No heroes in tragic heroin saga of Mullingar youth

There’s bullet-proof perspex in the custody box at Cloverhill District Courthouse, apparently.

The registrar calls the names of those in custody two at a time so the next cab off the custodial rank is ready for hearing.

Defendants who have been denied bail for a variety of reasons appear behind the perspex, accompanied by a prison officer. They have one foot in the free world and one in detention.

A 17-year-old is called and his solicitor tells the judge he’s a juvenile and his case is put to the end of the list. Juvenile cases are not heard in open court.

The solicitors and presenting sergeant negotiate.

One solicitor wants bail for his client but the sergeant wants a four week remand. The solicitor will consent to two weeks. The judge proposes three but he’s on his own in the middle ground. The solicitor wins this time.

Another has his client remanded in custody with independent bail set at €15,000. But his client – a foreign national - has no friends or family and can’t possibly meet the bail. This time there’s no negotiation.

One man is accused of stealing a diamond. Others had false documentation or their identity couldn’t be proven. Others await books of evidence for offences that cannot be classified as minor.

Eventually the crowd thins out. The interpreters leave and the 17-year-old boy is called again.

He looks better than he did in Mullingar a week ago, but he says nothing to indicate that the thick-tongued slur of the heroin addict has sharpened into something less slovenly, less strung-out. 

It’s only a week. If a three year sentence hanging over him from the Circuit Court is activated and he manages to stay off the drug for the duration of his imprisonment, he’ll still be only 60 per cent of the way to recovery.

Apparently it takes five years to come off heroin completely, but the chances of him doing that are slim, considering he developed the addiction in the same detention centre he’s in now, and its lure is powerful.

He’s just finished an 11 month sentence at St Pat’s, he told the court last week.

In another courtroom not too far from Mullingar and not too long ago, I saw another teenager weep in front of a judge, begging not to be returned to that place. He’d only been there a week. He had been so badly threatened that he was terrified to go back.

Juvie ain’t so groovy, especially if you’re a hard chaw from the sticks.  

In Cloverhill, the 17-year-old seems to be standing with his hands by his side, his shoulders ever so slightly hunched.

There’s nothing comforting to look forward to, and nothing inspiring to look back on.

He has been the responsibility of the HSE ever since he was three, to provide him with support, safety, and security; to give him the kind of opportunities he might have been denied because of his probably unsupportive, unsafe, and insecure birth family.

He was taken into care. Or at least that’s what they call it. 

It’s hard to believe that he’s better off, just weeks after his seventeenth birthday behind bullet-proof glass with 21 convictions and a heroin addiction.

He’s one of the lucky ones, a rescued stray who didn’t slip through the net. 

Not every kid gets the opportunities he has.



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