This is the beginning of a Trilogy of Leon’s Journey through the madness of his addiction. From Primrose Tower, to Erdington… To this, The Last Stop. Click on the titles to read them or the links will feature at the end of this story along with a link to Leon’s Art Gallery.
Trigger Warning: Contains coarse language, sex, drug use and paraphernalia, crime, violence and homelessness.
I’ve known Leon since he went to rehab almost 10 years ago now. Leon is such character which is why I have chosen not to edit the way he has written his story as he has written it how he speaks… The reason for me doing that is because I’ve got memories of Leon telling me story’s of the trouble he has gotten up to over the years and for me, the way he tells them really makes me chuckle. Throughout this story, between the pictures of bottles of alcohol and jails, you will find Leon’s artwork. Here is his story:
I’ve got the last bed at the last homeless hostel in Brum. Now I know I’ve hit the big time. Through the lovely sweet lady at the homeless Centre in Digbeth. She’s got a gold tooth and Rastafarian locks. She had the challenge to find me somewhere to rest my head…and cause havoc.
I was sniffing lighter gas and drinking the finest Aston made Frosty Jacks, never seen an apple in its short life. So ‘she’ gold-toothed fairy mother of the homeless and sometimes the hopeless, gives me a piece of paper with an address on it.
Off I trot to the 50 bus stop. Bent day saver in preparation for the driver that don’t really give a shit if I’m blagging him ‘Just don’t start any fights on my bus, I’m going home in an hour’. I get off the 50 a stop before so I can stock up on supplies, gas, alcohol, nubs, I’m sweet.
As I just polish off a cool can of Tennents Super… Yes! The shopkeeper took his eyes off me for 5 seconds, and the Tennants were mine. Victory to the alcoholics of Druids Heath. I’m getting to like the place before I have even laid my grubby cap anywhere.
So I get to see my humble abode, the kitchen window was missing and there’s a meat wagon parked in front of the door. I get into this place of rest and recuperation. Man, this was the shittest of shit pits, but it was a bed, so I was grateful.
I could say the gaffers name, but I won’t. A little fat man with greedy eyes takes me up the threadbare carpet stairs, black hallway, just like a scene from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’. My door half hanging off its hinges… but the 2 foot lock? He’s got that sorted.
This is where the blackout comes in at 9:30 in the morning. I get back to the hostel, I haven’t got a clue how.
The frame the door sits on looks like it’s made out of matches from the nick. So I look into my bedroom, a ‘Who killed Kenny’ quilt on a mattress. The walls had more toothpaste than my cell in Winston Green. A wing was built by the Victorians, so a whole heap of toothpaste holding up the photos of their loved ones.
He says ‘Use this table’ as he picks it up, the top comes straight off, nearly takes him out of the game. So, holding the big round tabletop he says, push the bottom over here by the door, then he put the top of the table on the base, pushes both to the door and says ‘Voila’. In his thick south Asian accent.
I say ‘What the fuck?’. He says, ‘You can always go back to the fairy godmother, back down in Digbeth?’.
I’ve got no TV, radio, phone or money. So just as I’m tucking into my frosty jack and butane gas there is banging on the door. The doorbell doesn’t work so I’ve got my tabletop in my hands, and two hoodies with scarves over their faces and a bad attitude are wanting to know ‘where’s my pictures blud?’
They both look around my cell that clearly has fuck all in it, so I tell them that greedy eyes might have them but they are welcome to any toothpaste, that I’m fat with. So they took off, hoods up, and noses firing.
I sit back down on Kenny, haven’t even got into my 4.5 gas canister. Bang bang on the door, ‘I think what the fuck?!’ Back up with my tabletop in hand, the hoodies are back. They say, sorry mate, here’s a draw so you can get your head down. Starting to like my new environment.
So first day in my new surroundings, lovely jubbly. I grew up just down the road in Kings Norton. The fold was my stomping ground. We were sworn enemies with the Druids Heath Crew. When we were kids, me and my friends were pulled in for petrol bombing them.
My first night’s kip in the hostel. Downstairs has it’s own rave, speakers bigger than the bed. It did settle down, after a 4am hum dinger with his misses that smoked the morning tube (heroin) when he was gouching.
5:30am wake up call, coughing and wretching. I’ve run to the toilet next door and I’m at it for about 4 or 5 mins when I hear ‘Yo blud! What you doing?’ Turn around from the bog and there’s this big black geezer, towel wrapped around his Donegal’s, flashing a full set of gold teeth. I’m being dry sick on my knees over the bog and he wants to have a straighter? I tell him to fuck off and just let me die naturally of addiction.
I’m waiting for the kick or the punch to come at me but it doesn’t materialise. So I carry on doing my morning routine of feeling like the lining of my stomach is coming through my nose, mouth and eyes. Happens every morning like an alarm clock… my 5:30am wake up call.
Aldi over the road, so I pop in to see what’s winking at me. Straight to the alcohol section. I did notice the wine as I come in, on special offer, or free, to me. So I manage to slip a bottle down the front of my pants, grab a packet of crisps and buy them like I’m just you’re average Joe Public.
The doctors had given me 6 months max on my liver, it was shot. Cirrhosis. Kay battled for me to get into rehab.
So, out I trot to find out where I can get my coffee or butane gas. I settled for a can of gas from the Tennants Super shop, might get lucky and when he turns around. I might just have my lunch sorted as well. No joy with the Supers’. His greedy eyes are everywhere, so I find myself a nice spot around the back of the shops, looking over my new kingdom of Druids Health.
Crisps, gas, wine, sunshine. I could stay here for a good hour with my breakfast. I down half a tin of gas, crisps and the wine are off to the skip. I walk around to the 50 stop, bent day saver in hand, thinking shall I be Polish, just for today if the driver pulls me? But I just sail on, talking to some old dear, pretending she’s my Nan, like we’re out shopping together. Well, me shoplifting.
First stop, Kings Heath Poundland here I come. I need a radio and headphones. They go straight in my left pocket. Next, gas. As I bend down, two cans pop up my right sleeve. Turn, walk, dropping the can in hand into my left pocket, put the other two up my left sleeve and I even sorted a bar of chocolate for dinner.
Buy one can, steal 5 cans. Radio is ready to rumble in the jungle. Now off to Greggs I go. It’s the morning rush for a coffee, but I have a better plan. Get the bag out and fill up. Cakes, sandwiches, Red Bull…thank you so much Greggs, you saved me, and many more hopeless addicts. Employing the very best cheap labour, and they all need to go to Specsavers. Back off to the bus stop I go.
This is where the blackout comes in at 9:30 in the morning. I get back to the hostel, I haven’t got a clue how. But it’s dark and I’m ready to sit back and chill with my 7 cans of gas and 2 bottles of rose, a few squashed sandwiches and cakes and a handful of nubs just drying out nicely from a day’s sweating in my pocket.
Ronnie the Rave music and his skank, that were killing each other over the last line of morning tube at 4 o’clock this morning, has his door open, music pumping, sitting on the stairs smoking a joint. With his Bart Simpson bedroom slippers and a cool can of Tennants Super. The skank was kissing him like he’s got two pricks, that, or she’s rattling and he’s holding the Class-A’s close to his heart.
So I said my hello’s and asked ‘Could you be so kind and turn up your rave music when you’re trying to kill each other later? ‘Cause last night I got to know you two quite well, even though I didn’t know what you looked like’. The look of ‘What the fuck is he on about?’
So now I’m going into a rage without any chemicals running my brain. Fear, dread, anxiety, lonely, shit feelings are all over me. I’m sweating, scared.
Crack psychosis can do this to you, you forget who you are, where you’ve been, who you’ve robbed, had a fight with, been in hospital, jails, etc etc. Off back to my cell with the ‘Who Killed Kenny’ cover on my mattress on the floor. I pass out.
5:30 in the morning and the day’s off and running. I’m back over to Aldi and grab a bottle of wine before the front door closes, in and out, 5-10 secs max, then I get a phone call off Kay, my alcohol worker, that has introduced me to art that I used to do at Kingstanding Leisure Centre.
The doctors had given me 6 months max on my liver, it was shot. Cirrhosis. Kay battled for me to get into rehab, 2 weeks detox with a 13 week aftercare plan. Kay says the admissions bloke was putting it on her and she had to say she would go for a drink with him to get me in Wednesday, the dirty little fecker.
So my dad says, I’ll pick you up and take you there, I have my life in this suitcase. Has a Skol Super Strength for me. My dad hated drinking with a passion, but he loved my mum for over 30 years, and she drank for most of those 30 years. Dad did smoke ganja like Bob Marley.
I drink the Skol in 3 swigs, and I’m already begging just get us a bottle of Frosty Jack, please Dad, this is the last time I promise. So we get a rehab detox unit. Two weeks breeze past, lovely little respite from my alcoholic bones. Back to the OK Correl of hostels.
Alma House, straight as a bat, my door doesn’t even sit on its hinges. My two station TV with an 8-inch screw as an aerial was still unhinged but my Readers Wives’ collection and my DVD player were gone. So now I’m going into a rage without any chemicals running my brain. I manage to put my door back together with the help of my table. Fear, dread, anxiety, lonely, shit feelings are all over me. I’m sweating, scared.
I meet a girl in rehab and we were told by many different people in rehab and NA not to get involved with one another, but sex without drugs is another drug. All in all, I was pussywhipped, and I’m not trying to be big-headed. I have had my fair share of ladies but this new love had to end, because anything I get near for long goes to shit.
At 63 days clean, rejection comes rushing to my brain and I can’t handle it. Co-op gets hit, bottle of Blossom Hill out of the fridge, cold as ice down my Donegal’s and I’m off, and running again, just where I left off, at the bottom of the bottom.
Cutting a good story short, I ended up in Kings Heath Police Station, feeling like my two wrists were broken, my rib cage in tatters. For 2 days they leave me there before they said I was moving, I’m thinking ‘What the fuck is going on here?’.
Off I go in handcuffs on my very swollen wrists, to Bournville police station. Another night in Bournville. So that’s the third day and they have only given me three blues and I’m rattling my alcoholic ass off.
The very big police officer says I’m from Rose Road nick. I know the place in Handsworth, I think in my head. So he says, ‘Did you throw a slab of concrete, through the number 11 bus?’. ‘No’ I say, ‘I was on the 11 bus and I got off in Kings Heath, and your officers beat me up and arrested me, three days ago’.
It’s against the law to hold a prisoner without a charge for 48 hours. A court has to order an extension on your custody in the police station. The police officer says, ‘Well what about the argument you had on two gentlemen?’ I said, ‘Two against one isn’t an argument’.
He was calling me names, I just agreed, no big deal, blah blah blah, bailed on a section 47/3 to come back to the police station in a month, back to Shitsville, Almer House. What can I rob before I get to the Maypole?
Four cop cars coming down the hill, so I check my knife between my cheeks, handcuffs slapped onto my just-recovering wrists.
The next day, I end up with a knife. Having an argument with a homeless guy in Moseley. So I have the knife in hand, and anger is taking me near this white dreadlock rasta, who runs out in the road. Four cop cars coming down the hill, so I check my knife between my cheeks, handcuffs slapped onto my just-recovering wrists.
So ‘the dread’ is now telling all of this lot, who are going mad, looking for my knife that’s tucked away in my ass cheeks. The Sergeant has got a good hold on my arm, up the back, the copper’s looking on bus stop roofs, bins, in the shop, on the road, everywhere like the maniac dog barking at my love sacks. I feel it slip out of my cheeks and I know it’s all over for me.
The knife falls out just next to my foot as the Sergeant kicks my legs from underneath me, and I’m at the maniac dog level on the deck. So the crazy search for the knife is over, and I’m sitting in the back of the police car, with the white dread giving a statement to one of the Old Bill.
Now I’m off to Bournville Police Station just in time for tea, lovely jubbly. I see the Doctor, tell him a load of old bollocks, and the Temazepam is mine. My solicitor comes and he says to me ‘You had just picked up the knife and you were taking it to the police station for safekeeping, ok? We will go down that road’
For me, this was just a formality of life. We are stripped down to being a baby again. Washed and given some funky Bordesley Greens jeans and some Y-front pants that look like they are older than this Victorian nick.
It’s Interview time. ‘I found the knife’ I say, sticking to the story. The copper goes, ‘You have more form than formula 1… Ok, so it’s 26 years long, but everyone can change’ I say, bollocks to the copper. So my compensation claim is fucked and I get a date with the Queen. Charged with possession of a bladed article, good job it wasn’t with intent or I would have been properly fucked.
So I go to court, pissed and butane gassed out of my head. The security said, just sit at the back and don’t play up. My name is last I think, I might have had 40 winks at the back of the court. I walk up through the gate, blah blah blah, 4 months in jail for you, sorry Jim.
Four nice guards help me down the stairs to my lovely cell, in central lockup, Steelhouse Lane. The Dungeons. Sweatbox comes to take us off to the temple of doom, Winston Green prison. So there’s about twenty sorry ass faces off to the Green.
For me, this was just a formality of life. We are stripped down to being a baby again. Washed and given some funky Bordesley Greens jeans and some y-front pants that look like they are older than this Victorian nick. A jumper that wouldn’t fit Billy’s little sister. Managed to get a jacket, telling the kit man I’ll sort him some burn, that I haven’t got.
Back to the holding cells, 15 – 20 blocks rattling, bullshitting, and generally acting hard. Or dying, coming off the gear, rock, drink or meds. A bit of grub, bed pack, and off we go to the most ugly building in the world. Pigeon shit is caked on the outside and inside of the windows. There’s bits of wire, bits of string, bits of bedding and string hanging off everything in order to transport contraband from one side to another which the pigeons all get caught up it.
D wing is allegation wing, I am feeling DTs coming on now, reality has hit me again, probably this same spot many times.
One of our gang of renegades are walking to wing, he’s showing off a parcel in his mouth, talking when he should have been listening and not showing off, as we go through the first gate, the old screw who had clocked him grabs him full blast with a good chokehold on his throat, he spat that parcel out quicker than he was when he was giving it the big one.
So he’s down the block before he even got cosy with his cellmate. He would’ve had a very warm welcome party for him. Underwood Starling should be in front of the human rights court for his crimes against criminals.
I was down the block with a kid called Monty, you had a cardboard table and a chair. You’re bed locked from 7 to 7 to a wall. Monty coming back to his cell with his dinner, as he walks into his cell, he kicks his door to shut it but it didn’t. the lock sprung out and the door popped open.
The screw says, ‘You’re kicking my door Monty?’ He says ‘No way, I’m just trying to shut it’.
‘I’ll be seeing you after dinner’ He goes to him.
Putting the trays out after dinner and they’ve got Monty spread like a starfish, with Underwood smashing his elbow into the middle of his back, but Starling holding his right arm, pulls it straight out the socket. Three days later, the doctor comes and said he should be in hospital.
I get to my cell, feeling rough as fuck, the screw was speaking to me like we were best buddies, and I’m thinking, this isn’t funny anymore. The geezer on the bottom bunk is rattling hard off the gear, so I try my hardest to get in the top bunk, but I’m a mess and he’s no good to man nor beast.
It takes me 30 minutes of fucking hard work, sweating, dry-wretching and dizzy to finally make it up there. I just lay my head on this pillow, just starting to dream of pastures further and much greener. The screw, ‘Mr Happy Bollocks’ busts the door open and says ‘What the fuck are you doing on the top bunk, you’re rattling off the tot, you could fit and fall off’.
So matey underneath is looking at me, rattling, and needing to be by the shitter, coming off the gear. I’m thinking the descent might kill me. This happy fucker is messing with our home. The bed swap went without any shit being split. Next morning I’m hallucinating, my mind is shutting down. Mr Happy’s sad mate opens up for breakfast, sees some usual suspects shouting pleasant greetings from this side of the fence.
His snide Nike tracksuit in the shade of ‘mould, piss and puke’ and so many rock holes in it he could do a dot to dot on it.
Breakfast done, screw opens the door and goes, ‘Gallagher, grab your pack, you’re off to K-wing’. I’m feeling like I’m just about to ask for the father to read me my last rights. I’m fucked, shaking like shaking stevens behind my grey door, I’m thinking where the fuck’s the doctor with my Valium. The screw says ‘You can see a doctor on K Wing’
So I’m holding on to the thought of, ‘I’ll see the doctor sooner than later on this wing’. The first friendly face was Sharky. He was getting out, so I just slipped into his old pad, with an ‘ok ‘pad mate that’s ‘not a junky’ as he put it. Only this so-called ok pad mate is a manic depressive football nut and I hate playing or watching anything about football. I had a word with him about a cushy number on the work party he’s on.
So I put an application in for the cushy job and I get the screw saying ‘you’re a security risk, you’re on mailbags with the Vietnamese prisoners that have a very strong presence in the green because they’re the best dope growers, but they will gamble on a drop of water running down a window, gambling crazy.
They are on price work in the mailroom. Full blast robots. So I’m talking to the screw about being the Gringo at the party, he says, there’s never enough room for all this lot, so hang back and you’ll be back on the wing, should a door open, if you don’t take the piss. Lovely jubbly. No work for me then for the foreseeable future.
My door’s open, I’m not being a prick and running around scrounging crap, so I ask the SO if I can paint my cell. Two days later I get two pots of paint and the SO says, ‘knock yourself out’. This is when I realise I can’t come to prison anymore. ‘My doors open, ‘Mr Gallagher’, pots of paint… It was like a hostel for mentally retarded screws and cons.
So my release date comes, and I’m ready for the new and improved Leon. So there we are, us 10 sorry-ass convicts, all saying, I’m not using ever again. Hmm, I think I know this song. Screw calls the first sad-ass up to the desk.
I’ve got £47.50 in my hand, fear grips me. I know if I follow any of them I will die.
Stinking like a raccoons asshole. His raggedy ass clothes have been rotting in the box his whole sentence, but he thinks he’s cool as a cucumber in his 110 trainers held on by the laces. His snide Nike tracksuit in the shade of ‘mould, piss and puke’ and so many rock holes in it he could do a dot to dot on it.
‘Right, here’s your phone and your discharge grant. Don’t spend it all at once’ The screw says. The 8 other addicts in the room start drooling like hungry dogs, using, running through their brains. They go through all the usual bollocks they have to do, ‘have you got 6 fingers? Have you got your Missus’ name spelt wrong on the tattoo round your neck?’
One of the motley crew at the big gate is saying my man’s on, I’m getting two of each he says. The doors haven’t even opened so five go straight to the pub and celebrate their release and the others go off on their mission to come straight back in here in a week or two.
So I’m standing there, looking at the pub and five amigos going to get pissed and the other three that are scoring. I look at this kid next to me, looking at me, like ‘will you help me cross the road’ kind of look.
I’ve got £47.50 in my hand, fear grips me. I know if I follow any of them I will die. So I make my own path to the shop, I get half an ounce of burn and a can of pop. Then I found an NA meeting and I stood up and admitted I am an addict.
I started doing more proactive things, meeting new people, I was like a little kid in a sweet shop. But remember, I’ve been numbing my feelings for nearly 30 years.
I started a voluntary art group at an aftercare unit for 3 hours every Friday for a good 7 years. I went into the rehab I started in, leading a voluntary art group for the residents and I got myself on the council housing list, with the help of Kay, my saviour and key worker.
When I was 6 months clean and I got a letter to view a place with three others in Balsall Heath at the left of a big 3-storey house.
So I said c’est la vie to Alma House.
Leon’s creativity and talent shaped, not just his recovery, but his fellow recovering addicts too. Leon not only attended workshops, he eventually started running them too. He now sells his artwork all over the world and has been globetrotting for years now soaking up the inspiration of other cultures and he doesn’t show any signs of stopping soon.
You can follow Leon’s journey of the madness of his addiction before he found his way back to life in his other stories:
You can also see Leon’s Art Gallery by clicking here.