my flat to get my detox certificate. It was laminated. I got a round of applause. It was better than graduation.
But then I had to write a Dear John letter to my drugs. My immediate response was “but they will never write back” and my key worker said, “Well, they probably have nothing new to say anyway.”
I have never written a letter where I have to break up with a guy. I usually just tell them, or leave, or both. But drugs, I’d been with them almost all my life. The letter went right back to my Lower East Side days, remembering how I loved to stick my thumbnail in the carved out V in the blue pills. I remembered all the doctors I had seen, the cute French one who gave me piles of em, the dirty one in East London who always looked cagey and miserable, the words typed ( as it was in those days) on the label on the bottle, “Take as needed” or something to that effect, or “as prescribed,” which amounted to the same thing, which was pretty much always. The nice one who I lied to about all my other supplies. The Turkish one I told I needed for flying, and that I flew a lot. The near investigation from the DEA over the forged script. The ones the junkies would lower down in little pails on Delancey. You put your money in, they would reel it up, and they would send the pills down in the little pail.
I found it hard to write to the pills themselves, so I wrote to the people who gave them to me. I said thank you for getting me this far, but now I have to figure out how to do it, life, without you. To the pills I couldn’t say, we had some great times, because we didn’t. I just wrote, and I still mean this, you were always there for me. But I really friggin hate that expression, often uttered in soap operas or in talks about good friends, “You were there for me.” I never knew what that meant. I still don’t. I thought it would be funnier to write to Crystal Meth, so I could say, “You were my rock” but I never liked Crystal Meth, after finding some in a paint box and staying up for three days, during one of the hottest NYC summers on record, fanless, air conditionless, and up. After various attempts, I just wrote, oh, why don’t you just fuck off and leave me alone. But as soon as I wrote it, I wanted to ring it and say, “I take it all back. All is forgiven! Can we still be friends?” And maybe I put it in the letter, I can’t remember, I just remember the pills never wrote me back. And that kind of says it all, really. TBC

rehab part 4

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Paul’s widow and dogs came to live with us while I floated through the days in a valium and vodka fog. Then my mother got cancer on the spine and I had to go to New York.  She was in a terrible hospital in Jamaica. The ER looked like a war zone, cops handcuffed to guys they had whacked or shot or something. People splayed out on trolleys, bleeding, crying, throwing up. No one could tell me what was going on with my mother. I was meant to stay for three weeks but stayed for six. She went to some adjunct  surgery rehab unit. I visited her there and it was full of very old and nearly dead people. Every day they had a recreational activity. One  day I went there was an Elvis impersonator. The worst ever. Most of the elderly folk just nodded off in their wheelchairs. One didn’t move the whole time and I thought she had died, during a really bad rendition of All Shook Up.  One guy threw an incontinence pad at him. Not full like, but still. All the people in the room were too sedated to clap, or maybe it was because he was so bad. Another time there was a country singer. He got a better response. One guy, he must have been 100, sang along to every song and did a smashing duo of “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life. ” The singer said, “I know people make fun of the song, but it’s deep and meaningful if you listen very carefully to the lyrics.” Most were comatose so they didn’t, but I still think its a bit of a shit song.

My mother was also going through steroid withdrawal at one point. This made her strong and angry and she threw stuff and begged me and my sister to get her out of there. To establish if she were really crazy or just steroid crazy, they sent a shrink who asked her where she was, what day and year it was , and who the vice president was. She got them all right. I was so loaded I didn’t know any of em. Bidet? Boden. Bodrum? The other guy, the white one who says nothing. That was the best I could do.

I came back to London under the impression she was not long for this world, even if she could name the veep. The docs said the prognosis was poor. Within a few weeks I tried to go back to tie up loose ends, but wound up throwing up (I never throw up) in the bogs at Heathrow, I think I overdid the pre flight jitters drink and drugs, and I had to go back out of customs, I do remember the customs lady saying, “We’re expecting a storm. If you miss this flight you won’t get on another” I said that was OK. I can’t remember anything about the trip back to the family house. I do remember staying a few days and when I started to piss thick syrupy stuff, and all my clothes hung on my yellowing emaciated frame, I had a great idea. I would move out. I would move to a bedsit, just like when I was young, and I would clean up and come back all fresh and new and make pies and help with homework in a nice way instead of the mean shouty  way I was not helping. I went to the High St and looked in the handwritten notices in Hamdy’s newsagent. There was a bedsit going for 60 quid a week. This seemed impossibly cheap.  I went to look at it. It was a very cold room with wall paper falling off with damp. There was no heating. There was a two plate electric ring for a cooker. Bars on the windows, and very little floor space after the bed. The loo was downstairs and also freezing and you fed 50 p pieces into the metre for a very shallow, cold bath. There was a damp wardrobe. The bed sank heavily in the middle, even if you weighed six and a half stone.

I love it, I told Dennis the landlord. It’s just for a while. I moved in, covered the walls with pictures of friends and family, mainly dead ones, and went to Hackney Central to find a dirty doctor. A dirty doctor usually treats crack whores, but if you pay him 50 quid he’ll write you a script for whatever you want.

 

So my weeks had a kind of rhythm to them. I would get up and go to the Somalian internet cafe.  They called me Michelle Obama. The head guy took me to his house in Tottenham to meet his wife because she had no friends and could not speak English. I cooed drunkenly over his baby and every day I put money in the jar to save starving Somalian children.I would take my pills, drink, and write. I wrote a fair bit of shit, book length. I sent it to a publisher who said I would regret saying what I said about my children. The gist of it was that I wish I had not had them, because I could no longer look after them, but it was angrier than that. That kills me now, to write that out. I love them with every fibre of my being. I knew my presence was fucking them up, but perhaps my absence was as well. I couldn’t work out which was worse. It seemed better for them for me not to be there at that time. 

This exodus lasted a little under a year. I went half heartedly to a groups with a view of getting into some sort of recovery programme, but I was terrified of losing my safety net. From the earliest I could remember, my favourite sound was the rattle of pills in a little brown bottle.

 

I spent my 50th birthday looking for door knobs and kitchen fittings with my friend Helen, who got me flowers, which I stuck in their paper in the sink, where they stayed for about a week. It was pretty much my worst birthday ever. Looking at kitchen fittings for my friend’s kitchen. I tried to get a job helping a woman who was wheelchair bound with ME. She said I looked like I needed the chair more than her. I house sat for a friend and sliced the top of my finger off on a mandolin slicer. I bled all over her bed and had to go get sewn up at A and E. I told the doctor not to give me anything that didn’t mix with Russian Standard. He gave me some hard ass psychedelic painkillers and they knocked me out proper for a few days. I saw dancing bunnies. I actually thought I had died, but I couldn’t find any of my dead friends, only dancing bunnies. 

Then my friend Helen, who works with addicts, she got me an interview with the drugs and alcohol team run by the council. They don’t have that much funding but if they think it’s pretty bad, they raise the money. It was  strange situation, but not so strange. I had to have rehab lessons.  A guy, a dude, he was like Huggy Bear, he said rehab was “some scary shit, you gotta watch your back, don’t rat on people who use, don’t use yourself but don’t rat, and watch your arse. You get real sick the first week they don’t give you the drugs. It’s some bad shit, you got shit comin outta your mouth, your arse, your ears, all that poison, man, then you feel OK, but you still want the shit ,I won’t lie.”

 

This was very different from the woman I saw at an interview at the council. Same building I was married in, same building we registered Paul’s death in, same building Paul was married in. Well, right next door. This woman gave me some brochures. They looked like hotel brochures. Nicely made up beds, jugs of water, people sitting in circles, looking well. 

“You get to choose?”

“Yes.”

“And you pay?”

“Yes”

I looked through them. One was by the seaside in Bournemouth. I had been there on a family holiday once and wondered why all the people on the beach were not Martin Parr seaside beetroot red and fat, but pale and thin and sickly. Very soon I was to be one of those pale, sickly thin people on the beach. I said to the lady, “Ill have that one. I know the seaside there. When I am better I can swim in the sea.”

“Look, it’s not a holiday.”

“I know, but when I get better, it’s a nice place to be better.”

There was no answer to that. She said that one had a good rep and it was a good choice. Gazza the footballer went there. Well, maybe not a great example, but he was doing well at the time.

I had to wait a few weeks for all the forms to go through. You only find out the night before you are going. I paid Dennis a few months rent in advance, tried to pack a suitcase but was so pilled up I fell out of bed onto the hard edge of the suitcase and broke two ribs. I called my friend K who called an ambulance. The ambulance guys said they can’t fix broken ribs. They have to fix themselves.  I fell asleep in the suitcase and K came to take me to Paddington in the morning. I was on my way to rehab and shit scared. And in enormous pain. Don’t ever break your ribs if you have to take a rattly train trip. Don’t take drugs. Don’t do anything I ever did, except have kids if you can. That’s something I will never ever regret and I hate myself for having regretted it just a bit, when I was on drugs.

My kids rock. Whereas I was something that crawled out from under a rock. Marry a good guy or gal. I did that too and don’t regret that, though I am sure he did. If you are on drugs, do try to get off them. Try hard. Quit, and stay quit. Dance every morning. You can’t dance well if you are on drugs, even if you think you can. You can’t, you look like an asshole on drugs, dancing. TBC

The folk singer plays some correctional facilities

Standard

“I have a fabulouso idea,” gushed Jane, the publicist. Whenever she said fabuloso instead of fabulous, you knew it was going to not be a good idea. It was like she was trying to distance herself from the word and therefore its meaning by making it sound a little bit Italian. 

“What we do is like Johnny Cash playing the prisons, only instead of prisons it will be like those kid prisons, JD centers.”

When she said “we” she meant the singer. The rest of of just tagged along with various jobs. Jane did publicity. I was the tour manager, holding the guitars, mandolin, spare strings, passports, money, some sort of financial reckoning book which remained blank. My main job was to just make sure she showed up, at soundcheck, on stage, on time, with a glass of still, not sparkling water, sparkling was a crime against nature in her book, still water on the stage. It sounds a lot easier than it was. I have a vivid memory of rushing onto planes just as the doors were closing, with stern faced air hostesses giving me the evils. And I wanted to say, this is not my real job. I was drafted. Left to my own devices, I’d be two hours early for the flight, buying magazines and buying lipstick at the airport drugstore. I remember once doing a gram of sulphate in the toilets so I didn’t get stopped at customs for the transAtlantic leg. I figured if it was in me, not on me, I’d be safe. I’d talk shite to the customs guys for five hours, but there would be no illegal drugs secreted up an intimate orafice. But I talked lots.

But I gotta tell you about JD centers. Now at this point, the only Juvenile Delinquent center I had heard of was Spofford, up the the Bronx, cos a kid my sister knew went there and whenever she and my mother would have a fight, my mother would screech, “Do you want to wind up in Spofford like ______________? In fact, we don’t even know if that girl went to Spofford. She smoked pot and painted her fingernails black before anyone else did, but that was hardly a crime. But the threat of Spofford was the end of the fight.
In later years I heard Spofford’s name was changed and eventually closed for ” a history of poor conditions and brutality against children.” But the idea of Spofford, before I knew about the child brutality bit, appealed to me. I liked the idea of living with all those bad girls, painting my nails black and eating creamed potatoes. I didn’t even know what they were but we heard that’s all they ate there, that and tinned peas. But going there as a grown up with a job to do, that was less appealing. I had feeling these kids did worse stuff than paint their fingernails black and smoke pot.

At this point as the lowly and unknown tour manager for one person, one folk singer who really liked this idea because she herself had been held at some facility at some point and therefore could relate to the kids, I had no say in this. But I had the fear.

“Well, what are the kids in for? Did they stab their parents? Did they go into fast food restaurants and shoot 40 people because they just felt like it? Or did they just shoplift from the 7-11 too much? What kind of crimes are we talking about?”

“Oh who cares? It will be her Folsom , her San Quentin, only a home for bad girls, maybe in New Mexico. I think they have a good one there.

And what makes a good center for juvenile criminals? Good security? Nice people who just did one bad thing? Do they rehabilitate them so that they can all aspire to be folk singers and do tours of other JD centers? 

Will they stick gloved fingers up our bottoms to confiscate potential drugs? Will we eat creamed potatoes in metal trays? Will they riot? Should we bring candy and cigarettes? Will there be fat, bored looking security guards saying ten four into their walkie talkies? Will, in a moment of weakness, will I adopt and try to reform one of the younger ones?

Jane ignored my litany of questions. Instead, somehow we wound up in New Mexico, which was having a balloon festival. The big balloons that have a basket at the bottom and you ride in them. I thought what a great, stylish way to escape from a correctional facility. But it was really a separate thing. I really wanted to go to the hot air balloon festival, never having seen one. But we had to go to kid prison instead. We did get commemorative balloon festival tea towels. So we could pretend we went, on account of the commemorative tea towels.

Jane had a friend in New Mexico so we stayed at her house instead of a hotel. She had one of those stockpile freezers in the garage. I peeked in and the whole freezer was filled with Weight Watchers frozen dinners. She had some kids, nice kids who would probably never have to go to a JD centre and eat creamed potatoes. Heck, they could have different Weight Watcher TV dinners every night. We hung out, watched TV, ate Weight Watchers and drank buckets of diet cola. When in New Mexico, do as your hosts, even if you are speed freak thin. The singer was working on a set list. I was OK but experiencing a strange and unpleasant stomach disorder, that involved live worms coming out of my bottom. You eat a lot of crap on the road. Who knows how I got it but I confided in the host, who said, oh, no problem, I’ll call my doctor and get you a pill that will kill the worms.

She called the doctor. I do love America on this front. As if by magic, the pills arrived in a blister pack. The Weight Watcher hostess says take one now, take one tomorrow morning to kill the eggs.
I said I hadn’t eaten any eggs.
She said the eggs of the worms. If they hatched I would be back to square one, scratching my arse and seeing live stuff emerge in the toilets.

So I took a pill, slept very well, and the next day we were off the to the first JD center.
In the morning my guts felt a bit strange, but they always do so I ignored it and got me and the singer and all her implements of musicality into some taxi and I said to the driver the name of the facility, adding, “We are just like, visiting, playing a gig. We will not be incarcerated.”

The driver gave us one of those non committal smiles that said yeah whatever your freak scene, I don’t need to know the details.

The correctional facility had an agenda. We would have a tin tray creamed potatoes meal with inmates, and then go into the grassy area and the folk singer would play her gig, and interspersed she would tell them how much she related to them, and they would nod in that American facility concert right on, sis, way.
What I had not accounted for was the very heavy security, nor the side effects of the worm pills.
So first there was the meal. I really don’t know how to talk to young people in prison. I said something

like “could you pass the salt” while leaving my tray of unidentifiable mush untouched. One kid said, “Can I have your food? Do you have drugs or cigarettes, or both? Can you braid my hair during the concert?” I gave the kid my food, which was brown mush in one compartment, white mush in another, and tinned peas.
At this point I had an evacuation emergency,the pill had kicked in. I think it works by flushing out every discovered internal organ and some undiscovered ones. I pushed my tray to the kid and looked for a fat walkie talkie guy.
I said, rather quickly,I very badly need the toilet facility. Say the word facility in a facility and you are half way there.
“Yeah the food sucks but you get used to it.”
“I don’t think it’s the food, it’s a pill”
“Are you under the influence of drugs, mam?”
“yes but not fun ones. These one kill worms and I got em from the Weight Watcher lady, I’m in serious gastro intestinal trouble.”

The walkie talkie guy thought. Finally he said , “Well I can come with you to the toilets but I will have to stand outside. That kid you were sitting with, stabbed her mom with a pitchfork.”

We went way too slowly through lot of heavy doors. He had to consult a big key chain each time, to figure out the right key for the door.

It’s hard to describe the acoustic hell in an echo enhanced empty toilet in a correctional facility for wayward children, if you have the runs.

Once I had excreted every organ and then some, I went wanly back to the grass, and made sure the folk singer had a radio mic gaffer taped up to her back pocket.

Some girl behind me started to try to braid my hair. I said my hair doesn’t really braid, it’s too kinky.
“YOu look kinda white for a black chick”
“Im just a white chick with kinky hair.”
“Cool”
It doesn’t really braid.
“I can cornrow it. If you have drugs or cigarettes or candy.”
“No, just a worm pill.”
Wow, cool. So like, worms get high on it? What does it do to people?”
“It makes you need the toilet really badly”
“That totally sucks. Don’t you have anything else?”
I turned to look at her. “No. Do you.”
She moved away.

The singer sang some folk songs. She said she could totally relate, having been forcibly incarcerated herself for not being Mormon enough. This sounded made up, but I wasn’t gonna call her on it. I was too weak.

The kids cried out for Heavy Metal songs. She didn’t know any. She sang about pies and Alaska.
“Alaska,” said one kid. “Is that a facility”
“No it’ a state. Lots of snow. Bread is very expensive there cos they can’t grow wheat. Or something.”

That night, we returned to the Weight Watchers house, then the next day, flew out to Texas. There we stayed with her father. We ordered Taco Bell but didn’t finish it. The next morning, still hungry, we reheated the rice from the Taco Bell and ate it. We got really, really sick. So sick she had to cancel the next state Pen for wayward children. I had to go to the home for wayward girls and tell the girls she was sick.
I was led into a room of girls. Their faces fell as soon as they saw me.
“Hey , my name is Michele”
“No you are not. We’ve seen pictures, you are not her.”
“No that’s right. I’m the other Michele. She is sick. Taco Bell”
Silence.
“So we dont get the concert but we do get Taco Bell???”
“no, not exactly, but we have a check for 200 bucks, you can buy a good guitar or a few not so good ones. Maybe a drum made on an Indian reservation.”
They looked really pissed off.
“What about the concert. Can you play, the fake Michele?”
“Um, I know some Neil Young songs”
“Who’s he? Is he in Led Zepplin? You guys are from England right, you gotta know Stairway.
I did, actually, but refused to play it. The second pill, which I took that morning, threatened to explode inside me. I made my excuses and left to cries of “YOu suck, you’re not even the real one, fuck the guitars, lets get Taco Bell” and so on.
It was not a good leg of the trip. In fact, we had to haul our sore and sorry arses into her father’s van and get to the next gig. I slept in her brother’s room the night before. He had posters of horror movies all over his walls. It was not a peaceful night. The next night we were somewhere in Texas, she had to leave the stage to be sick. We had to stop the concert. We stayed in a hotel that night. Soft loo roll. That was good.

Many years passed and I was back in England and had never been to prison here. Then a friend of a friend asked me to go to Holloway with him to visit a girl he knew. These girls were grown ups, but they still wanted candy and cigarettes. She looked bigger than when I saw her last. She said prison is boring so you eat. No one tried to braid my hair. We didn’t stay long, and later we went to the mini mall in Islington to buy a court suit for the girl. My friend said make it two sizes too big, so she looks small and vulnerable.”
I didn’t think it would work, but I quite like Next and all the office girls who shop in their lunch hour. I don’t know what happened to the girl or if the outsized suit thing worked. I’ve never had worms since, though my kids have. I have a phobia of reheated rice. That, and a lot of memories. ENDS