£6.50 per hour
My Access course finished and I needed summer work. I registered with an agency to pull in some coinage before starting my Journalism course. Given my previous social services experience and apparent dark side, they let me work here for the summer of 2007.
My job was switchboard, meeting and greeting clients, filing, signing clients in for community service and typing Pre Sentence Reports. The latter being an eye opener.
Friends I knocked about with years ago were clients. It was awkward, knowing I could very easily have been on their side of the counter if I stayed in their company. Conversations went like, “ack hiya what are you up to these days?”
“Ah nothing much, just out of jail for armed robbery…..”
“Just coming here for benefit fraud…”
When some people turned up to their appointments, I unwittingly put faces to the names of reports I’d typed in social services. It was a jig saw coming together.
I could not help but notice the smell of some clients. It was always the car thieves. They stank of BO and wore dirty grey track bottoms. Some would have had their hands down the front of their kecks and then used my pen to sign in. Rancid. I was puzzled as to how they could tell you the brake horsepower of every car in Ireland and how to mobilise a vehicle but were oblivious to the workings of a shower or washing machine.
There were about four interview rooms. One of them was glass. This was for the clients known for using violence. If anything happened, it would be visible from reception.
My next-door neighbour was one of the clients. He’s not there anymore so I’m spilling the beans. He was signing in for drunk driving. I told his probation officer he lived next door to me and asked her advice on what I should do. She said nothing. But if I saw him behind the wheel of a car, I had to report it. Fair enough.
But what if I know he beats his wife, do I need to book him into the glass room because I know he’s violent? So I told her about the times I heard my neighbour crying and screaming because he was attacking her. Then about having to hear them ‘making up’. Pretty Woman must have been their song because their bedroom was next to mine and I used to stick a pillow over my face every time the first four bars of Pretty Woman protruded through the wall.
The Probation Officer took what I said on board. She went out to reception and starting singing walking down the hall “Pretty Woman walking down the street.. ack hiya Jimmy what about ye?” And I nearly died. And became Jimmy’s enemy for life.
In August I came back from holiday to find the house next door boarded up. Jimmy gave his wife a terrible beating and was taken away. I’ve never seen them again.
One of the probation officers asked me to ring a client to move his appointment. I phoned his house and his Mum answered. She spoke affluently and cheerfully told me she would leave a message on the fridge for him. I left a note in his file and noticed he was on probation for rape. Rape. His Mum was treating my call as though it was a routine dental appointment. This disgusted me.
People always wonder why some criminals never do any real jail time, why they walk with lenient sentences. This is due to Pre-Sentence Reports the judge reads before dishing out the punishment.
The PSR’s I typed factored in the client’s childhood. Many said they were victims of abuse and it led to them becoming the way they are. Some blamed their parent’s alcoholism and witnessing domestic violence in the home. Incidents you cannot blame a child for – so you can understand the adults they’ve become. They have little to no experience of humanity so they do not know how to be human.
The cynic in me thought they knew what to say during the interviews – the magic words to use to win the get out of jail free card. Because in the majority of cases, it worked.