‘Why don’t they check junkies’ tickets?’

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Yesterday while I was online I came across a post in a forum where someone asked the question,

‘Why don’t they check junkies’ tickets?’

They were pissed off that they had to pay for a ticket each day to avoid getting a fair evasion fine while people who appeared to be homeless or drug-dependent seemed to manage travelling for free.

The question took me back about thirteen years to a train trip. At the time I was living in Ballarat, but often travelling back to Melbourne during holidays. During one trip back to the outer eastern suburbs I noticed there was one guy sitting by the window, shaking, sweating and talking furiously to his reflection. I sat down opposite him and asked if he was okay and he said he just had to go and meet someone at Heatherdale station. I kept sitting with him as he ranted into the reflection in the window and when we got to Heatherdale I reminded him that this was his stop.

After he’d bolted for the door, and older guy in a business suit came and sat in the vacated spot.
He said to me, ‘You know that man was experiencing withdrawal from heroin?’
I hadn’t realised this was what was going on, but I also wasn’t surprised. I’d grown up knowing to stay away from syringes because it wasn’t unusual for them to be found on the grounds of my primary school, and my grandma has worked at her local information centre, which operated a needle exchange. But I didn’t know that I’d actually noticed the effects of heroin on someone before this stage.
The man in the suit said, ‘There’s really nothing anyone can do for him.’
I said, ‘We could pray.’
He raised his eyebrows and said, ‘I guess so.’
(At that time I’d recently read Jackie Pullinger’s book Chasing the Dragon, in which she claimed that heroin addiction could only be overcome by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully I’ve learned more about heroin since then!)

This story came to mind because it reminds me of my own ignorance. I appreciate that one of my fellow passengers took time to check in and see if I got what was going on, and didn’t make me feel stupid for my naivete. Unfortunately what I saw on the Internet forum the other day, when someone else was asking questions about addiction, was that the person asking questions was jumped on for being ignorant. I hope we can still have place for naive people like myself to be challenged and to learn rather than just being shut down.

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