Recovering addicts make their case in historic surroundings

Judge in Green Street Courthouse hears stories of progress and personal setbacks

David Lynch has been involved with Drug Treatment Court for nearly a year. “In 2013 and I ended up homeless, back on the streets again and back in addiction ... they gave me another chance to come back. It’s after helping me an awful lot.” Photograph: Eric Luke

David Lynch has been involved with Drug Treatment Court for nearly a year. “In 2013 and I ended up homeless, back on the streets again and back in addiction ... they gave me another chance to come back. It’s after helping me an awful lot.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

There was an unusually festive atmosphere in Green Street Courthouse just before Christmas, as a Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room where Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone had once stood trial for their lives.

A box of sweets lay open on the barristers’ bench for anyone who wanted one.

“I must say what a privilege it is to sit in this very historic courtroom,” Judge Patricia McNamara told a group of about 20 men and women in the room in Dublin 7. “A lot of history took place in this courtroom.”

“What history?” one of her audience asked, but the judge did not seem to hear. The onlookers seemed slightly giddy and there was a lot of chatter in the body of the court.

In a good mood, Judge McNamara did, however, have limits: “I know it’s Christmas and you might be in good form but I will ask you to move outside if you don’t show some respect,” she said when the talking got too loud.

It was the final sitting of the Drug Treatment Court for 2016 – just like every other one, bar the judge’s warning that Christmas can be a dangerous time for those with addictions.

Weekly appointments

Except for social workers and court staff, all of Judge McNamara’s audience were drug addicts who had committed at least one crime. This was their weekly appointment with the court to check on their progress towards becoming drug- free. If they are eventually successful they get points and Judge McNamara will strike out their charges. If they’re not they’ll probably go to jail.

“It’s a lot harder than it sounds,” according to one participant outside court. He does not want his name used because he is in a feud with some people: “It’s probably easier to go to jail. You could be in and out in a day with the overcrowding.”

Not long on the course, he is optimistic about his chances: “You just have to keep your head screwed on and keep the head down. They throw you out if they see you stoned all the time. The judge is fair though, they give you warnings.”

Meanwhile, David Lynch has been involved with Drug Treatment Court for nearly a year – his second attempt at trying to get off drugs.

“I silver graduated [coming off everything except cannabis] in 2013 and I ended up homeless, back on the streets again and back in addiction. Then I picked up one or two charges for having stolen property. And they gave me another chance to come back. It’s after helping me an awful lot.”

Gold course

The judge was impressed with David’s progress but concerned that he is not moving onto the gold course, which aims to get users clean of all drugs.

“How long do you think you’ve been on the silver phase?” she asked

“A couple of months,” he replied.

“You’ve been on it 18 months. You have to take some action yourself, you’re not a child,” she told him as he sat in the witness box. “We want to see you graduate. Come back in January, enjoy Christmas.”

The judge was less happy with Sandra who was refusing urine tests because she knew they would not come back with a negative result. A probation worker stood up to remind her she should give a sample anyway because she gets a double sanction for refusing.

“What about Christmas?” the judge asked. “You’ll have to be very careful,”

“I’m going to stay with my family, stay with positive people,” she replied.

More people got in the witness box. Those doing well seemed proud; those who were not seemed slightly ashamed. The proceedings were interrupted briefly when a suspicious court worker noticed someone talking in court who was not on the list. He was told to leave.

When it was Noel’s turn in the box he offered the judge a sweet before telling her this is the longest he has been clean of heroin since he was 13 years old.