Alan Croghan was a violent addict. But now he’s made amends, says Jonathan deBurca Butler
ALAN Croghan has always had a problem with social conformity. “I never went to school,” says the 45-year-old Dubliner. “I just didn’t like it. I remember going to prefabs and I remember jamming my heels into the lip of the door; my ma standing behind me, trying to push me in and the teacher trying to drag me through the door.
“That’s my first memory of school. I don’t know if it was to do with authority, or whether it was to do with being confined, but I just wanted to run wild.”
That is what Croghan did.
In his book, Disorganised Crime, he describes how, as an eight-year-old, he stole his first car, a brown Ford Escort, which he crashed into a garden.
Croghan was already drinking alcohol. That would spiral into drug abuse. With his mother working most nights in the Shelbourne Hotel, and his father in the pub or passed out on a couch, Croghan ran riot. “I didn’t realise at the time, but I had a lot of freedom,” says the Coolock native. “Getting out my window, at 1am, and going off robbing cars was normal for me. And, you see, the only thing that I recall about not being allowed to do something, was that I felt I was being wronged. I saw myself as the victim.”
Croghan had reason to feel aggrieved. He was sexually abused by a neighbour who used “to stay over sometimes”. He is loath to use this an excuse for any of his subsequent behaviour.
“I could have sat down with a psychologist, or whatever, and told them that I was sexually abused at five and said that it contributed to my behaviour later, but I don’t,” says Croghan. “I’m not allowing that to be an excuse, because it wasn’t.”
Later, Croghan was forced to strip and dance naked in front of older boys, who would spit on him as he performed for their depraved amusement.
While Croghan is stoical about the abusive neighbour, these incidents proved to be a turning point. “I started carrying a blade with me and I noticed that when I cut people with it the bullying stopped,” Croghan says. “I resolved to carrying this small, Bohemian blade with me everywhere I went, it was kind of my guardian angel.”
Croghan became adept at using knives and began carrying a machete around, hidden inside of a long coat. He used it on several people.
“I see quite a few of them today,” he says. “Obviously, some of them don’t come near me, they stay away, not through fear or, at least, I hope not anyway. For the rest of my life, until the day I die, I have to be willing to make amends to anybody I’ve hurt or harmed and it doesn’t matter who it is, or who was right or wrong. I want to make amends.
“If they spit in my face, I’m prepared for that and I will walk away. And I have done, but there are people who, for obvious reasons, don’t want anything to with me.”
After several stints in jail for serious assaults and offences, including the hijacking of a taxi, Croghan walked away from crime. He returned to college and got a higher diploma in print journalism.
As a freelance journalist, Croghan showed talent for getting the inside story. Life had improved, but drink and drugs were in the background. They began to take control and he became homeless, selling himself for sex.
“When I was prostituting myself around the Pepper Cannister [church], I felt like a piece of dirt,” he says. “I felt that I was completely insignificant. That’s an episode of my life that I wish never happened. I just felt so dirty and dehumanised by the whole experience.”
Croghan tried to kill himself by cutting his throat with a bowie knife. He survived.
After a brush with hepatitis C, Croghan resolved to go clean. Five years on, he is drink- and drug-free.
The writer, who regularly gives talks to teenage boys on the dangers of drink and drug abuse, says that part of his transformation may be down to a blessing he was given while recovering from his neck injuries. Whatever the reasons, he says he is not for turning.
“I’ve had a complete psychic change,” he says.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ignorant to what happened in relation to crime. Every single morning I say my prayers, and every night I give thanks.
“I’m not a religious person and I never was. I am connected to something greater than me. My whole make-up is different. I can’t judge anybody, because I’ve done everything. But if I can use my failings in a productive way to help another person in a similar situation, great.”
*Disorganised Crime, by Alan Croghan is published by Penguin Ireland; available at Eason, €15.99.
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