When Jim sought our help at the age of 19, he had been charged with several counts of drug possession and supply and he had been a drug user for many years. Since the age of 15 he had a history of binge drinking, constant cannabis use, and he had started experimenting with ecstasy and cocaine.
He would spend his nights playing the pokies at various city pubs whilst hanging out with, in his own words, “the bad” crowd. His drug use soon soared and became out of control. He sold drugs to finance his addiction.
When Jim sat down with us at our Auburn office in June 2010 a tragic picture of a lost youth was laid bare. Jim was living on his own after being estranged from his parents. He spoke of a mother who could not cope with a gambling and abusive husband and a father he had no contact with who he reported as having physically abused him on many occasions as a child. He had repeated year 11 twice, and had recently been expelled from high school as a result of his drug charges. This was his second expulsion.
He was unemployed and surviving on the little money his mum would send him. He said he wanted to move to Melbourne to study and to escape his Sydney influences. He was a young man who was pretty lost in life.
Jim had committed serious drug offences. He had been caught selling ecstasy tablets to undercover police outside a city hotel. He had approached the police himself and was then found with a significant number of tablets in his possession. He admitted guilt but was confused and terrified at the consequences of his actions. Jim was first due in court only days after our initial meeting.
We formed a view that Jim wouldn’t get assistance from anywhere else which could meet his multi-dimensional needs, namely his police matter, unemployment, education challenges, relationship issues and of course, his drug addiction. Knowing it would be a very hard case, we agreed to take it on and to walk with Jim through this difficult time of his life.
As we began assisting Jim our first impressions were not encouraging. He continually missed appointments and at times hung up the phone when we tried to contact him. He failed to provide character references and a letter of remorse when requested and he continually failed to report to Probation and Parole. He would say he was sick but would never produce a medical certificate. With increasing desperation we tried to make Jim understand the severity of the charges against him. This was a surprisingly difficult task – all in all, Jim failed to attend in excess of 30 appointments with us…and we were trying to help him, for free!
Initially it would seem that Jim was simply a young man that did not care about his actions. He appeared despondent and lazy. This was very frustrating. We mused over this….thinking…how can we help someone that does not want to help themselves? However, from early on we had a sense that there was more to Jim then simply a disillusioned, drug dependent boy….so we looked a little further.
It soon became apparent that Jim was fighting his own private battle. We learned he had significant mental health issues. Jim reported that he regularly heard someone else’s voices in his head directing him to do things. He spoke of one incident in 2009 where he had followed members of the public and assaulted them after coming to the belief that they were carrying bombs. We also found out that the abuse Jim had suffered at the hands of his father when he was a child was much more extreme than we had been led to believe previously. It’s little wonder with this background, that Jim had such complex mental health issues in his teenage and early adult years.
We became aware that he had a string of involuntary hospital admissions to try and treat symptoms of psychosis and depression. He had seen a long list of health care professionals but had never maintained regular appointments. Psychiatric reports suggested he was suffering from significant emerging mental illness. He would abuse substances to escape and quell the noises in his head, and this would induce further psychosis. Specialists suggested that his failure to attend meetings was a product of his underlying psychological problems.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian took an active role in facilitating Jim’s contact with support services. This has been a long journey with a fair share of bumps along the way. We acknowledged that this like many similar stories involved a process of recovery. We supported Jim in his drug abstinence, helped him engage with mental health professionals, arranged his bail conditions so that he could continue his schooling and through our Chaplain, helped him start to mend the torn relationship with his mother.
After almost 2 years since the offence was committed Jim finally came before the court for sentencing. We had to ask the Judge for a short adjournment on the day so that we could run outside and pay for his taxi, but we got him there!
Jim had changed dramatically. The court accepted that he was drug addicted during the time of the offences, and that he acted on impulse, not in a premeditated manner. Significant weight was given to a psychologist report stating that his psychotic disorder was drug induced and he had significant symptoms of distrust that resulted in self-destructive behaviour.
The starting point for cases like this is full-time gaol, do not pass GO – straight to gaol.
Despite the seriousness of the offences the court recognised the very positive progress Jim had made over the past 2 years and gave Jim a suspended sentence with a 12-month good behaviour bond.
This was a fantastic outcome for the young man. He had avoided a custodial sentence and most importantly, could continue his mental health treatment.
Jim first came across as a young man who was annoyed he got caught and wanted it all to go away. However, our first impressions were misleading and did not tell the whole story. We now look back at Jim as a young man who was extremely anxious, disturbed, isolated and withdrawn. A long period of mental health treatment has proven effective for Jim – he is far from in an ideal place of his life but has come a long way and there is much hope.
Our journey with Jim was an involved and enlightening one. Jim developed insight into his actions and an understanding of the importance of his treatment.
With the assistance of Salvos Legal Humanitarian and the Salvation Army’s other services Jim found the support he desperately needed to help him along the path of rehabilitation. Jim still attends counselling, is now on Centrelink disability support and is completing his HSC through TAFE. His completion of the HSC is a reward he never believed would be obtainable before he came to us. It is a reward we share with Jim.