There was big Tam, wee Tam, then me. Big Tam had a flick, loved to flick it. It was the 80s. Wee tam had Überthick, dark brown hair, always a crew cut. Sometimes, when he needed it redone, the hair on his neck would grow into a dark and strong matt of hair, sometimes we called him ‘Brillo’. His eyes were deep, close together, and shone brilliantly when he laughed.
Big Tam was sly, would rip you off in a second, ripped me off more than once. Big Tam had other mates, like his cousin, the poacher with the whippet dugs and the dead pheasants hanging upside down in his cupboard. We’d only team up with ‘slick wi the flick’ for mutual benefit, because big Tam was sly, you had to watch him.
Wee Tam was my good mate, always seen me right, had the same sense of justice (cause we knew what injustice was). Which was also ironic considering we stole all the time. We were expert shoplifters, who could have become expert at many other things, but then that wasn’t expected of us. We had our mugshot’s in several of the city-centre shops and played a daily cat and mouse game with the store detectives, who all knew us by name. We stole everything and anything. Electronic equipment, records, clothes, tins of salmon, sun cream in the summer, whatever people would by at half price. Only from shops mind you, and never small family run or independent shops, we had that (warped) sense of morality, the ‘righteous’ thieves. I mean, we had watched Robin Hood after all. We all benefitted and stuck it to the man at the same time, or so we thought. Everything we ‘earned’ was halved down the middle, we shared it all, a good day seen us buy a good half q of sticky black and a fish supper. Then, we’d laugh our heads of and dance to rave music and early techno sounds in our room. We were 15, in care, and just wanted to ‘get away from it all’, because ‘it’ was pretty bleak.
We were all separated as we approached our 16th birthday as the state machinations ground into action so as to jettison all responsibility for our young lives. I was moved into my own flat at 16, that’s how it was in care in the 80s. They would cancel your care order and off you’d go to fend for yourself in what was, for most of us young boys, always a big bad world. Not long after, some older lads broke in my house, beat me up, stole my stuff. Too scared to go back, I became homeless. None of that surprised me, seemed inevitable. Had happened to others I knew. Only later in life did I realize that my path was avoidable, that all those others who left the care system and went to prison, became homeless, dealt with mental health problems and all those other hellish statistics, were capable of much success. It wasn’t me after all, neither was it Tam’s fault. Big or small, sly or not, we all deserved better than we got, just as every child should.
Wee Tam took me in from the freezing streets. He lived in a semi-independent flat stuck on the side of a council-run Children’s home, a stepping-stone to solitude and poverty in some housing scheme. He gave me shelter, company and warmth without hesitation, no questions asked. The staff found me after a few days. They put me out in the street, even locked the windows so I couldn’t climb back in. It was February and freezing. I hunkered down on the stairwell in the multi-story block of flats along the road. No money, a summer coat on my back. It was the Dundee Hilltown in the 80s, if you know it you’ll know what that means. Tam turned up 15 minutes later, what it meant to see that smile and those shining eyes is still having an impact on me 30 years later. He stuck it out all night with me. Freezing. At times, scared. Always together.
I lost contact with Tam a few months later. I grabbed an opportunity. It changed my life for the better, led to a job and other expectations. Tam continued stealing. Got into heroin. It was everywhere. He’d been abused by his foster carers as a wee boy. I met him some years later. He hadn’t changed that much. He was still the wee Tam I knew and loved. He smiled that smile, ‘Arite Davie boy’. I gave him some help. Tried to support him, food parcels, a TV, a job offer, visits when he was jailed. Done what he done for me, would do for me. We lost touch again, our lives again on different trajectories and no Facebook or smartphones to keep in touch. I read of his death in the paper, he was in his early thirties. One line. No detail. No-one to say who he was. I want to remember him publicly, for him, me and all those others who are forgotten, deemed less than. History is littered with examples of lives thrown away by a society that has shown little care, even to those it was charged with caring for.
Tam was a great lad, looked after me when I was at my lowest. I’ll never forget him. He was let down in the most horrible way. Cast aside by those supposed to look after him. For the world at large he was the delinquent, the thief, the junkie, the ‘problem’. For me, he was a kind and caring soul who done what he did to survive in a world that had mistreated him since he was a small infant. Who was brought up in a so-called ‘care’ system that was almost designed to see him fail. The abusive foster carers and the large institutional Children’s homes. Then, to be jettisoned at 16 to fend for himself, with little or no support. No education, no training, the differences between now and the 80s are stark and were often fatal to the lives of young people. The similarities should jolt people into immediate action. We were experts at surviving in such circumstances. If only the adults around us had taken the time to support us to use our talents to become ready to succeed in their world instead of viewing us as part of another world, a world away from theirs, a world where we were treated as others, less than, care kids.
Tam played ping pong like a champ, would dance like a demented pogo stick come to life, slept with a chair jammed against his bedroom door to protect himself, and, knew every escape route in town. He believed in sharing things equally and never let me down when so many others did. Wee Tam Hutchie. Here lies someone who would freeze all night on a stairwell for a friend. Tam Hutchison done that for me. I’ll never forget him. His eulogy is written in my heart forever.
Re-writing wrongs is a blog series for people to submit pieces of work that have re-written a moment or article from the past which includes Care Experienced people. To submit work to be considered for inclusion, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.