I'm out of Wandsworth, keen to go straight after 20 years of criminal life, with a methadone prescription to keep me off heroin. The only problem is cutting through the red tape while cold turkey sets inby Peter Wayne / February 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
To begin at the beginning, I must make a confession. As regular Prospect readers will know, I am a heroin addict. In my case, the millstone of addiction lives side by side with a cycle of criminality. I’ve spent most of the last 20 years in prison.
I do my time, hope that one day I might break the habit. Whenever my release comes round, I head off determined not to make the same mistakes. It never works out, but last time, on a chilly February morning one year ago, I was more than usually optimistic.
Wandsworth prison in southwest London had just initiated a methadone (heroin substitute) scheme for people like me. I had a letter from the prison’s senior medical officer, addressed to a drugs agency in Soho. I had been instructed to report there straight away.
This had been, in prison-speak, “a bit of a result.” No longer would I have to spend half my days scouring the west end in search of dealers, nor the other half burgling and shoplifting for the wherewithal to pay their extortionate rates. For the first time, my “heroin” consumption was to be legalised. All I had to do was turn up at the Whalebone Project to pick up regular methadone medication.
The probation department back at the prison had done their best to find me a hostel. But such was the midwinter demand for places, it had only been possible to book me into a temporary night shelter: which was how I came to be standing on the steps of James Gibbs’s great late baroque masterpiece, the church of St Martin-in-the-fields, close to midnight. Behind me, a freezing northwesterly wind blew across the unusually pigeonless expanse of Trafalgar Square.
At any other time, one might have been excited at the prospect of a visit to the crypt of St Martin’s. As it was, this was all that stood between me and penury. Judging by the group assembled under the Corinthian portico it didn’t look as though I was alone. Hogarth would have recognised this mob of malodorous rapscallions sporting a variety of threadbare macs and overcoats. Carbuncles protruded from blotchy complexions. The miserable scene could have been lifted from a canvas of a seething Gin Lane.
Near the drunks, a young woman micturated, bent double over a complicated arrangement of ragbags and laddered tights stretched taut around crimson, swollen…