Reverend Jo Whitehead is a Priest and Lead Chaplain for Derbyshire Constabulary and Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service. Derby Homes’ Anti-social Behaviour team have regular contact with the police and community teams.
In the course of her work, Jo met David, a homeless man who had struggled for years with drug addiction. Jo spent time with David while he was in hospital and he asked her to share his story as a warning to others.
The Police Chaplaincy is a voluntary service that supports both the police and the fire and rescue service with their work in and around Derby. My work involves supporting both victims, and the officers themselves. There was one gentleman I met who has stayed with me, and who asked me to share his story if I could.
I first met David when I saw him sitting just outside the Post Office on Midland Road, and for some reason he caught my eye. I sat down and started talking to him, and in that short conversation I felt like I really got to know him. He was a rough sleeper, but was surrounded by people he liked and who were good to him. When I left, I shook his hand. To my shock, he began to cry. “People don’t usually want to touch me,” he explained.
I started visiting him most days, just to chat. David was lovely to talk to – quite cheeky, and very funny. He was a popular face near the Post Office; people were often bringing him cups of tea and sandwiches. But on Christmas Day, I went down to visit him, and David was gone. I didn’t see him for over a year. When I next saw David, it was by chance; someone from my church had been working with him and he’d been trying to put his life back together.
He’d moved into a specialist centre and was looking for a flat. But during this time, he’d fallen seriously ill, and was now hospitalised. The nurses had tried to give him intravenous medicine, but all of David’s veins had collapsed. He insisted that he wasn’t using drugs, although we all knew the truth. In the end, the nurses had to put the IV in through his groin, as there were simply no other veins that they could use.
It soon became clear that David wasn’t going to get better. I spent a lot of time with him in the hospital, as it seemed he had no-one else. Finally, David admitted to me that he was a drug user. He said he’d been using drugs since he was a teenager, beginning with smoking cannabis when he was just 13. He would smoke at home, hiding it from his mum and sister. When they found out, they both tried to get him to stop, but he couldn’t. To help pay for his habit, he began carrying drugs for dealers, and by his late teens, he’d moved on from just smoking cannabis and had started using harder drugs.
For years, he moved around the country, selling drugs – he spent time in Glastonbury, and even talked about making trips abroad carrying drugs – before eventually coming back to Derby.
Through all of this, what he really wanted was to go home to his family. But he owed money to dealers, and was afraid of putting his mother and sister in danger if he tried to get back in contact. While he was in hospital, I tried to help track down David’s family. He was desperate to see them again. Sadly, David passed away the day before I was able to find his sister.
David spent his whole life running, paranoid and being followed by trouble. He felt he had no choice but to cut off all contact with his family and to drift from place to place, never putting down any roots. Before he died at just 52 years old, he asked me to share his story to show how drug addiction and bad choices can affect someone’s entire life.”