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.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Imparting Poetic Delusions

A few weeks ago at our local Youth Offending Office we hired an ex-offender to read poetry to our assorted crew of delinquents on the Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme (ISSP) before we took them out in the afternoon to play basketball. The reasoning behind this initiative was well intentioned. Here was an ex-convict who whilst in prison had learned to read and write and discovered a talent for poetry and creative writing. Now empowered, he wanted to give something back. And so here he was on a miserable Monday morning hoping to inspire our young offenders to swap the stanley knife for the pen, that said, many of them would still stab you with the pen given half the chance.

Indeed our poet lived up to the awards he had won. His poetry was energetic, lively and raw just like his life story. He was a charming scouser from the wrong side of the tracks and you couldn't but be inspired by the manner in which he had turned his life around and the teenagers warmed to him even though initially they thought he was a bit unusual.

However, whilst he was good at making words rhyme and injecting his scouserly wit in to conversation, at imparting life skills he was hopeless. He told the young lads present that spelling and grammar were not important at all and not to worry about it. All I could do was sit there and nod my head in exasperation. Surely for every hand written CV and application form they send out for a job they will need to adhere to standard English? However, this was not going to be an issue I learned in that every young criminal in the room possessed the combined poetic skills of Yeats, Byron and Wordsworth, according to this jovial Liverpudlian, and what's more they could become very wealthy in the process. The fact that at least half of them were either completely or semi-literate didn't seem to be an issue.

"So how much do you make a day?" asked one young prolific burglar.

"I get a few hundred quid for just coming here talking to you today to show you there is another way of life. I drive a nice car and wear the best of clothes and have most of the day to myself and all because I learned to read and write. You can earn good money giving talks to schools and in detention centres and to the Youth Offending Service. If you grasp at the chance to improve your reading skills you all can have a life like mine if you want it. I believe in you lads you just need to believe in yourselves. Words can set you free. You can have a life like mine if you work hard for it. I know inside everyone of you is a story you can tell with words. If you work for it you can be a writer or poet like me."

I must admit it was great rhetoric and I really liked the guy, but he was talking gobbledegook. For a start there is a limited demand for scouser poets that spell badly and believe that grammar is irrelevant. Im pretty sure he has cornered the market there.

I wanted to stand up and scream:

"Poetry and creative writing are lovely hobbies but you should learn to read and write because you will all need at least the basic level to even get a job washing dishes in a pub nowadays. You will not all be award winning poets like our nice friend here. He is one of the lucky ones. The country is full of talented creative types be they poets, actors and writers and most of them haven't a pot to piss in never mind awards hanging off the walls of their damp bedsits. So learn to read and write for its own sake and to improve your chances of even getting a job stacking shelves in Tesco where you will be competing with graduates with English degrees. If you take pleasure in writing poems about how you used to enjoy robbing from pensioners but nowadays prefer to spend your time lying in meadows writing sonnets then thats great but please dont believe a word this man tells you about it affording you the material comfort he has and if you don't believe me go home tonight and put the word poet in to the search engine on at least five or six jobsearch sites."

Instead of saying this I just sat there. My sentiments would not have been welcomed as I've said before injections of common sense are seldom welcomed in the youth dependency sector.