Wednesday 28 August 2019

Training for Catburglars

Originally posted May 2011

A few times now I have accompanied some prolific young offenders on the Intensive Supervision and Support Program to one of their daily leisure activities at an indoor rock climbing facility. If leisure is really an antidote to crime then surely instead of calling for more prisons to be built we should be lobbying politicians to construct amusement parks within the slum estates that bedevil almost all of our urban centres.

Anyway, we got to the indoor rock climbing centre in a disused church and within twenty minutes some of the most prolific burglars in the area were being instructed by middle class graduate types on how to scale and absail from vertical slopes.The young lads took to it with gusto; perhaps they thought there was a plasma TV or some jewellery on the other side of the wall. After all, thats the result of most of their previous climbing escapades. However, for me I was somewhat bewildered that here we were teaching burglars how to climb walls. I turned to a senior member of staff and asked her could she see what was wrong with this activity.

"Think about it Jane? Surely you can see what is wrong with what we are doing here apart from the fact they are being rewarded for repeatedly committing serious offences?"

"No Winston I don't, really I don't, tell me so why don't you?"

"Well, we dont teach them how to hot wire cars now do we or pick locks. Although quite a few of them are well versed in the former."

"I still dont get you Winston."

"It's quite simple really if you think about it. Burglars tend to climb up walls and scale heights when breaking in to places. We are helping them become more nimble and efficient. I wouldnt be surprised if there are a spate of cat burglaries in the area soon. In effect, we are giving them the neccessary skills for catburglary."

Jane erupted in laughter.

"You are hilarious Winston. I never would have seen it like that I really wouldn't have."

Of course Jane wouldn't have seen it like that.
In the words of the American Politician and Novelist Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

In my next installment of tales from the Offensive Youth Service we bring our collection of loveable and unloveable rogues to a youth club where we imprison them against their will (as one 17 year old violent mugger put it whilst playing a video game) and use the renowned punishment techniques of snooker and video games for the day and have take away food delivered to them. Afterwards we drive them home and prepare for indoor football and squash the next day.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Farewell and a Few Final Words

Several followers of this blog have emailed me to ask why I haven't posted for a while. The truth is I no longer work in the social care or youth sector. In fact, I have left the UK and returned to Ireland where I am originally from.

Overall, I loved the six years I lived in England and came to see it as my adopted home for the time I was there. However, on account of valuing my mental health I was no longer able to work in the youth social care sector and found it almost impossible to find other work, so I made the decision to return to my native country to be near my family and close friends.

On a final note, I would like to thank all the followers of this blog for their regular contributions over the last few years. Above all though, I want to dedicate this blog and the Orwell Prize that I received in 2010 to two groups of people. Firstly, to all those kids in care and young adults in supported housing that I worked with, who despite coming from tough or neglectful backgrounds and having many personal problems as a result, were still able to rise above their issues and strive to improve themselves and didnt use their backgrounds as an excuse to bully and intimidate their peers, the staff that worked with them, or their communities. Secondly, to all the staff that work in these care homes or housing projects and have to endure verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis I really dont know how you all stick it.

I will be leaving up the blog for the time being and there is plenty more material that is not on the blog on my experiences and observations of working with the underclass in my book Generation F.

Thank you again. Over and out.

Winston Smith

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Excuses For the Riots Debunked

Since the riots have subsided the excuse makers have been busy trying to find justification for the feral mobs that burned working and middle class families out of their homes as well as laying destruction to local businesses and people's workplaces. Wednesday's Guardian gives a few of them a platform in which to try and rationalise mob rule.

Last Thursday's edition of Young Voters Question Time on BBC 4, also revealed a disturbing antipathy to the concept of law and order by members of the audience and a palpable hatred for the police.Rudeness and an inability to converse and share ideas in a diplomatic manner were also on display in that the majority of these young people (between 18-35) wouldn't allow each other to speak or finish a sentence. Indeed, the presenter, Richard Bacon, had a hard time trying to facilitate discussion due to the lack of manners and etiquette needed to conduct a civilised debate. Myths and a multitude of excuses were put foward by members of the audience and have since been repeated by many commentators in the media. I will attempt to dispel a few of them here.

1)The killing of  Mr. Duggan by the police

How can stealing a wide screen TV from Currys or thieving a shiny new tracksuit or burning your neighbour's flat down be interpreted as a justifiable expression of grief and anger over the death of a stranger? The logical extension of this form of reasoning would allow anyone who felt aggrieved by any kind of violence to go out on an orgy of looting and destruction as a means of releasing anger and frustration. It would be like hearing that an elderly woman you never knew had her house broken in to and then responding to the news by torching your local family run corner shop. And as a local community worker observed on the program, where was the public display of anger at the twenty young people murdered in his borough in London by other young people over the past year?

2) Poverty and Inequality

Whilst I abhor the inequality that exists in the UK as a result of decades of neo-liberalism and indeed am a victim of it myself, it doesnt naturally follow on that this gives me a reason to loot shops, commit acts of violence and terrorise my community. The poverty that exists in the UK is of a relative kind. The welfare state in Britain provides the underclass with housing, benefits, education and a health service, all free of charge and the envy of sub-saharran Africa. I am not saying they have an ideal life, but their basic needs and those of their children are met. Whilst working in Supported Housing with today's poor I observed how many of them were so well fed they were obese and that they had money to spend on cheap alcohol and recreational drugs. The majority of them also possessed luxury electronic goods such as laptops, playstations and the newest in mobile phones. They may be poor compared to the folks that live in the mansion on the hill, but they are wealthier than the monarchs of medieval Europe. The grinding abject poverty that existed in Britain during the ninteen thirties (see Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier) and that of the post war rationing period never led to marauding gangs of unsocialised teenagers ransacking their communities. The reason being that in those decades there was no uncivilised underclass and although society was too rigid and authoritarian we have now gone to the other extreme. The working classes of this earlier epoch had a sense of backbone and a collective set of norms to which they adhered and a Labour party that promoted collective values. Cultural relativism and the doctrine of non-judgmentalism that pervade the public sector along with the enchantment with all things materialistic thanks to the triumph of neo-liberalism have eroded the responsibility of  some young people to act in a civilised manner with respect and consideration for others.


Several young rioters being interviewed on Sky News claimed that because they couldnt get work they were taking revenge on the local businesses and high street chain stores that had overlooked their job applications. As recipients of the already generous welfare state and as products of a comprehensive education system that eschews the concept of personal responsibility by labelling badly behaved children with non-existent psycholgical conditions such as ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and CD (Conduct Disorder) these young rioters have been imbued with the notion that their behaviour is not their fault and that it is the responsibility of the state to cater to their every whim. They will have been indulged in this fallacy by every agency of the state they will have come in to contact with be it their schools, social services, supported housing sector, youth offending service, youth workers, Connexions and so on.  Whilst I believe strongly in the welfare state I believe that every citizen has reciprocal rights and duties towards her or his fellow citizens which precludes burning peoples homes and places of work to the ground. The UK's youth unemployment rate runs at around twenty percent and Spain's is at forty percent. The reason the Spanish youth are not rioting is that they have strong communities. Above all though their police force wouldn't spend days debating with politicians whether using water cannon was an infringement the human rights of criminals who were blighting the lives of working class communities.


A middle class girl in the audience on the aforementioned BBC programme claimed that as young people are so bored what with being unemployed and not having enough youth clubs to go to they took to the streets out of frustration with the dullness and ennui of their existence. I like to call this the 'Throwing One's Toys Out of the Pram' theory. In other words, if I am not indulged and provided with entertainment and leisure by others I will terrorise my community and the lives of my neighbours. This excuse is actually insulting to the majority of the sullen, withdrawn and bored teenagers who don't resort to arsonry or throwing molotov cocktails at the police just to kill some time. I spent a large proportion of my teenage years rigid with boredom but I never once thought I would alleviate the monotony of my existence by setting fire to a school or stabbing one of my friends or a passer by as we spent hours stupified with disaffection up alleyways and on street corners. A few years ago, I used to volunteer at a Youth Club which provided the youth in the area with meaningful activities and somewhere to socialise. However, it was taken over by young hoodlums who disobeyed the rules and bullied and victimised their well behaved peers. When I challenged them I had a bottle thrown at me and a bin thrown over my head. As is usual I got no support from the other staff as they were afraid of the thugs and instead they tried to reason with them which didn't work. I almost responded Clint Eastwood style to this attack, but in the interests of keeping my job in the school next door I restrained myself. We had to close the Youth Club for several months as the manager couldnt control the rough element that kept turning up and the police and local people complained about an increase in anti-social behaviour in the area on the nights it was open. It is a glib prouncement to asssume that the building of a Youth Club will eradicate anti-social behaviour and boredom is a pathetic excuse for violence and destruction.

To end on a positive note, there was one young black man in the audience on Young Voter's Question Time who stated that it was the lack of respect for other people and their own communities that were the cause of the riots. He too was unemployed and relatively poor he stated, as were his friends, but at the end of the day he remarked that his mother and other people in his community had instilled in him with respect for others and his fellow human beings. This is the challenge that Britain must now rise to and that is instilling a common value system based on respect for others and the rule of law in our young people. This will involve a complete reversal in a lot of the social policy and a re-imagining of the welfare state where individuals are encouraged to not see themselves as victims and passive recipients but as citizens with both rights and concomitant responsibilities towards members of your community.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Riot Talk in Monotone on Radio 5

I was on BBC Radio 5 Live with Shelagh Fogarty yesterday talking about the riots in my monotone voice with a clued up lady from Manchester. I wish they had given me an hour after my rant to play some seventies soul and jazz to soothe my mind after talking about social breakdown and the urban underclass. Click on the show for the 10th August it's roughly an hour in to the programme. I am in the Mail tomorrow, Friday the 12th, for those of you who are interested.

Link to Radio

Tuesday 9 August 2011

The Riots in London are a Culmination of Decades of Failed Social Policies

The underclass are rising up. No longer content with simply burglaring and mugging the decent law abiding working classes that have the misfortune to dwell amongst them, they have now decided to torch and terrorise the very communities they come from. What we are witnessing in London and in other cities across Britain at the moment is an attack upon the decent and law abiding citizenry of the country. Their places of work have been attacked, looted and even burned down. Opportunisitic burglaries have occured and violent attacks upon the police and innocent individuals are widespread. Fear is endemic and people are anticipating a fourth night of chaos and disorder. The nation of Britain is being brought to its knees by a festering amoral underclass that has been fostered by decades of failed social policies in the spheres of education, criminal justice, social services and by a well intentioned and necessary welfare state that has unwittingly produced an attitude amongst some young people that being a citizen of a country is all about what you can get without ever considering what you are contributing to the community that you come from.

The rightful abandonment of excessively harsh discipline only to swing to the extreme of having no discipline in schools along with the namby-pamby non-judgementalism that pervades social services and the youth offending service are all contributory factors to the chaos on our streets. The Police who purportedly exist to protect the masses of law abiding working communities from criminal elements and who exist to guard the peace are stymied in their efficacy by a political class that eschews robust policing when it is needed. This morning on Sky News, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dismissed the option of using water cannon when she said: "The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon...the way we police in Britain is through consent of communities." I am sure if she consulted the vast majority of people on this island she would discover that very few people would be too concerned about a few thousand drenched tracksuits if it meant a return of law and order and an absence of terror within communities. She then went on to assure us that, "people will start to see the consequences of their actions".

Now, just what will these consequences be you may ask? Well, for those over eighteen whatever custodial sentences they do receive, if any, they will no doubt serve just a fraction of their sentences as is common for most criminals in the UK. However, in what will clearly be a perversion of justice, those rioters under eighteen will be treated as if they too are the victims of the very crimes they have commited, as this is the ethos at the heart of the youth justice system. I know this from having worked alongside and in the Youth Offending Service. Within a few weeks many of these rioters that you are now watching loot, burn and terrorise on a twenty four news channel will be on an Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme, where they will spend the majority of their 'sentence' being escorted to gyms, adventure centres, DJ courses and having their lunches bought and paid for and they will even be given the bus fares to attend their 'punishment'. There will be a minimum of community work as part of their ISSP and in some parts of the country the Youth Offending Service will fail to implement this part of the ISSP. I know this will occur because I have seen it first hand. Another part of their ISSP will involve them sitting in on classroom based sessions where staff will ask them what feelings they were experiencing prior to setting their community alight and how best they could channel those feelings in the future. We may even get them to do some 'poster work', as I have heard it referred to, where they will draw and colour in examples of criminal behaviour just in case they were not aware that torching homes in their communities as well peoples place  of employment  and throwing masonry at innocent passers by as well as the police, fire brigade were indeed criminal acts. When this is the system charged with preventing youth crime is at any wonder we have such high rates of recidivism amongst the more serious of young criminals? Many of the rioters you see on the streets will have been through this sytem. They know there are no real consequences for their actions and thus they behave in the manner we are now viewing.

One thing is clear to me about these riots that set them apart from the race riots of the eighties, or those of the late sixties/early seventies in the aftermath of state suppression of civil rights marches in Northern Ireland and it is that these disturbances are not political in nature, or as a result of one ethnic group feeling rightfully disenfranchised and discriminated by the police. This is a rainbow coalition of the underclass, all shades and colours are present on the streets. If it was political in nature the main targets of the rioters would be the state and whilst the police are being attacked the perpetrators are more concerned with acquiring the contents of high street shops. These riots are purely criminal and materialistic in nature and it is the state and its failed social policies along with the pervading culture of selfishness as a result of neo-liberalism that have bred the savage and feral mentality of the perpetrators. It is no surprise that our police force has proved ineffective in protecting working and middle class communities when wetting criminals and louts is seen as a step too close to draconian policing? Is at any wonder we fear another night of chaos?

Thursday 21 July 2011

He Don't Need No Education

A few months ago a female colleague at the Youth Offending Service, Chrissy, asked me to sit in with her and a young male offender of seventeen. She hoped I could be a positive male role model in getting him to do something constructive with his time rather than burgle his neighbours.

"Hi I'm Winston. You must be Noel. Nice to meet you."

Chrissy then asked him what had he been doing since she last saw him several weeks ago.

"I've been looking for jobs but I'm not having any luck."

Having read his file and knowing he was completely illiterate I deduced that luck wasn't really the issue here. I felt that the cart wasn't so much before the horse as completely without one. Anyway, how do you look for work when you can't read? I think Noel was telling us what he thought we might want to hear.

"Noel, in the interests of helping you in the long run, I am going to be blunt with you. There is no point in you seeking work until you learn to read. There's not a job out there these days that will not require you to be literate. To even lug rubble around a building site requires you to do a health and safety course which you will need to be able to read to pass."

"I'll be fine. I'm not doing any courses or college. I hate classrooms and teachers. I'll get work eventually. My Uncle says he has six weeks cash in hand work with him as a gardening assistant in a few months."

"Noel, that's not a secure job its some black market work. There's no future in that for you. If its an issue of being embarrassed in a group we can arrange one to one literacy lessons for you."

"Am not interested. I'll get a job in the end my way. I don't want to talk about this any longer. Are we nearly finished here I've got to be off. I've got stuff to do."

Chrissy arranged his next appointment and dismissed him.

"I've given up with him. He's been in and out of here for a few years now for various offences and despite arranging courses for him and even one to one tuition he just wont engage. He'll turn up for meetings here to prevent being breached, but he refuses to do anything constructive. I've even had work experience arranged for him and they let him go due to turning up late all the time."

We both head back to our respective offices utterly frustrated. Later on I have a discussion with another Youth Offending Officer who informs me that as part of their orders many Young Offenders are required to engage in education, but that some officers wont breach them for failing to attend a course in that they believe it is against their human rights to coerce them in to education. It's nice to know that educated middle class left wing idealists are defending the rights of disadvantaged young people to remain ignorant and disempowered.

For those of you who are interested I've been interviewed here by the Manchester Evening News

Monday 13 June 2011

It's Just Like Prison

A few weeks ago I accompanied an assortment of teenage rogues to a youth club where we punished them by means of video games, snooker, take away food and supervising them in a music studio where they had access to records that extoled the virtues of misogyny, gangsterism and drug abuse. However, there was no structure to the activities and even in the DJ studio they were left to their own devices with no one guiding them in how to become gangster DJs. In fact, even if the senior youth offending worker who sat their looking in to space and playing on his mobile phone had wanted to instruct them in scratch mixing he couldn't have done so as some other scallywags had stolen the needles from the turntables. So what ensued instead was that the young lads attempted to play instruments without having any knowledge or skill of how to do so. I had to sit there for an hour as several of them banged on drums frantically and incessantly without any rhythm and a few others made several keyboards emit noises akin to that of a cat being strangled. Thankfully, just before my ears started to bleed we broke for lunch.

In the afternoon, I supervised a few of them as they played on a Wi console and a playstation. One of the lads, 17, who was on the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) for his second time, told me he had no remorse for the students and other innocent young people whom he had violently mugged as they were only 'muppets'. I asked him how he would feel were he violently mugged by a stranger to which he replied "If any c**t did that to me I'd stab them." So I asked him, "Well can you see how that would also be a horrific experience for your victims?", to which he replied, " they were soft shits that deserved it." He then went on to complain and swear aggressively as he did so, whilst he played a video game, that being on the ISSP and having to come to this youth club was just like prison, (he had been in custody) in that he was having his freedom taken away from him by being made go somewhere he didnt want to. I responded to him in this manner.

"I suppose you are right it is just like the youth prison you have been to recently in that in there you also have access to entertainment in your room such as TVs and video game consoles. However, in many countries in the world their youth detention centres are a lot tougher and the emphasis is on punishment, discipline and order."

"Whatever. I'm bored now are we nearly finished here today?" he responded insouciantly.

Ten minutes later we drove him back to the Residential Care Home where he lived as he had completed another succesful day on the road to rehabilitation as well as having paid another hefty portion of his dues to society.

If you live in the south I have been interviewed in the Big Issue there. Here is a link to the article or alternatively buy a copy of this worthy and dignified magazine.