Habit Binge

‘The two Norries’ reveal how they managed to pull themselves out of a life of crime

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In the beautiful setting of the old Elizabeth Fort in Cork City I’m announced as a guest on the new live event hosted by The Two Norries, a podcast duo who have built a huge following with their weekly show.

t is just a few smalls steps on to the stage, but to borrow from the astronaut Neil Armstrong, it’s a giant leap for us all as we settle into a meaningful discussion about criminals and what makes them.

James Leonard and Timmy Long could once have graced the ­pages of the Sunday World for all the wrong reasons and I could have written them off as common criminals.

But people grow and evolve. People change. We all do. And this week on the Crime World podcast the pair tell their incredible stories of how childhood traumas led them into a world of crime, drug taking and violence before they found their way back from the brink.

Timmy and James were neighbours in working class north Cork and their mothers were friends but both found themselves taking drugs as troubled schoolboys.

Timmy, who was born in 1981, was brought up by a mother with severe mental health issues who suffered a series of breakdowns when he was just a child, leaving him to look after his two younger brothers.

“There was a lot of violence in my home and I didn’t understand it because I had a child’s mind. It turned me into an introvert as a person.

“Growing up I was the minder of my mother and I took on the role of a father figure at a young age. School was never something I could focus on. It was a difficult childhood and it produced a teenager who was very violent, who used a lot of alcohol and drugs to give him self-confidence,” he says.

There was a really bad recession at the time and he says: “People were actually starving where I came from and there was no work for men or women.

“It was a difficult time and when I look back now as an adult I can see why I grew up to be the person I was.”

Surrounded by violence and addiction and with the only role models being dealers or criminals, Timmy began to escape from the realities of life when he was just 10 and started using solvents.

He describes in the interview on Crime World how he ‘shut off’ from the human race and stopped feeling anything at all. “I had a complete lack of trust or any feelings for others. Understanding now what formed me I realise I didn’t have a chance because of my childhood.”

Timmy moved from solvent abuse to taking ecstasy which gave him the first sense of loving and being loved that he had ever experienced.

He quickly became addicted to the tablets and began to rob to pay for drugs.

As a teenager, he was sent to rehabilitation in France but when he returned to his north Cork neighbourhood with no support structure he turned back to drink and drugs, and embarked on a chaotic decade as a feared criminal.

Meanwhile, James had started using drugs too.

When he was 12 years old his father was locked up for seven years.

He says: “I grieved like it was a death. I was going from primary to secondary school at the time and I found it hard to understand.

“I gave up playing sport and started getting into trouble. Everything seemed negative but when I took drugs I felt love and safety.”

The early honeymoon with drugs was to be short-lived and James soon found himself addicted to barbiturate prescription medication.

He attended doctors all over Cork city convincing them to give him scripts for tablets which he would either take or sell. One day a dealer offered him a swap – tablets for heroin. Very quickly he was hooked and spent more than 10 years in and out of prison for crimes he did to feed his habit.

“I felt worthless, ashamed and even now when I talk about it I get emotional because it brings me back to that pitiful person I became. I was staying on ­couches, in garden sheds and sleeping wherever I could. I’d end up in…

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