The prisoner as role model
In some of the gangs, some of the slightly older ones have already been in prison. They are phoned by the ones in prison. They hear, “ We’re watching scum yeah. Yeah I’m the man,” and “I am the big daddy in here”. The kids think he must be. He’s in there and nobody is stopping him saying these things. Nobody’s stopping them playing on their PlayStation. To the kids on the street, prison has definitely become a badge of honour. It’s almost getting to the point that you have to go to prison. There is no stigma attached. Nothing can defeat the feeling of cool – definitely not – and that’s what prison has.
All their talk is about f…king people up, f…king people up. There is no notion of conflict resolution other than battering people. If you ask them, “so why do you do it? How come X is always in trouble?” The answer is always, “Because he had to batter someone”. For every scenario given, the punishment is basically a different level of beating. If you say “I’ll pick you out and I’ll put my finger in your eye”, they respond with, “but I’ll put my blade in your back.” They exchange vicious ways of dealing with people with no irony, no joking, nothing. It is an accepted norm. They have to take people on just because of what is said that might be disrespectful to them. They have to batter them. They have to be in charge. To be in charge they have to be physically violent.
Violence is deeply engrained in their culture of ‘respect’. A lot of them need psychiatric help because of their bad family situation. They lack the family situation that is fundamental to their human growth. Any kind of family, two mums, two dads, whatever, provided it is some form of family. Not having that love is one reason the kids argue about respect so much. If you talk to the boys at school about ‘bad boys’ their view is you have to be one or people don’t leave you alone. With white boys, it’s about being a nutter. You’ve got to be a nutter. You, don’t want anyone f…..g with you, you’ve got to f..k them up, you’ve got to show people you’re a nutter. Its just a different lexicon. The black boy will say things like bad boy, gun man, man don’t take no shit. They talk about blowing people’s heads off and about stabbing people.
The kids here also feel they have to have money. These kids are 13 to 18. The great majority of them who are “going out there” – that means going out to rob, to make money – are just 14 or 15. They use terms like “running up in your house”.They talk about needing a hundred to four hundred pounds a week. And a lot of it is to do with respect – if you have that kind of money, you have respect, and you can buy all the cool stuff, and you can show them you’ve got it. If you stand around with these boys, it’s not long before someone pulls out a wedge of money – they won’t say anything, it is just to look cool. It’s like wearing a Rolex. And a lot of time they need the money to finance their drug habits.
Young people here watch a lot of television, particularly MTV. It shows them cars and cribs (houses) and girls. They want it all. They don’t learn about real economics, what’s involved in working for money. That’s why you see them performing some really ugly crimes now because that is the only way they can finance this lifestyle. Drug dealing here is all about pop, pop, pop. Burglary is all about pop, pop, pop. It means they do 20 minutes of something highly dangerous, then bang, they’ve got all the money. Then they have the whole next week, next month of doing nothing, waiting for their funds to run out and being forced to do something else. It’s dangerous because as they get older they have to take bigger and bigger risks to make more and more money. They have to use more violence. The chances of coming across a knife on the estate are high enough to need to worry about it. Most kids don’t have them. But the kids who do make use of them, they produce their knives and they terrorise the rest. Soon the other kids will be joining in – you can’t be left behind. Kids here are quick on the uptake and they are not scared of change.
Lots of kids smoke here – weed and skunk. You may be getting to 25%. It’s a really serious problem. Use is starting younger than it did. And it is doing much more damage to society than crack or heroin because of the sheer number doing it. It affects their health. It affects their mental health. It undermines their schooling and their life prospects. And it affects everyone else. The reality is that smoking or puffing is just not thought of as a big deal. With the kids I deal with I can see it in their behaviour. I am well enough in with them; they make absolutely no attempt to hide it from me – none whatsoever. At our local park some of the young schoolgirls come around and smoke – some of the young schoolboys too. Now they are closing the park early because people are sitting there and rolling up.
They smoke on the way to the bus to go to school. It affects their ability to concentrate and their ability to be in class. They want to leave school to be able to smoke. It has a really bad effect on their motivation. It’s a physical fact that as a teenager you need more sleep. They don’t want to get up anyway, so if they’ve been puffing it makes it that much harder for them.
This is one thing that middle class adult smokers who support liberalising drugs don’t understand. As adults, it may not be affecting their brain chemistry doing it once a week. And they have jobs to go to. They may control it. But these young kids don’t. They smoke so much drugs because they see famous people on drugs. Prime example in the paper is Kate Moss. She’s been condemned but then she’s back in the newspapers being praised for a few weeks in a celebrity treatment clinic. Kids here interpret it to suit them. Weed affects their brain chemistry while their brain is still growing and forming. These kids need all the motivation that they can get. The drugs rob them of it. So they move into crime when they become more addicted and need to smoke more. So they get excluded or sent to a pupil referral unit or are truanting more or less permanently.
The bad 20% create 80% of the problems on the estates. They sell drugs to make money and they rob to finance a habit. The impact is huge. The kids who don’t smoke – which is still most of them – they have to behave in a manner to help them deal with the kids who do. They adjust their attitudes to deal with the aggression of the kids who do smoke, who are involved in crime. If you can’t stand up to them, you are going to have to run away from them – you are scared. The wearing of hoodies and stuff – part of it is to intimidate people but the other half, is to hide. If your face can’t be seen they don’t know who you are. So the less likely they will be to mess with you. We have a local school called Cardinal Vaughan, the kids there are seen as posh and well to do which is not true. But it is a very high achieving school. To the kids from our end of the world, these kids are cannon-fodder. They rob them at will. These kids rob, steal and terrorise another set of children to look hard, and to fund their drug habit. If you get robbed enough when you are 13, you never get passed it as an adult, you’ll forever be nervous.
Cannabis use here is equal across girls and boys. Girls are more likely to smoke to begin with – they have a smoker’s attitude. The problem is if they come across a group of boys who smoke weed they need to appear cool. Then drinking and smoking and hanging around with the undesirables leads them to adopting a different sexual code. They let themselves be shared by the boys. I have been told that if a girl fancies your friend, you’ll make her sleep with you first to get to your friend. Young girls are starting to accept this. Easy access to pornography lowers their sexual acceptance too and children are quick to accept a lower threshold.
Sex is no longer special. Although these girls are not walking the street as prostitutes they will hang around with certain people. They will give sexual favours because it means they get drugs and stuff like that. Then there is a set of girls who get passed around a crowd of boys. The next step up from this is when you get girls starting to have a baby just to get real love. Once they have been housed with their baby and they have had longer to be alone, they can get labelled as “MILF”: Mothers I’d Like to F..k.
Many of the teenagers are the children of the first generation of single mothers to be housed here. Many of the first single mums were housed here on these estates. The assumption became that it was alright for mothers to have babies on their own. So it is doubly like that for their daughters. But what you see now is the mother and daughter fighting for attention from the men. Young girls mistake sex for affection. And the boys set the tone. They want sex. The boys’ attitudes are ruthless: “Tell them that you love them and you’ll get it.” But all the girls – each and every one – has told me that they wished that they had waited before they lost their virginity.
They hadn’t because it is the boys who get to push what’s cool. For the girls there’s a status of having a boy and having sex. You become popular because you put out. This gives you access to the popular boys. So they just feel that it’s something that they have to do. People say to the girls “you’re a virgin” and “you’re frigid” if they won’t have sex. These are two words they don’t want to be associated with. The intimacy from sex is overpowering for them and once you have taken a step and got into it there is no going back.
What happens next is when a girl’s being disrespected. Her selfesteem goes down, she starts looking for love. One of the big things about having a baby is that it gives the unconditional love these girls are looking for. On the estates here, the word “girlfriend” suggests respect. But many of these girls are called “baby mothers”. That’s a whole different thing. The term “baby mother” tends to be someone that you are not with; or you are with her, and with other women too. I always say to young girls: “don’t ever be someone’s baby mother”. It means stuff. It means the level of respect they can get has a ceiling. How they are treated has got a ceiling. I watch a lot of the single mothers round here. I see that they are struggling with the loneliness. The depression. The mental health problems. I know several cases – I am not a mental health expert – where I can see issues bubbling up and down.