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Boy George Party
Richard E Grant

From Bad to Unbelievable

In Part One, Fiona Russell Powell entered rehab to overcome her long-term iroin problem, but discovered she had more than one battle on her hands: jilting against an oppressive regime. Should she stay, or should she go?

A new girl arrived: Bruiser moved upstairs so she could have the room
Opposite The night alarm has now been put on, so the message the staff are sending to
Us that her personal safety and peace of mind is more important than mine. However. I have
been given a key to rny room. Since Bruiser arid Lurch spoke to Tom, he has
stopped the sexist crap, but has merely changed tactic and spends each day looking at
ways to needle me. As my bodyguards Lurch and Bruiser have left, or are hardly ever
there, Tom is not afraid to behave as badly as he likes, Every session I have with Billy I ask
to do something about the situation but he refuses, saying either I would have to put
up with sexist remarks in real life or that I am buying into the situation by reacting to his provocations. I don't know what to do any more; I've tried being nice, nasty, and
boring to Tom but nothing works. I understand that he's bored, is a self-confessed
woman-hater and a bully, but ENOUGH ALREADY. Also, his key-workei, Nick McEwan,
former assistant nanager who is now the acting manager,asked me to make allowances as "Tom had a dreadtul childhood". Well, didn't we all? So much for Acension House providing a "safe, supportive environment".

The new girl left after three days, which wasn’t a surprise to anyone. She shouldn't have
been there in the first place. It was purely due to pressure from her family, which is never the
reason. You have to want to do it for yourself before you've got a chance of kicking the habit.
A 20 year old junkie who who obviously thought rehab is a joke – it’ll be years before she comes to the end of the road. God help the kid.

Positive points of this week: been to the gym every day apart from Thursday, which was
hot, so I sunbathed for the first time in years. Darren is a sweetie who's never really
a chance in life, he’s teaching me blackjack which I play with him at every
opportunity (he's joined “the firm” as Gilbert calls us). Had an eye test and am the only
one who doesn't need glasses, just as I was the only one who didn't need the dentist to fix my teeth. I seem to nave been remarkably lucky to have come out so well after abusing my body for over a decade.

I haven't got off scot free: I've become spotty, which I'm mortified about: never had a pimple even as a teenager, but they reckon it’s all the toxic rubbish coming out of my system. The best thing is that in five weeks I’ve only had the desire to use heroin once, and that was more of a whim I toyed with briefly.

I feel fairly sure I’ve knocked the smack on the head. It's the alcohol I'm worriedabout now, because a lot of former junkies become "cross-addicts”. The alkies who come here
here are in a dreadful physical condition: some of them seem pickled and not totally
compos mentis. It frightens me to think I could end up like that. Will have to consider very
carefully whether or not to drink when I leave here.

The weekend was mad on Saturday it was compulsory to attend the local villge fete
and set up Ascension House stalls for fundraising. Hardly anybody wanted to go and
several of us missed our precious visits as a result, but we were forced into it by Nick
McEwan (who took the day off to play cricket). I threw myself into it Gilbert and Darren
were morose all day but no-one could believe it. least of all me, when I joined the the Morris dancers who were giving a display and wanted volunteers. Maybe I am on drugs after don't even know it! What happened on Sunday was outrageous and awful. Billy was an utter bastard It started at noon when we had our session which he had promised to set aside time to
discuss the Tom Bell problem. "At last," I'd thought “something's going to be done”
However, when I'd brought it up, he refused to talk about it again, saying for the
Umpteenth time I was using the situation as a way of "avoiding painful issues" This
pat line he trot infuriates me, as the main reason I came to Ascension House was
because I am aware of those painful issues and want to look at and deal with them, but all
this Tom shit is a distraction which is preventing any real work being done. Besides, it is
simply not right that I, especially as the only woman here, should have to endure this kind
of behaviour, particularly as it's breaking one of their sacred rules: 'No persistent racism or
sexism will be tolerated'. In fact, we've all noticed they let Tom get away wit taking
heroin, drinking, shoplifting and threatening a staff member, but he seems to have special
dispensation to do what he wants without consequence. The men comment on the way he
sucks up to its staff; Gilbert says, "when Tom leaves, he's going to rent a flat up Hitler's
arse and live in it". Anyway. I'd had enough and walked out of the session, telling Billy that I wouldn't have another until he did something about Tom. Next, he decided to have a house search for the missing bread knife. He went through the room with a fine-toothed comb, humiliating me by looking in places where a large knife couldn't possily be hidden, like Tampax boxes and knickers, whereas the lads told me he |ust gave their rooms a cursory glance.

Darren said, "I could have had a dead body in there and he wouldn't have noticed". Then, as it was a hot afternoon, we went in Billy's car to St Albans Park - me, Jog, Darren and Gilbert. Billy had taken some spicy poppadum crisps for the ducks, even though we'd all pointed out they wouldn't like them. Sure enough, the ducks turned up their beaks at Billy's offerings and Gilbert and I remembered that we'd just walked past some bread left on a wall nearby. After asking permission, we got it and returned, feeding it to the ducks, who gobbled it up enthusiastically. Gilbert and I were enjoying ourselves, taking photographs of each other with the ducks, when Billy suddenly announced that I was on restriction for walking further than the 100 yards he had given permission for. I said I didn't know how far 100 yards is. Which is true, but we hadn't gone far and why wasn't Gilbert being punished too? Billy then accused ' certain people" of taking the piss and announced we all had to go back to the ca- and 'return to the rehab, after having just arrived at the park. I exploded, having been c-s~ec beyond the limit, and stood in front of him, screaming my objections and told him he was "crap" at his job. Stupidly, I prodded him in the chest with my forefinger to make my point, whereupon he yelled, "That's it. you've assaulted me: you've got to go".

I was amazed and appalled by the unfairness of the Situation and. as we walked to the car, Gilbert and Darren voiced their disapproval, calling Billy a "cunt", for "always digging you out". When we got back, Billy followed me to my room and ordered me to start packing, but I refused until I'd spoken to the manager. Billy shouted he was sick of hearing me complain and that I had to leave as I'd "struck” him. which is an utterly pathetic excuse. I am a non-violent woman, whereas all the other events are ex-cons with a history of violence. I only poked him with my finger. Billy was adamant, but I was equally determined and stood my ground until the manager returned six hours later from playing cricket. It was touch and go for a while, but the upshot of it all is that I'm staying, with a meeting arranged for tomorrow between me, Billy, the manager and Tom Bell. So, due to my persistence and refusal to be intimidatecd by Billy, I have won a reprieve. It should also be clear now just how out of hand the situation with Tom has become. In a way I can't blame him completely, as it is the staff's responsibility to tell him that persecution, harassment and sexism towards a resident is not acceptable. I'm not even sure someone like Tom has any understanding of conventional mo-al codes - he certainly shows no remorse for allegedly beating up an old man in his own home during a burglary, for which he's due in court soon. Nearly six weeks of living under the same roof with a "nonce" like that is not an experience I would recommend. Now I'm not even sure if I want to stay here any longer. I will have to weigh up the good against the bad and make my decision tomorrow. Meanwhile, with perfect timing. Darren's radio is playing the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" Exactly.

Well, we had the meeting, and it was a bit of a joke really, but not in the least
bit funny. What happened yesterday was not addressed at all nor were the circumstances
leading up to it. Tom Bell heard that I had mentioned him during my rant in the park and
has been storming around the house all morning threatening to leave. The whole purpose
of today's meeting seemed to be to persuade him to stay, even though he expressed a
desire to punch me in front of Billy and the Manager, Nick McEwan, who asked me if I
wanted Tom to go. I lied, saying no, I just wanted him to leave me alone, which is true. (I
thought at least I'll try to be adult about it and I recognise that this is probably the best
chance Tom will have not to go back to his former life. Of course, I'd love to see the back
of the man who has made my life a misery, but I refuse to be as small-minded as he).
Once that was established, Tom agreed to stay and the meeting was adjourned, with
admonishments not to tell the new guy who's arriving today what's been going on.
Not once was I asked by Nick for my side of the story, which I think is a bit off.
Fingers turned up in the afternoon. So-called because he lost all the fingers on one hand
and his other hand and arm were mangled in an industrial accident. As a result, he was in a hospital for three months and pumped full of morphine, which is where he developed his habit. Unable to return to work, he set himself up as in business as one of Glasgow's biggest drug dealers with the massive compensatoin he won. We had all been prepped about his injuries and told to be especially sensitive to him, particularly me, as, apparently, he is very shy of women.

Now that I am staying, Billy insists on having a key session with me every time he is on duty. I suppose this is to see if we can repair the damage that's been done, though he hasn't explained his reasons. I said I hoped we could work together, but challenged him on various things, most of which he refused to answer, referring me to acting manager Nick McEwan. When I asked why he keeps touching me, he said he'd been told to, as it was "considered by management" that his approach was "too cold", but now I had raised my objections to it, he wouldn't do it again. When he started patting the sofa and stroked my hand about two hours later, I was gobsmacked. Is he taking the piss or what? After a few days of total silence from Nick. I eventually requested a meeting to talk about happened in the park last Sunday, but he refused to discuss anything, referring me either to the previous manager or citing 'client confidentiality' when asked why he did not deal with the Tom situation. God, this is all so wrong and frustrating. Thank heavens for Radiohead and Skunk Anansie, whom I listen to non-stop, particularly when feeling upset or angry. I don't think I could have got through the last few weeks without The Bends. which is what this all feels like, coming back up to the surface of reality. But Ascension House isn't real life, we live in an artificial bubble which fails to prepare clients for the harsh cruelties and mundanities of modern English existence when they leave. The relapse rate here is pretty high, but I am determined to stick it out 'til the end, and there's no way I'm going back on scag after enduring six months of this shit.
Fingers has joined "The Firm". I play a lot of blackjack with him and Darren, though I have to shuffle and deal for Fingers. Watching him roll a cigarette is an education, and he's demonstrated how he used to fix - it's amazing what you can do when you really want to. We get on well: he's very nice and rather sensitive, which he tries to hide under a gruff exterior. We all watched The Krays the other night. Gilbert knew one of hem a long time ago and told us, "Ronnie used to hold a gun to boys' heads when he was raping them to make their arseholes twitch" - what a nice man. His stories are great, especially the one about when he was on farm duties on the Island and dyed a screw's prize pig bright blue just before the annual agricultural show.
The house has become divided, in that we four spend our spare time together while Tom and Jog seem to have separated themselves from us. Am working hard at the gym. which means going with Jog and I always have to bear the brunt of Tom's jealousy for taking away his friend when I get back. Real playground stuff. Also have a bit of a "wimmin's problem" at the moment, but the staff won't make me an appointment with the doctor until I tell them what it is. Billy seems particularly titillated by guessing at it, the pervert. I've decided to leave it and hope it'll sort itself out.

Even though I have a key-session with Billy nearly every day now, they still continue to be a fiasco. Recently I stepped up my request for an outside counsellor but again to no avail. (Billy's definitely an oddball, even coming in on his days off).
On Wednesday Hitler ordered us, in her own inimitable way, to do the gardening. That, to me, is hard work, and as the group was "relaxation", I refused to do it. Two others demurred too, but is was I who ended up being put on restriction, sent to my room AND given a written warning. One guy was put on restriction too, but that was it; no triple punishment for anyone else - it seems the rules are made up as they go along. I do seem to get special treatment here, don't I?
Three people came and went this week. Lurch returned after having gone back on smack three hours after leaving the rehab a month ago. He was given the spare room but left again after three days, embarrassed and subdued. Jog left on Tuesday, without a word to his "best friend", timing his departure for when Tom was at college. Jog told us he'd had enough, didn't really like Tom and felt Ascension House could do no more for him. Darren got the go-ahead from his probation officer to leave and set off to a hostel in Milton Keynes in the afternoon. We were sad to see him go, as we feel he's too young to have learnt his lesson and will repeat the same mistakes. Gilbert says he's seen too many lads like Darren go through the prison system time and again. We're all keeping our fingers crossed for him, though.

During afternoon group, Billy and Silly Sally 'incidentally, the daughter of the acting manager's common-law wife - keep it in the family, eh?) appealed to us to "help" Tom "through the loss" of Jog and bring him back into the fold. It's ridiculous, as he ostracised himself in the first place. He's like the school bully who wants everyone to like him again. The staff never accept responsibility for a client's premature departure, always blaming the "client's inability to accept his problem" or that they weren't "ready". The fact that Ascension House could have failed them in some way does not seem to be a possibility. Or if it does, they certainly won't admit to it.
On Thursday the whole house went on a day-trip to Bournemouth, organised by myself and assisted by Fingers. Because of this week's sudden departures, we were low on numbers, but a couple of ex-residents who have resettled in the area came along for the free picnic. A long afternoon was spent on the beach sunning and stuffing ourselves, and the only bum note of the day was Billy (who else?), who grumbled about the heat incessantly and unsuccessfully tried to force me into going for a walk with him. A tea-time cappuccino in the town before we left was amusing; Gilbert and Fingers went on a shoplifting spree right under the noses of the staff, who never noticed.
The last couple of weeks have seen Billy drumming it into me to keep quiet during "feelings", the first 20 minutes of morning group, which is when we are supposed to be able to talk freely about how we feel that day without fear of reprisal. It is meant to be a sacred opportunity for self-expression. Billy seems to have the idea that I have the power to influence the men. He voiced this to the group, and they were suitably annoyed, complaining that they are treated as if they don't have minds of their own. However, Billy has persisted with his warnings to me, ordering me to curb my eloquence as I am "skating on thin ice and close to being thrown out". Tom, incidentally, is hardly ever at the group meetings, as he goes to college or voluntary work in the morning and doesn't get back until tea-time. Gilbert refused to do a group this week and got a restriction but not a written warning. Friday was a good day because Hitler left. We had a leaving party and all eyes were upon me when it came to my turn to say something. Billy had warned me to be careful: if I wasn't nice to her, it would "be taken into account." Nearly all the clients were glad to see the broad back of her but I was diplomatic and said, "Ascension House won't be the same without you; you're one in a million."
Luckily, I missed most of the do as I was up at the doctor's surgery learning more physiotherapy moves for Fingers' arm - I'm the only person who has volunteered. Billy has even managed to get his knickers in a twist over my friendship with Fingers; the management have made him move rooms so he is further away from me and the staff have suddenly been told that they must learn physio too. Yesterday, it was my turn to do the shopping and Fingers came to help me. When we went in the office to get the money off Billy, he offered us a condom and laughed. We were dumbfounded by his gesture and the implication, after all, we are merely friends and I am the only one here even in a relationship. We both think Billy has a sordid mind and needs therapy himself. At my key-session in the evening, Billy threw a wobbler and threatened to throw me out again, saying he felt "anger towards me", but without fully explaining why. Partly, it was because Fingers complained to the manager last night about various things, including Billy's attitude towards our friendship. Billy accused me of "putting him up to it". Oh, this is all becoming too much.

The start of the week was lovely, when my boyfriend came to see me and we fooled around on the railway bridge. It wasn't until afterwards that we noticed the "Smile - you're on camera" signs all over the station platform. Ho hum, how slack of us, but there's nothing like an alfresco knee-trembler to cheer you up and nine weeks is a long time. Although my partner is aware of the Billy problem, I am playing it down because I don't want to worry him too much. Besides, he'd go up the wall. Another good thing is that the manager finally agreed to let me see an outside counsellor - it's been arranged for Wednesdays. Hopefully, now Billy will cool off. Three new guys arrived: a 32 year old glue-sniffer who looks like an Indian Elvis; a rotund Mick with a florid boozer's face who fl riches when anyone goes near him; and a timid, withdrawn, self-harming neo-Goth who's 22 going on 16. He's supposed to have a drink problem though we think it's probabiy the east of his worries.

Wednesday was also my 'Johari’s Window' - named after two 70s Californian hippy therapists, Joseph and Harry (sic) - which , is when an entire group meeting is focused on one client. You stand in front of a board which has four compartments drawn on it; 'open', 'closed', 'secret', summary'. The rest of the group tell you what they think of you-, what you accept goes in 'open', what you can't see goes in closed', what they have missed or don't know goes in 'secret' and 'summary' is a general summing up. I have often voiced my dread of this group because it gives the individuals the opportunity to be nasty if they want, but the men were very sweet. The only person to use it as 'open season day on Fiona' was Billy; not even Tom sunk so low. Of course, being me. I questioned and tried to debate his points, which degenerated to insults; everyone said he ended up looking rather foolish and added how blatantly vindictive he was be -g as well as commenting on the way he's always provoking me and "winding me up". I'm pleased that Teddy was in charge of the group. He is a new member of staff (the most decent one, who respects residents' rights) and now he has seen how Billy treats me. which he is normally careful to hide in front of his colleagues. Absolutely no-one likes Billy, he is universally unpopular, as was Hitler before she left. Unfortunately, the majority of the clients come from uneducated backgrounds or environments of disempowerment (prison, where they don't know their rights, or are afraid to speak up. I have no inhibitions, so, though I've clashed with the same three people everyone else has, including ex-residents as well as current incumbents and even some staff. I stick my head above the parapet wherears the others keep theirs down.

As I am the only person in the house with an alarm clock, I lend it to whoever the House leader is and they return it after waking everyone up. This week it was Fingers' turn, but on Thursday morning, he forgot to return it. I nipped up to his room to get it, and was only in there for a minute, but long enough to open the door and find Billy lurking behind it. Obviously he'd followed me.

(Fingers and I already know he hides round the corner eavesdropping whenever I do his physio). Billy refused to believe I was collecting my alarm clock and sent Fingers to my room to give me the message to go to tr.e office to speak to him and, "if I didn't speak to him with respect. I would be thrown out". Apparently he feels I was "disrespectful" to him at my Johari's Window yesterday. Fingers told me to "hold it down 'cos he's waiting for an opportunity to chuck you out". I went to the office, where he alternated between doing an impression of Nice Cop and Bad Cop. One minute being reasonable, then threatening me with exclusion the next. When he asked me if I felt we could work together given his new role, now that he is no longer counsellor. I said I couldn't see why not. provided he stop his weird behaviour towards me and treated me just like the others. How did I mean? he asked. Sighing heavily, as this is the fourth time we've had this conversation, I said, "you know already: stop playing head games with me, stop winding me up and stop touching me, you know I don't like it". Billy smirked and said, "It's the word of a |unkie and a troublemaker against mine -I think I knew who'll be believed".
I laughed in disbelief and horror as I realised that must be his escape route and carte blanche to behave outrageously every time: after all, isn't it a well known fact that all junkies are thieves and liars? That remark of his was the final straw and a big mistake. This can't be allowed to carry on. I've had enough. Previously, on top of everything else, I have twice complained to Nick McEwan about Billy's conduct to me, including the touching, and warned him I would make an official complaint to an outside authority if the situation continued. It has, and so, on Friday. I rang the Inspection Unit of Hertfordshire County Council Social Services who investigate all residential homes. Actually, my boyfriend alerted them to the goings-on at Ascension House a month ago but they couldn't act until I contacted them myself. I left it so long because I thought and hoped things would improve but have now been left with no option. Secretly met two of the inspectors at Sainsbury's cafe and two of the residents sneaked over to talk to them too. I am so relieved to be able to tell someone at long last about this rehab from hell - someone who has the power to do something about it. Next month: The final showdown...