Published: 00:01, 31 October 2014
Joanne Jones - one of Canterbury's most prolific offenders - has taken her tally of crimes to 235, but was recently spared jail by city magistrates.
Reporter Alex Claridge visited Jones to try to understand how the 38-year-old one-woman crimewave has reached this point.
I’ve sat opposite Joanne Jones the criminal many times in courtroom number one at Canterbury Magistrates. Offence after offence is detailed – largely petty thefts to fund a heroin habit – often resulting in short stints in prison.
She has spent more of her adult life locked away from society than being part of it.
But at the weekend, I found myself sitting opposite Joanne at her mother’s house in a nondescript 1960s block of flats on the Poets Estate.
Society’s conventions dictate I’m supposed to detest her.
She does, after all, have 235 convictions. She will have caused undue trouble for shop workers and caused massive amounts of work for the police and courts.
She will also have inflicted extraordinary suffering on those close to her.
But I liked her.
She was friendly, polite and matter of fact.
I’ve met many people I’ve disliked: politicians, pompous academics who regard themselves as intellectually superior, celebrities, religious types.
Sitting with her, all I could see was a 38-year-old tragedy played out in the form of a single person.
It is a tale of abuse in care, of prostitution, of drugs, of prison, of near-fatal overdoses, of children born addicted to heroin, of self-harm… and of everything else life can dump on a human being.
Joanne Louise Jones was born in Canterbury on June 9, 1976 – a summer baby, but the sun appears to have never shone in her life.
Her mother, Susan Ketley, split up from Joanne’s father while pregnant with her.
She took up with another man known to have a violent past, and social services were concerned about baby Joanne.
If Susan stayed with her partner at her house in Querns Road, Joanne would not be allowed to stay with her.
And so it played out that Joanne was sent to live with a family in the district.
She says she was sexually abused from the age of 10.
She said: “That was the main thing which messed me up.”
It wasn’t long before she was dabbling in drugs.
This was the late 1980s, a time when sniffing gas from cans was prevalent among Britain’s disaffected youth. Speed, cannabis and LSD quickly followed.
At 14, Joanne met her mother for the first time since she was taken from her. It was also the time she met her father for the one and only time.
“He didn’t really want to know – and that was that,” she said.
“Mostly, I’d smoke it or snort it in prison. You don’t get needles. If you did, they would quickly be passed around and then there would be a risk of infection" - Joanna Jones
“But meeting Mum was the best thing in my life. I felt worried at first, but she has always been there for me.”
Joanne was a pupil at Greenhill School, now Herne Bay High, but admits she rarely attended – and only properly learnt to read and write in prison.
It was while behind bars that Joanne first sampled the product responsible for almost all of her later offending.
Shanghai Sally, yam-yam, junk, skag, H, brown – it has many names. Most of us just call it heroin.
Joanne struggles with exact detail as she recounts her life. She knows she first tried heroin while at Holloway, a women’s prison in north London, but doesn’t remember the exact circumstances, although she believes she was 18 at the time.
She is not the only one to have first tried the incredibly addictive opiate in the British prison system.
There is a suspicion among some that prisons turn a blind eye to its use because it sedates inmates and makes them less prone to outbursts of aggression.
She said: “Mostly, I’d smoke it or snort it in prison. You don’t get needles. If you did, they would quickly be passed around and then there would be a risk of infection.
“It gets smuggled in through ladies’ crotches. I would know everyone on the wing and I would know who to get heroin off. They might offer you some or you might have to pay for it.
“You can either pay for it by getting them stuff of equal value from the canteen or by getting someone on the outside to put the money, usually £10, into a bank account.”
In her early 20s Joanne embarked on one of the blackest episodes in an already dark life.
Horrendously addicted to heroin, she took up with a fellow addict and moved to Birmingham where he promptly put her on the game, pimping her out to clients for £100 a session.
It was a quick way to make money. Moreover, it was necessary money when she and her boyfriend each had £100-a-day addictions.
“When I take heroin, I feel comfortable. It blocks all the bad stuff in your life out. You feel like you’re in a dream with nice thoughts washing over you” - Joanna Jones
Joanne’s arms bear testimony to this. They are covered with puncture wounds from repeated injections.
Most of her teeth have fallen out, another effect of addiction. She also has inch-long knife wounds from self-harm.
As a prostitute her clients ranged from criminals to businessmen in suits after a day at the office. It didn’t matter who they were. It only mattered that they had money.
When she became pregnant with her first child at the age of 22, her boyfriend was incensed. Her use to him had dwindled.
The baby was born addicted to heroin. Her other children do not live in the city and she does not know where they are. They, too, were born addicts.
“When I take heroin, I feel comfortable,” she explains. “It blocks all the bad stuff in your life out. You feel like you’re in a dream with nice thoughts washing over you.”
The biggest downside is withdrawal.
“You feel sick. You get stomach cramps, pains, you sweat, you get very jittery.
“The only thing you think of is getting more. You need it just to feel normal. You need it just to do anything. Heroin is the only way to stop the illness.”
And that’s where theft and crime comes into the picture.
Joanne has 173 convictions for shop theft and will have committed many, many more never identified by the police.
“I have stolen anything I’ve felt like. I’ve nicked from pound shops, places where there is no chance of selling anything on to make money. I enjoy shoplifting” - Joanna Jones
She admits that on occasion she has committed thefts just for the thrill of it.
“I must be a kleptomaniac as well. I just do it for the rush.
“I’ll nick anything. If I see it and like it, I’ll nick it. There used to be a lot of people about in Canterbury who wanted you to nick to order.
“There don’t seem to be so many of those any more.
“I have stolen anything I’ve felt like. I’ve nicked from pound shops, places where there is no chance of selling anything on to make money. I enjoy shoplifting.”
In 2012, Joanne stole a chocolate bar worth less than a pound from WH Smith in St George’s Street.
It was an entirely pointless theft.
Shop staff detained her and took her to a room to await the police, whereupon she decided to eat the chocolate. She is banned from virtually every shop in Canterbury.
So it is obvious that prison holds no fears for Joanne. Well, partly. But that’s not the full picture.
“I actually feel safer in prison,” she says. “It’s what I’m used to.
“I am annoyed when I get nicked for something and there have obviously been times when I’ve screamed and shouted at police officers.
“Usually, it’s because I’m not feeling well. But I feel better when I get to prison.”
For her mother Susan, however, life is a constant worry.
“When she comes home from prison I worry when she suddenly goes off and I don’t see her any more,” she said.
“She has overdosed in the past and every time the phone goes or there’s a knock at the door, I’m fearful that it will be someone telling me Jo has died.”
Joanne has lost five of her friends to heroin overdoses in recent years.
But is that enough to persuade her to turn her back on this lifestyle forever?
“I’m clean now and I’m really going to try to this time,” she replies.
Susan snorts a disbelieving laugh: “I’ve heard this all before. It won’t last.”
Her mother may be proved right.
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