Column: Heartbreaking story of a wasted life

South Yorkshire PCC Dr Alan Billings
South Yorkshire PCC Dr Alan Billings

The film Beautiful Boy is terrifying. It’s about a father’s love for his son as the boy, the beautiful boy, goes from childhood to young adulthood – and goes off the rails.

The boy, called Nic, is clever. He’s thoughtful. He’s sporty. But when he is 12, his father discovers something any parent would dread. He finds marijuana in his son’s rucksack. And everything starts to change.

Beautiful Boy. Pictured: (L-R) Timothee Chalamet as Nic Sheff and Steve Carell as David Sheff. PA Photo/Amazon Studios/Francois Duhamel.

Beautiful Boy. Pictured: (L-R) Timothee Chalamet as Nic Sheff and Steve Carell as David Sheff. PA Photo/Amazon Studios/Francois Duhamel.

Nic progresses – if that’s the right word – from one type of drug to another. By the time he is 18 he is on heroin.

And, of course, in order to feed the habit, he begins to thieve. He even steals from his younger brother.

He starts to live rough; he prostitutes himself and almost dies from a drug overdose. At one point one of his arms becomes infected from the needles and he almost has to have it taken off.

The beautiful boy is beautiful no longer – except to his father who never gives up on him.

(Those who know Luke’s gospel will hear echoes of the prodigal son in chapter 15.)

This is a story I come across time and again. It will be all too familiar to youth workers and probation officers. And its heart-breaking every time.

The wasted life. The distraught family. The feelings of hopelessness.

And parents punishing themselves with questions: Where did we go wrong? Should we have seen the signs, said something to someone?

As a society we are utterly confused about drugs. We can see the way they destroy lives, yet there are still those arguing for legalisation or easier access.

In the USA the big tobacco companies are gearing up to make millions in that growing number of states where marijuana has been legalised. State governments also stand to profit from taxing it.

But what anyone involved in the criminal justice system will notice is that those offenders who have mental health problems almost invariably have drug issues as well. There is a growing health crisis that we don’t yet fully understand.

The Beautiful Boy is not fiction. It was based on a true story.

And Nic’s family was not poor or out of work. His father was a journalist.

In other words, this could happen in any of our families.

Before we go down the path of those American states, we should take a deep breath and think much more carefully about what we must do to keep our children safe.