My son, Paul, has been released from prison today. We made a vague plan for his first morning of freedom. He was to catch a train to Exeter, which would bring him about a third of the way home. I was going to catch a train from Barnstaple to Exeter, then we intended to meet up, and return to Barnstaple together. This would have meant that he would be at less risk at a time when he is vulnerable. Most addicts in prison, even when they’re clean, and determined to stay that way, think about having a hit as soon as they are freed.

However, there was a risk that he may be arrested as soon as he left the jail – for a small outstanding offence – so, whatever happened, he had to phone me and let me know. In order for me to be in Exeter at the right time, should he make it there, I had to get on the train before he would be available to ring me, but I realised that if I was on the train, I would be out of signal. Therefore, I couldn’t get on the train, because I would miss his call. The next train would get me there an hour after him.

He rang me as planned. I was still in Barnstaple. He had to use a public phone, and there wasn’t much time to talk. He pointed out, quite rightly, that he can’t be nursemaided for the rest of his life. He said I should stay where I was; he’d stop in Exeter for long enough to get something to eat, and see me later, in Barnstaple.

I can switch off the specific thought of what he may do – rather than, or in addition to, eating – in Exeter, but I can’t switch off the anxiety. To distract myself, I went to the gym, but found I’m too washed-out to exercise. I thought of going to Oxfam, and asking Karen (the manager) to give me something repetitive to do, rather than my usual work, which I’m pretty up-to-date with anyway, but I suspect that in my current mood I’d be a burden. Yesterday didn’t go particularly well. It was my regular day there, and in the afternoon I got a phone call from my daughter’s housing officer saying she’s been missing for a week. Although I knew that she’d been spotted on Tuesday morning by a friend, it made me so anxious that I had to leave early. I managed to locate Laura, and let the housing officer know that she was safe, so she could call off the welfare search, but now Laura is homeless again, and she probably hasn’t paid the top-up on her rent allowance either.

Paul reached Exeter fifty minutes ago. He will do what he will do. I should trust him. Families Anonymous literature on “helping” (written in the first person, making it useful as a visualisation) states:

  • I will have no thought for the future actions of others, neither expecting them to be better or worse as time goes on, for in such expectations I am really trying to create or control. I will love and let be.

Those are wise words, but it’s hard to carry them out when your son has just left prison. From here, things will get either better or worse; they certainly won’t remain the same, and my own future actions depend on what Paul does today. I’m finding it impossible not to dwell on it. It would be false for anybody who has an addicted loved one, to pretend that they don’t hold out hope for their recovery, and where there is hope there is fear.

I cannot help having thoughts of his future actions – of his current actions even. I have a great deal of hope, but at the same time, I am very afraid. If he was your son, wouldn’t you be?

©Jane Paterson Basil


Will I ever learn?

I’m at my support group meeting, Families Anonymous; created for the benefit of the families and friends of addicts, and I decide to share my triumph.

I say that I am learning to cope with my children’s addictions.

As soon as the words hit the outside world and are heard by my anonymous siblings in suffering, I know that they’re a lie. I’m not learning to let the pain pass me by, or making the most of my own life no matter what unsolved troubles surround me.

I’m feeling happier than I have for a very long time, but that’s only because my son’s ability to damage me has been limited by his lack of access while he is in prison, and my daughter’s behaviour has improved since she escaped the madness of legal highs.

As soon as he is free and she whips up another crisis my muscle will probably crumble and die.

I doubt I’ve learnt anything, and I wonder if I ever will.

Written for The Daily Post #Learning

©Jane Paterson Basil

Like Judas

Weeks of running, chasing the tail of crack and smack, the hateful demon siblings.
Dodging police, each narrow miss another weight on him.
Paranoia, like a fever, seizing him, flinging him into prickly thorns;
chasing him across lines of fast traffic, forcing  him to scale walls,
skin his shins, fall, leading him to muddy puddles, dunking him in deep seas.

If the police didn’t get him
he’d grow too weak to swim.
He would sink.

I made his last supper and like Judas, I waited, smiling while he tasted, chewed,
passed compliments on the food. I assessed his pitiful condition —
flesh cut and bruised, ripped jeans stained where the blood had seeped through,
eyes hooded beneath brows not designed by me,
pupils working overtime; taking in the room, flicking to the draped window,
his screaming mind picturing police in the street.

Judas did it with a kiss, but in this age of technology I did it with a click.
My text sent, its single word a simple request activating a chain of events
that brought a tense knot of uniforms to my door.

As the handle turned, my heart churned, altering the shape of my fear,
but offering no relief.

was expected.
it felt like

The police were kind; they gave him time to say goodbye.
I looked into his face and recognised the child I’d raised
who’d filled my soul with love and pride. I’d thought that child had died,
and yet, as if he’d been baptized, arrest had cleansed him of his sins,
rinsed away the years of filth the drugs had left behind.
The feeling of grief and loss redoubled, splintering behind my ribs.
Pity dripped into my soul. I struggled to hide my tears:
crying wouldn’t ease his journey to the cells. When they took him away,
a brave smile fought to find my twitching lips.

My eyes stayed dry;
I didn’t shake; I didn’t hit the floor –
until I heard that final sound –
the slamming
of the

My son was imprisoned in March 2014. He received a thirty month prison sentence – far less than was expected, and has since been released on licence on three occasions, only to be returned each time for infringing his licence agreement. He left prison a free man in September 2016, having finally completed his sentence.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A better man

I could say it’s been a pretty ordinary week – nothing particularly unusual has happened, just the usual hellish day-to-day grind with my delinquent son, but I have responded to it in a different way. I’ve come out of denial – stopped blaming the drugs, because it is he who has made the choices. Three times now he has been clean when he left prison, and has claimed a guilty conscience, gusshed apologies and made promises, then chosen to go back to his previous life, thereby making life miserable for everybody.

I don’t think he is a very nice person, and anyone who heard the full story would probably agree with me.

My daughter Claire told me that only a few hours ago he claimed “Mum’s turned her back on me just when I’m recovering. I’m better now than I’ve ever been.” He only says that when he’s in a really bad way. She tried to point out that he was extremely drunk and in drug withdrawal, but he continued to be in denial.

The police are always nice to me. There’s no reason for them to be anything else, but I’m grateful anyway.They are also gentle with Paul, and even manage to be polite to his sister Laura, although she has tried their patience with her regular accusations of crimes against her person and her purse. I just wish they weren’t so under-staffed. I made an emergency call to them tonight and it was an hour-an-a-half before they showed up at the address I gave them, because it’s Friday night – the beginning of the weekend, and they were busy.

By the time they got there (Claire’s home) Paul was long gone, even though he was in such a mess he could hardly walk. He’s been recalled back to prison. The arrest warrant was issued a couple of days ago, but he and his girlfriend are thinking of going on the run. He’s so wasted on drug withdrawal and alcohol consumption that I don’t think he’s up to it, but I’ve seen him like this before, and he could wind up dead if he doesn’t get arrested soon. He’s very unwell – unwell and unwelcome in most places he goes. His charm slips somewhat when he’s been drinking, but now he’s main-lining cocaine and has become totally obnoxious.

I hope the police pick him up soon. His girlfriend is a drug addicted liar who’s backed up all his stories – including the one about them having rented a place in Ilfracombe (she lives in sheltered accommodation in the same town as me) but she is also a very vulnerable young person. He is already damaging her, and maybe when he’s in prison she’ll move on.

I don’t want Paul anywhere near me or the rest of my family, particularly my grandchildren.

Paul said that this time, if he goes to prison, he will come out a better man. He will make us all proud of him. He has since suggested that he may become a professional shoplifter.

I rest my case.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Letter from prison

hi mum,

I’m looking at the things I did
those months when I was free,
how often I have hurt you,
while you have cared for me.
all those times I bullied you;
I should have let you be.

as much as I need prison
I know it will be hell
but I have made a mess of things
and this may make me well
though whether you’ll forgive me
only time will tell

now I ask nothing of you
I’ve given up the right
if you should want to turn your back
I won’t put up a fight.
I won’t resist if you choose
to banish me from sight

so many empty promises
so many tricks and lies
so many times you trusted me
when you looked in my eyes
but eyes can be deceiving;
an intimate disguise

as I look back at recent months
I’m filled with guilt and shame
I’m sorry that I caused you
such agonies of pain
I promise that I’ll never do
those things to you again

please understand my one request;
don’t visit me in jail
just know I love you very much
and don’t want this to fail
if I don’t feel the loss of you
my weakness may prevail

I’m looking at the things I did
those months when I was free,
how often I have hurt you,
while you have cared for me.
I promise I will try to find
a better way to be

©Jane Paterson Basil

Plucking at something


You come into my home unbidden, unnerving me, and although I am wary I silence my tongue; today your subdued air of submission gives me unusual trust in you. I don’t want to shun you, my unravelled daughter, though my love seems redundant and unkindly used. Your cuts and your bruises are ugly and telling, starvation and pallor are are hard to ignore. Your fingers are busily seaching for something; plucking at something inside your bag.

And now you are urging for news of your brother, a worrying subject, for one so unwell. I have nothing but good news, which shouldn’t unhinge you, but unhealthy thoughts could worry your skull. I plunge the memory of our last discussion under my consciousness, as must be done.

He stepped out of prison anxious and wary, clad in mis-matched minimal garb, because everything he had been wearing on entry was already filthy and ripped and marred. His feelings were mixed as he breathed semi-freedom next to his case-worker as they walked to the car, because under the fear of a failure at freedom, was excitement at the thought of healing the scars.

(I subversively watch you from under my lashes, and see my reluctance was undeserved. Without reserve you absorb every morsel; your thirst for knowledge is undisguised. But still unremitting your fingers keep picking, plucking at something inside your bag.)
When he arrived at the re-hab the staff and residents all reached out a welcoming hand. He was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar and the push and the pull of emotions within. But he felt that this friendly regime would help him to fit into a new routine. He was longing to see his sisters and nephews and looked forward to chaperoned trips here and there. We took him fresh jeans and clean new tee shirts the day that he moved in. It was clear to see that he was intending to be a responsible brother and son, and to heal all the pain his wayward ways had brought to his family.

I see you’ve stopped listening, and it’s hard to think clearly when  your eyes only see your hidden fingers, picking at something inside your bag.

I conclude my chat by re-asserting how pleased I am about how well he seems. I assure you of his desire to see you, and promise we’ll visit him next weekend.

And although your fingers still pluck and worry at whatever is lurking inside your bag, I feel that you needed some news of your brother, and maybe his influence will help you get clean.

When you leave me your fingers are still busy picking – picking and plucking – fiddling with something deep in your bag.

Written in February 2015

© Jane Paterson Basil