Imagine this: you’ve never had a passport but suddenly you’re on a plane, heading somewhere you’ve never been, with less than 24 hours’ notice and the future wildly uncertain. Then, just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder... one of the country’s boy bands hovers into view.
The boy band was apparently seated on the same plane as Maeve* as she made her way to the UK city that day, aged in her mid-teens, and her new living quarters in a children’s home.
“It’s actually a funny story,” she says. “There was two guards and a social worker and [the band] on the plane behind me. They were doing a gig over there.” She laughs as she confirms she wasn’t a fan of the group. “I thought they were funny. I just couldn’t believe it.”
There’s a lot about Maeve you wouldn’t believe. The fact that, still a young adult, she has been in and out of residential placements, that she claims she has overdosed on drugs at least six times, that she spent more than a year overseas, in a different country, and that she is now back in this British city, fresh from the job centre, looking to start somewhere new, somewhere old.
We meet in a branch of Subway on a day that is wind-chill factor cold. A sharp breeze brings specks of rain and the sky has a vaguely iodine glow. As other girls chatter away in another corner, Maeve explains how it is that she came back here, to this part of the UK for a second time, and how it felt like the only option she had left.
“I didn’t have a good childhood,” she says, tugging gently at the sleeve of her hooded top, the cuff of which has started to bobble. “There was garda always being called. See, when I was younger, me and my other friend, we were just too bad together, I think. And then I started going into town and all in Dublin, that is the worst. The amount of people I know, girls my own age, just mental, they’re on gear, strung out to bits, everything. It’s Dublin, it’s cos of town.”
From the regions, Maeve was drawn to the magnetic core of the city. It didn’t take long for it to turn bad. She says she started selling heroin when barely in her teens and started smoking it shortly afterwards, while her experiences of the care system began to seem like an ad hoc tour of the country.
“Basically, when I was [younger] I ended up in hospital a lot of times for ODing and I was running away,” she says. “I was in residential units and I ended up running for weeks on end.” The units were dotted around the country, and as time progressed it seems she checked in and out of most of them.
As to whether her stay in the units helped her, she says: “They’re shit — they did nothing for me. Basically you’re there for three months and you’re doing nothing, you’re waiting to get out, basically. You’re not doing any key work, there’s nothing to do there, I put on a load of weight cos all I did was eat, eat, eat in [one] place.”
Her memories of Irish care facilities are invariably negative — fights with staff, bitching between girls, running away, getting kicked out of different facilities. It all came to a head when he was removed from one unit, picked up by a garda and taken to a unit, and then informed she was off to the UK.
“I didn’t know what to think,” she says. “A few months before they were saying stories like ‘we had people and they’ve been sent to Holland’, it was England and Holland and I was like, ‘yeah, I’ve no passport so they can’t send me there’. When I got done I said ‘sure how can you send me out of Dublin, I’ve no passport?’ ‘Well, the judge did you a temporary passport’. And I was like, ‘Oh my God’. I just went into shock, I did. But I’m really glad I got sent over.”
When Maeve first arrived in her new digs, she was “nervous” — “I couldn’t understand accents, I was like ‘slow down’.” However, she loved the staff, clicked with her key workers, got her mobilities, started going out and later she moved into a community house.
“That was brilliant, I loved it,” she says. Then, tragedy struck when one of her friends died. “I ended up going mad over here again, and running for two weeks away and they ended up putting me back [in secure care] and that was my third time [there in her time in the UK] and I was like ‘fuck this, just send me home’. It took about three, four months to come home.” Had it not been for her friend’s death, she firmly believes the community house would have worked. “I was really gutted when the community house couldn’t take me back,” she says. Maeve’s parents were able to visit her and she spoke regularly with them and other family members on the phone. “Christmas I spent over here without them but I don’t like Christmas anyway so I was alright with that,” she says. “It was just me and the staff, but they tried to make it brilliant.
“When I first came over I was like, ‘I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home’. At the end of it I was like, ‘Thanks for everything’. Just brilliant. If I was in Ireland I guarantee you everyone would go over [here] that’s been in Ballydowd. “Even when I got out [of secure care] and into the community house it was normal cos I thought I was going to go back onto everything [drugs] straight away and one of my big problems was heroin and I was so young and people couldn’t believe how young I was, but when I got into the community house I got a job, I was going to my job and then that kind of gave me something to do.”
In her time in her new city she worked as a receptionist, did some training, and worked for a few hairdressers, even getting a certificate in the process. “I like hairdressing,” she muses. “I don’t if it’s something that I want to do for years to come, I think I want to have a look at what else is out there.”
She might be older now, an adult as far as society is concerned, but in the way she speaks, the way the words tumble out, the way she tucks her hair behind her ears and tugs at her sleeves, Maeve still resembles a kid in many ways, despite everything she’s been through. She has plenty of growing up to do and, it seems, few people to help her do it.
On returning home after her spell overseas, things unwound in dramatic circumstances. She says she remembers going somewhere in the Midlands with a random acquaintances and “banging up” heroin. She claims that, on one occasion, someone had to hold her tongue as she had overdosed amid fears her air passage could be obstructed. It’s one visceral, gritty story after another, whistled out in a torrent, yet to look at her you’d wonder if she’s old enough to be served in a pub.
Asked about her future, she says: “I dunno because at the moment I’m finding it really, really hard, I’m not going to lie.”
She, her boyfriend, and another lad, the group of three who came here at the end of last year, were staying in a homeless guesthouse at the time of this interview. “The place I’m in at the moment is full of smack heads, there’s no staff. I’d be used to staff that you talk to, there’s just a receptionist there. It’s supposed to be a B&B but I wouldn’t even call it that to be honest.”
The group had engaged a local solicitor and were working on getting social security numbers so they could get their benefits sorted out. Unfortunately, the solicitor informed them that to get a temporary flat they might have to stay put in the hostel for a while. It might be less than salubrious, but it’s still better than what they experienced on arrival, when they slept rough.
“When we first came over here we were sleeping out, we had no place to stay, and we were sleeping under a bridge and it’s different here, they all sleep out together, 20 people under a bridge,” she says, almost incredulous. They took up an offer to stay in a flat for a few weeks with people who used drugs, but kept clean. The trio are a tight group — “we have always stuck together, that’s the thing, we will stick together and nothing will happen to us”. Maeve’s boyfriend helps — she says he doesn’t have any drug problems, but has been in trouble at home in the past. He wasn’t the only one, with Maeve outlining how since she returned to Ireland after her placement, her drug use spiralled out of control.
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