Saturday, 27 August 2011

Letter to an unknown rioter

I'm going to call you Jamie because I know the Jamie I used to know would have been right in the middle of the crowd in Hackney. Because you were always in the middle of everything, weren't you? Had to try everything, push every boundary. No authority figures button was unpressed either and that included me - you were a handful and no mistake. The only person you'd ever listen to was your advocate but you wore her down so much her relationship with her boyfriend started to suffer. And then you discovered she was self conscious about her weight, went on the attack verbally one day because you had to see how far you could push her and you found out. She quit advocacy altogether.

People like you, I can understand. I don't condone your actions. I don't agree with the way you live your life, I think you're wasting an obviously bright mind - if you applied half the energy you devote to stealing to fund your drug habit to running an advocacy service, a social enterprise to try and stop more kids ending up like you, then you'd be a very very very successful man.

Instead, you walk into a pharmacy every morning at the same time and collect your methadone script. It doesn't stop the clucking when you run out of the real stuff but it at least makes it vaguely tolerable. And that's all you expect of life, really, that it's tolerable. Occasionally your mum emerges from her drunken stupor to enquire from the prison service, the probation service, the social workers if you're ok, but not often. Not often at all. She still lives in the flat where you were raised. Water runs down the bare plaster on the walls, there's graffiti scrawled on the walls, the carpets are threadbare and the door is hanging on for dear life - just like it's owner.

I'd say it was inevitable, how you now live your life, but I know it's not. You chose. We all choose. And as a result of your small part in the recent chaos, suddenly everyone is interested in why you chose. When you chose. How you chose. Who made you choose?

Your mother was invisible. Unless she wasn't and then it was painful. Your teachers gave up and social services lost you because you simply gave everybody the slip and your mother never noticed if you were there or not when she was really drunk. You got free rides wherever you wanted on the DLR because the conductors were too scared to challenge your big group you travel everywhere with - there's safety in numbers. You had social workers but they left, went off sick, moved. The only structure, routine, cohesion and predictability in your life has come from the inevitable flow of police-court-prison that your life revolves around.

To me, it is inevitable that some people from your background will end up the way you did. You don't have friends, you have a pack. You don't have the luxury of security or ever letting your guard down - your mother can't hurt you any more but other people can and with far more lethal things than fists. Your life is wrapped in fear, crack smoke, needles, dead friends.

I never once heard you laugh.
I never once saw you enjoy something simply for what it was.
I saw you let your guard down occasionally with your advocate, but not very often.
I very rarely saw you smile.
I never saw you do something for someone simply because you could or should unless there was something in it for you.

I understand. But I don't have the answer. Because the answer lies with your mother and how do we break the circle and the cycle? How do we intervene? Were the social workers any help? Did you get any advice from youth workers or school? Did you ever feel safe anywhere? Did you ever go somewhere where you felt safe enough to smile and laugh and let your guard down?

We need to talk to you Jamie.

But you know, deep down I know you're dead from an overdose, from an infected needle, from one fight too many, from a bad batch of heroin, from someone who you gave too much lip to who was carrying more than a knife.

And that too, feels inevitable.

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