They say fair enough. Young people understand more than people give them credit for. This is just where school has failed. Young people want boundaries. School has been emasculated so it can’t give those boundaries which need to be large and obvious. I am notorious for sticking to my guns. I tell them the deal. This is the deal. I am the boss. This is not a democracy. I am in charge for good reasons because this is my job. I am a professional. I have been trained. I know what I am doing. You are here to have fun but if I say enough, that’s it. Your duty as an adult and as a wider society is to say to people “some things are wrong. You mightn’t like it but it’s a fact. Even if it isn’t wrong for you, it is wrong for us as a group”.
We debate everything. I’ll make my decisions at the time and that’s the law. But I am quite open to being challenged. Often times they’ve challenged me and they’ve been right. Where I get the compliance from is because when I’m wrong I’ll admit it. We had this thing about swearing, like one of them really annoyed me and I swore. “Hold on a minute, how comes you’re allowed to swear and we’re not?” And they are right. I said “you are completely right. What shall we do about it?” Then they make you pay. I buy them Kentucky or something to atone for my wickedness. I try to get over to them what’s good for you is good for me. That’s how we go. We don’t give them anything . We make them work for it. Any trip I bring them on – luckily we are established so I can give the carrot first and use the stick later – that’s one of our tactics.
I give them stuff but I let them know they owe me – these are the words I use. “You owe me”. “You sat here and ate McDonald’s with me. You owe me.” “You’ve been go-karting with me. You owe me”. Then latterly they’ll say, “how am I paying you back?” I say by attending school, by coming to our information classes about sexual health, about drug use, about personal development and personal safety, by coming to that course, then you’ll be paying me back and we’ll be even. They are quite happy to be involved because it gives them some respect. The big thing about young people is not being responsible for their actions. Everything is someone else’s fault. I’ve had kids I’ve dealt with who said they had to steal a laptop. It was on a back seat of a car. No, you did not have to steal it.
From there all things spring. We are not scared to tell them when they are wrong. I am constantly telling mine, when they get arrested, don’t give me that nonsense that it is police’s fault. No its not. You are a criminal, you have been performing criminal acts. Don’t come and tell me that they made you use. We now have people who’ve gone through our system, recovered from use, stabilised their life and then have wanted to help. That gives us two things. It gives us community cohesion because a lot of people say this is our place for people who live here. And it gives our clients somewhere to go, something to move onto – helping other people.
Hollywood furnishes the facts for our young people much more than reality does. It is one of our aims to give out information not with leaflets but by word of mouth. Leaflets don’t answer questions. We can and we bust all the myths around sexual health around drugs, around prison. Young men come out of prison and tell other young men how great it was. We counter that. Former local luminaries in the criminal world, the 20 to 25 year olds that our 13 or 14 year olds want to be, help us mythbust. They are quite happy to do peer education for us. We’ve helped them deal with their habit and get back into employment. It is their way of giving back. One of them once said to me, “it’s very therapeutic. I spoke to those boys.” In fact he didn’t speak to them, he told them off. “When I went away and thought about what I said I just felt even more right. I wish someone had said that to me when I was 13 or 15, before I started.” He has had quite a journey like many of our young people. He’s had the single parent family, the no school, the many violent convictions. Trapped in a criminal lifestyle, he couldn’t get a job. He was one of the people that locally was just feared.
Working with the Police
Because we reach out into the community we joined the PCCG (the Police Community Consultative Group) to make sure we could give young people’s issues to the police and so that we could give the police’s issues to young people. The police around here, the likes of Inspector Dave Evans, Inspector Tim Hardy, Dominic Clout, he’s the actual top cop for the whole borough, and Mike Wise are very progressive as police. They haven’t been the “lock em up and throw away the keys” sort. They had things that they did not understand about young people. We had talks with them about what constitutes a drug dealer. That their definition of one as being if you give drugs to someone you are dealer isn’t how it is seen on the street. We had long conversations about who it is they should be concentrating on.
They had conversations with me about what the law is, about stop and search and how and when they give an ASBO. The police gain from our work. They know that we help people recover, we help people to stop offending. And the police know when not to ask; they make a point of not asking me any questions if it might put me in a difficult position or stop me from helping my clients. That is an advantage of being a local initiative. Our local beat officers are superb. We have worked in conjunction with the police to look at particular local issues that were making everyone feel unsafe.
Our local police are concerned about the growing use of knives so we are currently working on a joint project with the police community safety team to counter it. We are rehearsing a play with some typical boys from the Youth Offending Team’s caseload (who we also work in conjunction with). We have with the help of a professional acting teacher been building their confidence to put on this play to be shown in schools around the borough to raise awareness about the perils of knife-carrying. It’s all part of a wider campaign the police are running in the borough. We are concentrating on the young people end. The police understand that the kids will be infinitely more cool than they are in getting this message across. They’re helping us sponsor it, they are giving us all the technical information. We debated what message we wanted to get across and came up with something that we were very happy with. It’s borough wide. There’s a poster campaign designed by the kids – there are these bins for people to surrender their knives. For the young people, who with their criminal records are amongst the most difficult to help, it has been a turning point in the development of their self respect and ability to co-operate and do something positive.
A different vision
The more liberal we’ve been, the more our communities have suffered. This liberalism is destroying our young people. I hate to think how with their levels of violence they will be as parents. These are the rules for a better society we have to think about now to stop this happening:
1. We need clear expectations of parents, what they must be responsible for, and what the state can do to help empower them but what the state must not do if parents are to have authority.
2. We need a vision for our communities, a vision of what the people in them can do for themselves, of how they can be funded and supported, and of what the state can and cannot do to help.
3. We need a commitment on protecting young people from commercial exploitation, which challenges celebrity culture, the “coolness” of drugs and money, ends the promotion of pornography and alcohol to the young, and ends the music industry’s promotion of violence.
4. We need a vision of a society in which people of all classes recognise that their actions have consequences, a vision of a society which allows families take responsibility for themselves. We, in our no man’s land, haven’t moved on. The rest of society has moved on greatly. But we haven’t joined in. We need someone to dig their heel in, to tell the chattering classes they are wrong and to say to people your lifestyles are wrong. If you don’t like it, tough.