A boy in a black hoodie with shoulders hunched shuffles his way towards me on a downtown street in Whitehorse. There’s a gash on his face now covered by a scab. We’re acquainted, so I ask, “What’s up with the road rash?”
“I dunno,” he shrugs with his hands in his jean pockets. “I must’ve fallen. I got road rash on my hand too.”
Michael (not his real name) can’t remember if he fell in a fight or just because he was too drunk to stand up. The latter is more likely. Michael is a gentle soul, and unlike some boys his age, he’s not proud of his battle wounds. At 20, he’s just tired and depressed. He’s been drifting on the street for the past three years but does have a place to sleep at night.
“I don’t consider myself cool right now. I don’t like the way I’m living. I was a skateboard kid and thought getting hurt was bad but I didn’t know what drinking does to the mind. The depression.”
A friend joins us and chimes in that depression hits after a month of straight drinking. We find a place to sit down and someone arrives with a bottle to share. I decline the offer and just listen.
“When I was young I never thought I’d go to the drunk tank, to jail, that I’d be sitting here drinking. I went to bush parties but now it’s become a lifestyle.”
Michael was raised in a good foster home but eventually ended in a group home where he says he got a degree in crime from the other kids. He became an alcoholic at age 17 and feels like it’s a life sentence with no eligibility for parole.
“Kids are using drugs because it’s cool. They party. Most do weed, some mushrooms and ecstasy to trip out. Young people are not much into crack, heroin or acid. I used to use weed but since I became an alcoholic I just drink. Booze is the drug of choice for young people.”
It’s cold here sitting on a concrete parking slab. I’m wearing several layers but the cold is still seeping through. My thin friend is trembling.
“Loss is the biggest issue,” he explains when I ask why he lives like this. “Broken homes, separation – that hurts. At age 17 I lost everything that was important to me. When your family turns their back on you…” He doesn’t finish his sentence.
Michael laments that parents let their children party at home because they believe it’s a safe place.
“Parents are too loose. They say, ‘Go ahead and party, but do it at home where it’s safe.’ But what they don’t see behind closed doors is a different story. Now my life is like Psalm 69 – I’m drowning and there’s more people that hate me than love me.”
Unlike Michael, Daniel Casey knows he’s loved and wanted back – when he gets out of prison. Casey’s life of cocaine addiction and crime caught up with him on his last attempt to crack a safe with a tiger torch. He was robbing the guardhouse at the City of Whitehorse landfill site when he was 22 years old. It burned. In 2013 he pleaded guilty to arson and four break-and-enter charges. That got him time in a federal penitentiary.
“My mom lived at the notorious 810 Wheeler St. drug house,” he tells me over the phone from prison. “I lived in group homes and didn’t have to listen to anybody. It’s like a barn for livestock – it’s just housing kids. It was a gong show – the wildest six years of my life.”
Casey often took off from the group home to visit his mom, where he says drugs were the norm. He says he used and sold dope at age nine. By age 15 it was coke.
“For the first 15 minutes on coke I always felt like Superman. But it only lasts 15 minutes and then you feel like crap. So that’s where the trouble comes in. You’ve got to get more. I robbed nine local businesses.”
Casey was in jail for the last three years, then paroled but he failed the drug test and is back in custody. He is hoping to be sent to a treatment centre soon. He says he tried to quit but always fell back in with the same group of friends.
On the phone a voice comes in telling us we only have two minutes left to speak. I quickly ask for advice to parents worried about their kids.
“Teenagers are using party drugs. E (ecstasy), coke, pot, MDMA and alcohol. If your kids are staying out late, running out of money, stealing from you and hanging out with a bad peer group you got might want to pay attention. Look at me – I’m 25 years old and I’m back in prison.”
The phone line goes dead. Apparently our time was up. I think about prison. I think about Michael shivering on the street. I look up Psalm 69:
“Save me oh God, for the waters have reached my neck. I have sunk into the mire of the deep where there is no foothold. I’ve gone down to the watery depths; the flood overwhelms me.”
Roxanne Livingstone is a freelance writer in Whitehorse.