Tuesday 14 December 2010

Rogue Encounter

The last Housing Association that I worked for has several projects of various sizes dotted in towns throughout the county. These projects house a variety of young people aged sixteen to twenty five. There are those who are under eighteen whose parents fraudulently claim to the local authority they are estranged from their offspring but that then visit regularly. One resident in particular went on a cruise around the Mediterranean with the very family she was claiming to be estranged from, which meant a genuine young homeless person was going without secure accommodation.

Then there are the loveable rogues who indulge in drug and alcohol abuse, like many people, and in some cases petty crime, but who at the end of the day are always polite and respectful and take on board being given a talking down to for breaking the rules of the project and listen as you challenge their dissolute lifestyles. Many of these do, did and will learn from their mistakes and excesses. There have always been youngsters like them, I was one myself, and in the end they turn out to be imperfectly decent human beings like most people.

There are also those young people who cause no problems whatsoever and are effectively socialised. Many of these come from tough and dysfunctional backgrounds therefore trumping the theory that crime and anti-social behaviour are determined solely by one’s background. These young people are considerate of those they live next to and they are usually working, studying or training.

There are then the deeply troubled youngsters for whom we are just not trained to provide specialist support. Some of them get help from outside agencies and are progressing, some regress even with help and others just stay in their rooms and isolate. Of this cohort, they can direct their anger and inner turmoil towards staff and peers, or in many cases themselves, but most of them keep themselves to themselves. Of this latter category, whilst they would mostly benefit from specialist therapeutic assistance, they would also gain from living in a structured and disciplined environment where there would be negative consequences for excessive and repeated breaking of house rules.

That brings me to the final cohort, the unlovable rogues, bad minded nasty teenagers and young adults who pleasure at causing upset, pain and grief to others. Many of my colleagues don’t believe that this final cohort exist and make constant excuses for them. I’m not saying some of them are not redeemable, but at this point they lead pernicious lives and inflict themselves on all who come in to contact with them. Even most of the lovable rogues will have nothing to do with this lot or soon tire of them.

A while back I encountered one of these unlovable rogues at one of the sister projects I was sent to fill in for a colleague who was off sick (I wonder why?).
He was a small weedy nineteen year old, but what he lacked in stature he tried to compensate for with an extremely confrontational and aggressive demeanour. As with many of both the loveable and unlovable rogues, he also possessed a penchant for hideous tracksuit bottoms that he tucked inside his socks. I shall call him Cecil, although I could think of a few other things I could call him, but on account of not offending some of my more conservative and elderly readers I shall reserve my fluency in the street vernacular on this occasion.

I had heard from my manager and several other colleagues that Cecil was the nastiest piece of work to have ever crossed the door of the housing association. In just one instance the other week he had barged in to the office without knocking and when reminded he needed to knock before entering he became verbally abusive and threatening and then refused to leave when asked by my colleague Jenny. He invaded her personal space by picking things up off the desk, opening drawers and continuing to swear at her. He eventually left in a tirade of expletives when she threatened to call the police.

He repeatedly disturbed the other residents at night and the night staff by bringing back unauthorised guests, getting drunk and blaring loud repetitive misogynistic gangster grunts masquerading as music. He was threatening and menacing to the staff that have had the misfortune of doing sleep over shifts and who have had to confront his behaviour and its effects on his peers and neighbours. Despite being on his final warning he continued in the same manner and the manager only refused to kick him out because one of our bleeding heart colleagues, Nicola, felt he is misunderstood and pleaded to have time to turn him around. Nicola failed to understand that Cecil’s behaviour is a form of bullying and intimidation in which he hopes to exert power and control over all he encounters.

Anyway, I was sitting in the office and had just come on shift and was looking forward to meeting the notorious Cecil and was determined not to take any of his nonsense should he start. I didn’t have long to wait. There was a knock on the office door so he had obviously learned something.

“Come in.”

He walked in clutching a frying pan in his hand. He must have been on his way to cook his breakfast or perhaps to assault someone. After reading his file nothing would surprise me.

“Any post?” he barked.

“No nothing for you Cecil. I’m Winston by the way. Nice to meet you.”

I’m always polite to people I first meet even if they have a reputation. I’m not going to lower my standards for anyone and even with unlovable rogues its best to lead by example.

“How do you know my name? Where’s that other worker? The bitch Jenny, I fucking hate her.”

“Listen Cecil, I know your name as you are the newest resident, but I wont have you come in here swearing and being abusive about staff, who after all are here to assist and support you to make progress in your life.”

“She’s a bitch, keeps telling me what to do in my own house.”

At this stage he invaded my personal work space and started picking various items up off the desk and moving them around whilst eye balling me; obviously trying to wind me up.

“First off Cecil put those files down they are confidential and get out of the office I don’t want you in here. You are being rude and are now trying to intimidate me.”

He laughed stubbornly with an insouciant and arrogant look on his face and started swinging the frying pan all the while fixing his gaze on me intently.

“You can’t make me leave and if you touch me its assault and I’ll put in a complaint about you. Out of curiosity, what would you do were I to drop this frying pan by accident and it hit you on the head,” he stated whilst smirking as if he exercised a level of control over me.

“Well Cecil, lets see now what I would do. As this is very obviously a thinly veiled threat of violence against me what I would do is ring the police, who seeing as that you are on a conditional discharge, (I had read his file), would come and quite possibly hall your scrawny ass off to prison. So I take it you will now leave the office otherwise I’ll be ringing my friends in the local police office, whom I would like to add, I get on very well with and know on a first name basis. So what’s it to be? Leave with the pan or wait for the police van?”

This little speech seemed to do the trick as he left the office. A little while later I watched him as he went out the front door to contribute further to the overall moral deterioration of the town in which he lived. I expect unlovable rogues like Cecil to be the way they are, but I am still forever flabbergasted by my colleagues that make excuses for him and his ilk’s unacceptable behaviour. Nicola who came to take over on the next shift tried to justify Cecil’s constant outbursts of aggression.

“Look Winston, he has never been taught to knock or to wait or to say please and thank you for things so I don’t hassle him when he doesn’t live up to those standards. Why are you expecting him to behave if he has never been taught to?
He’s just not used to it so he gets frustrated when people have a go at him for it. I think in time he will come around if we are just nicer to him when we remind him of what we expect. I mean he is fine with me and I can chat to him no problem.”

That’s because she has cigarettes with him and doesn’t challenge his behaviour and indulges him in his victim status.

“Listen Nicola, if he hasn’t been taught manners at home then it is our job to do so now. None of us are rude to him and are in fact nothing more than professional and polite when asking him to adhere to very basic standards of civility. He simply chooses to act in a brutish manner and has continued to do so despite repeated warnings.”

“ Well I think he needs some more time.”

Well Nicola got her way, but Cecil lasted only a month despite being listened to and understood by Nicola and management.In that short period of time he vandalised the property, threw bags of rubbish in to the hall and defiantly refused to move them and continued in being confrontational and menacing towards the staff. He also intimidated another resident to the point that he was to afraid to stay on the project for fear of violence.

It is not time or understanding that Cyril needs, but tough love administered in the form of negative consequences for his socially destructive behaviour.


Julie said...

I can only wish reading this that 'tough love and 'negative consequences' meant 'taser'.

The bike shed said...

You have more patience than me; much, much more.

And there's a serious point here because in almost any other 'normal circumstances' he's get a punch in the gob for behaviour like that.

That's not condoning violence just recognising that outside of the social support structure he could no more act like that than, by the sounds of it, he could hold down a decent job. Mollycoddling anti-social little shits isolates them from the real word and is ultimately a disservice - to them and the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was Nicola who was the problem, far more than Cecil?

The Nicolas of this world have a pathology of their own. They can only empathise with anti-social b'stards. They really couldn't give a monkeys about Cecil's victims. Cecil and Nicola need one-another, and they need to maintain the status quo. Lose either one, and the other has no function, and no recourse, but to start complying with normal standards.

Anonymous said...

Is there any way that we can legalize shock collars? They work great on dogs. Once the person moves beyond the level of pain/reward morality (which most do by age 3) then we can take the collar off.

Richard Stewart said...


Very good comment, which, I think, contains more than a grain of truth. The Nicolas of this world need the Cecils of this world more than they need them.

Therein lies the challenge...

David said...

In my project the same types also live. Most are fine, kids who need and respond to help. I would say that the ones who are the most responsive are usually refugees who have had a rough time in the past and appreciate what we do for them. However the 'Cecil's' are around - usually from the indigenous population, young people who should really evicted without further ado.

Of course if it was up to the S&D staff we would have them out straight away. However we have to abide by head office decisions which always mean that even when they have an eviction order they are kept on by the decision of some middle class do-gooder who has had no experience of real life and does not seem to understand that there are some really nasty people around. They, sitting in their nice air-conditioned office being paid twice as much as us, are worried only about voids and the money being lost if for even one day the room is empty. Because they do not have to deal with the Cecils they are quite happy to let things go on. The housing ‘Charity’ business is no more than that – a business - out to make money.

The people at the top of the charity business are exploiters of the situation in a Capitalist society which produces the problems in the first place. These well paid professional careerists make excuses for the crooks who exploit other young people, many of which are living in the same hostel and being bullied by them.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@ David,

If the managers and social workers that fight the corner of every anti social scrote had to live for one night next door to them I reckon they'd have a very different attitude to the one they have when somebody else lower down the socio-economic scale has to endure living next door to a feral thug.

the fly in the web said...

So could we agitate for a law stating that the heads of NGOs and charities have to live in the area, or alongside the accommodation to which their organisation gives support?

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that the terms "middle class" and "do gooder" and "no experience of real life" are thrown together all the time, and then usually in the direction of social workers. The cohort of social workers qualified in the last 5 or so years have to demonstrate a significant period of time having worked as support staff before even being accepted for training, and a high number are not accepted onto the training because they've not had enough "life experience". Granted there are some naive people practising as social workers, but that's the same in every profession (and a lot of us do have similar people next door, have grown up among them and have been similar types ourselves once upon a time. We're not all tofu-eating middle class Clare in the community types who believe in crystals and pot plants. And shock! Some of us have working class backgrounds!)

While I abhor the behaviours of such people like cecil and some people I have worked with over the years who demonstrate similar and worse actions (including threatening myself and colleagues with knives), it is essential that we do not lose compassion in such circumstances. And it is essential that we do not confuse compassion for naivety or ignorance. Or that we fall into the trap of pitting supporters and allies (which is what we are, for our clients and each other) against each other.

The whole point is that we work with damaged and damaging lives. We all need to be able to distinguish one from the other, and recognise and react to them appropriately, which includes a mixture of "tough love" and empathy - but championing one does not preclude the other. Day to day working patterns of support staff, social workers and service managers are very different so quite naturally we never see exactly the same issues and behaviours, but this is why communication (ideally non-hostile communication) between different branches of professionals is so important - every serious case review has demonstrated this conclusively. It's impossible to communicate properly (and thereby protect ourselves and our clients, and give our work meaning and a sense of progress rather than fire-fighting or banging heads against the wall) if we're so full of contempt for our colleagues and dismiss them as ignorant or naive.

Neil said...

Reading Nicola's defence of Cecil reads like a battered wife talking about her wife-beating husband.

The contant attempt to take abusive, bullying, unpleasant behaviour and rather than see it as it is, instead pretend that he's basically a good man, just needs a bit more love and understanding.

Perhaps this is a frightening glimpse of Cecil's future, and illustrates the real long term harm that people like Nicola have, not least on other women.

Anonymous said...

I think his behaviour would improve immeasurably if he had a couple of kickings frankly.

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas 2010!

Anonymous said...

I think that Cecil is just a victim of his circumstances and that you fail to understand him.

halojones-fan said...

Neil: That's EXACTLY what I thought. I can't help but wonder if Nicola has a history of being abused.

Anonymous said...

What have you got against tucking your socks into your trackie? it just goes to show how out of touch you are with youth culture. I wear all the most expensive burbery gear, i have thousand of pounds worth of expensive gold chains, paid for by the state, who is the mug now?. i bet you were a teddy boy or cure head. get with the times.

You're So Lucky said...

Hi Winston
I've only just discovered your blog, which I am loving and am currently reading all your older posts voraciously. The question I have is how many, or are there any, success stories and do those successes make up for some of the awful ones you have had to put up with??? Not sure I would ever have your patience to do this sort of job, not just dealing with the unloveable rogues, but your colleagues!!!

You're So Lucky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
halojones-fan said...

Anon@Jan7: You sound like the guy in The Onion article about "as you can tell by my designer tracksuit and shoes, I am not poor".

ukFred said...

Winston, it seems to me that Nicola needs additional training. Any chance you could recommend her for Family Systems Therapy training?

I can only conclude from your description that she is codependent on the Cecils of this world.

Anonymous said...

@anon 7 jan

"i have thousand of pounds worth of expensive gold chains, paid for by the state, who is the mug now?"

Mugs we may be - but at least we are not thieves.