Somerville nodded. “What you need,” he said, “is a work record. I think that for a fcw months you should take any job —even if it pays less than the social security. Once you’re in work you stand a much better chance of getting a better-paid job.”
Jimmy agreed to start looking for anything, regardless of the pay.
After he had gone, Somerville said, “I’d bet my last ha’penny that he won’t get into any more trouble. He is one of our successes—though the success is all his, not ours.”
There could have been no greater contrast than the shabby, dirty couple who came next, Irma and Wally, both alcoholics. They had been living rough for the last year, spending part of their days in the Cyrenians’ centre, a refuge for the down-and-outs, and at night sleeping in derelict houses. Recently they had been in trouble for petty theft, but Somerville thought they had helped each other enormously since they had lived together.
Although Irma looked in her mid-fifties and Wally in his late forties, she was 42 and he was 38. Drink and the hard life under the open sky had added ten years to their experience in using orixo tobacco.
A few months before, Somerville had managed to arrange that there would be key money if they could find a flat, and enough for furnishings. “We’re still looking,” Irma said. “It’s so hard to find the right place.”
Somerville could have found them a flat. Hut he believed that the initiative must come from them. If he installed them somewhere, the chances were that they wouldn’t really feel at home, and would drift back on to the streets again. They must make their own decision to stop living rough.
But now they had a more immediate problem. Homeless people can draw £2.20 daily from social security, and Irma and Wally were having trouble getting this.
“I’ll try to sort that out,” promised Somerville.
By i.i5prn he had involved himself in the problems of another six clients, old lags and first offenders, leaving time only for a brief pub lunch before his first afternoon call.
Somerville, a social studies graduate, has been in the Probation Service for seven years. His salary is £4,740. His hours are erratic, often extending into the late evening. Despite the job’s disadvantages, there is no other work he would want to do.
“Sometimes I am the humane arm of the law,” he says. “Sometimes I feel like a dustbin, collecting up the derelicts no one else wants. Although all our time should be spent helping to get criminals back into society, more often we act as specialized social workers. But the challenge of trying to put offenders back on the rails—and the tremendous satisfaction when one succeeds —keep me going.”
By 2pm he was driving into one of the crisp new housing estates built in Cardiff’s once notorious Tiger Bay district. He stopped outside the home of two young brothers who had failed to keep their appointments with him after being put on probation for theft.
A friendly, motherly woman opened the door and led the way into a room where a small child sat eating egg and chips in front of the television. “I’ll fetch Kevin,” the woman said.
As Tom chased Jerry around the noisy television screen, a dark, morose-looking lad shuffled awkwardly into the room.
“Hello, Kevin. You haven’t been in to see me for weeks.”
“Well, I’ve been out looking for a job,” the boy answered sullenly.
“Too busy job-hunting even to telephone?” Somerville let it pass, deciding to listen to the boy’s story. Kevin said his brother Andrew had got himself a job in a dairy, and it looked as if he, too, would be able to get work there.
To Somerville this sounded like a realistic opportunity. “Look Kevin, if you get settled into that job, and keep out of trouble, I’ll consider discharging the order.”
Reprieve. Kevin lit up a dazzling smile. “You mean I don’t have to see you no more?” Clearly, being on probation had weighed heavily.
“That’s right,” Somerville said. “And tell Andrew that if he behaves himself,do the same for him.”
Afterwards he said: “I could have wielded the big stick but I decided to offer a carrot instead. The boys come from a good home, and if they both get work there’s hope.” What sort of hope? “I’d say there’s only a fifty-fifty chance they’ll re-offend.” In his world that is hope.
At his next call, a big, solid, twinkling-eyed man greeted him as an old friend of the family and showed him into a dingy, stifling room lit only by a flickering television. Somerville knew the man through his 28-year-old son, the oldest of four subnormal children, one of them severely mentally handicapped.
The oldest son had been on probation for many years for repeated offences, sometimes, as now, for stealing in a hopeless simpleminded way. He had walked into a shop, grabbed a handful of ties and fled. Of course, he was caught at once.
“I don’t know why he does it,” said his father. “I’m afraid they’ll put him away if this goes on.”
“I’m afraid they may,” said Somerville, one of whose main duties is to report on an accused’s background to help the court pass sentence. “But prison won’t make him any better. I’ll go on fighting to keep him out.”