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  • The last time I saw John, he was in A&E on a trolley, with a big, blood-stained gash in the thigh of his white jeans.

    The story of why I was A&E at the time is probably too long a digression, but suffice it to say that I couldn’t chat to him for long, because I was with two policemen and a young arsonist.

    John had gone downhill since he left the Children’s home. It had been his decision. He knew what had to be done – he’d been in care for years and the one thing that was guaranteed to get him moved on was assaults on the staff. So he semi-strangled a nervous temporary worker, bounced a bike around our friendly computer expert, threatened a beautiful, gentle dressmaker and tried to hit the six foot seven black man who was the nearest anyone on the staff came to having street cred.

    We were all members of the union and were called upon by Peter, our union rep, to refuse to work with John. I, however, was pressured to carry on working with him by my manager.
    John said to me, “Don’t worry, Helen, I won’t assault you. You’re my key worker.”

    So I went to court to collect him (he had spent the night in the cells underneath the court), and talked him into coming back to the home with me, while he unwrapped the bundle of his possessions and scattered the wrappings around the steps. Lawyers walked past us, tutting. They thought I was his mother… I was resigned and picked up the bits.

    Eventually he moved out and drifted around temporary accommodation, until he committed a crime which landed him in a Male Juvenile prison for boys aged fifteen to seventeen.
    He wrote me a letter and I went to visit him. “I know a couple of people and that so I’m oright.” But we lost touch and as I said, the next (and last) time I saw him was in hospital.

    As soon as I saw him, lying pale and bloody on his trolley, I wanted to take him home, to give him money, but I couldn’t. It wasn't allowed. The only thing I could do was hug him and ask him what had happened, who had done this to him?
    “Oh,” he said calmly. “I did it to myself. I was bored, and I wanted to see what it felt like.”

    photo taken on the March for Jobs in London, organised by the unions in March 2011.
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