I’ve spent a lot of time in young offender institutions and prisons facilitating a programme that helps offenders improve their writing and focuses on their long-term futures. Typical things I’ve been told include, “I carry a knife because everyone else carries a knife,” or “That’s how it is on the streets.”
These attitudes are easy to condemn – until you remember how difficult it is for anyone to opt out of the social environment in which they live.
We need to think carefully about how we relate to young people from these backgrounds… One young man I met, who began by saying he “didn’t write”, ended up winning awards for his poetry. He may have been unusual, but I’ve seen many others discover skills and talents they didn’t know they had.
But why did they have to go to prison to find these gifts?
It’s perfectly legitimate to demand that individuals from estates take responsibility for what they do. But there are others in our society who should also accept some responsibility. And they’re far more powerful than any “gangsta”.