Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The most depressing story I have ever read

Thankfully, this tale of someone whose life has been ruined before he even became a teenager stems from Britain. But we had Bailey Junior Kuariki, who took part in the killing of Michael Choy, and Hermanus Theodorus Kriel, who killed Liberty Templeman. And there are plenty of New Zealand kids whose lives are as blighted and twisted by the time they are able to see above the wheels of the cars they steal:

A 12-year-old boy who has committed more than 30 crimes was temporarily remanded in secure accommodation today after youth workers told a court he could not be "contained".

Magistrates in Witham, Essex, ordered the youngster, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, to be remanded in secure local authority accommodation until they had decided on a punishment for his latest crimes. (1)

The 'revelation' of this juvenile menace will, doubtless, prompt hand-wringing and calls for all sorts of measures, such as the return of the birch, Borstal, military service, hanging, whatever satisfies the curious cravings of those who like to see young flesh subjected to violence, and young minds terrorised in the name of 'building character.' given the specifics of the case, a return of Borstals will probably be the favoured option.

Which makes me wonder, why is it that we only favour these big state solutions when it is too late in the game? In this case, some twelve years too late. he's already broken. It would have been better, over all, to try a bit more to stop the breakage in the first place. All the kings horses, and all the kings men, and all that.

Most likely, calling for the return of the Borstal masks a vicious streak in its advocates, who are aware that these institutions served no real purpose other than to institutionalise fear, bullying and buggery. Good, they probably think, as they mouth their hypocritical homilies about a 'short, sharp shock sorting the bastards out.' If we could read their minds, we'd no doubt see that what they were really thinking, "That's what the little swine deserve, I hope he gets it in spades."

I mean, for fuck's sake, we can't run prisons properly, keep them safe and drug free, nor can we effectively encourage reform among adult prisioners. What hope have we got of salvaging whatever potential for good still exists in this kid?

And his current miscreant state will, no doubt, be blamed on "Liberals," "Do gooders," "Politically correct teaching" and the like. Probably, the lack of "real consequences" will be deplored as encouraging criminality in the youth. But someone reminded me, recently, of the infamous Bloody Code, the list of some 200 odd crimes that used to carry the death penalty in Britain, back ing the 'Good old days.' Serious stuff, like"the stealing of goods worth over 5 shillings, the cutting down of a tree, stealing an animal or stealing from a rabbit warren" (2).

I mean, cutting down trees? How anti-social is that? What sort of namby-pamby, tree hugger lunacy is that? And since when were conies valued more highly than a human life.

But, ludicrous as it might seen, under the code, petty theft could land you in fatal trouble:

Michael Hammond and his sister, Ann, whose ages were given as 7 and 11, were reportedly hanged at King's Lynn on Wednesday, 28 September 1708 for theft. The local press did not, however, consider the executions of two children newsworthy. (3)
One of these grisly little footnotes of British barbarity that shows that our 12 year old tearawy is not without antecedents; and that, for all that they might satisfy those with a taste for the mortification of young flesh and the trauma of young minds, harsh penalties do not, infact, deter people who are desperate enough.

It might be countered that out young friend in the dock at Witham was not desperate, not in the way that the luckless Michael and Ann Hammond were desperate. We can deplore their fate, from a safe distance, and understand that what happened to them was monstrous, their crime nothing compared to the crime visited upon them.

But what sort of desperation would drive the boy in court in Witham to behave like this, if not some form of desperation? He is twelve years old. Something must have happened to him to make him behave like this, to make him so alienated and angry that he no longer cares, or fears, what happens.

Back in the late 60s, Mary Bell murdered two young children, in Newcastle, when she was herself only ten years old. She was deplored as evil and vicious. Careful work by the journalist Gitta Sereny revealed that Mary had been prostituted by her mother for years from the age of four, and made attempts to kill her daughter in ways that might seem accidental (4). Is it really so strange that Mary Bell grew up thinking that nothing mattered and that hurting people was simply what you did, if you could?

Well, comes the predictable counter-argument, many people have terrible lives. Not all of them turn in to juvenile criminals or child murderers. Which is a feeble attempt to dodge the obvious truth that we all respond to traumas in slightly different ways, and none of us really have control over the way that our psyches are twisted by events, especially when we're young.

Deny this obvious truth, and what are you left with? The ludicrous 'Demon seed,' the idea that some people are just 'born evil,' and this bent manifests itself from birth without any outside influences deforming the mind and the values system of the child? Or some warped notion of genetic causation, where by criminality and anti-social behaviour is caused by some genetic defect.

Neither holds up to scrutiny, and can't be seriously be entertained - they're essentially the same argument, just styled in different jargon, appropriate to different eras. It's a bitter testament to how bloody little we've progressed that some still cling to the demented ideas of demonic evil.

It's also a bitter testament to the failure of the Labour government in Britain that this happened. New Labour have been in power longer than this child has been alive, and they failed him utterly.

We all failed him, because we voted for right wing, small state parties until the only way the old Labour could get itself elected was by transforming itself into a right wing small state party, and pledge to continue the mistakes and blunders of the Tories. that would have been felt most notieceably in the New Labour pursuit of growth and financial freedom - resulting in the economic devastation of the credit crunch - but probably there's no more poignant symbol of the failure of New Labour than a twelve year old boy with thirty two criminal convictions.

1 - "Crimewave boy, 12, locked up after plea to court," by Brian Farmer. Published by the Press Association, reproduced in the Independent, 23rd of February, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/crimewave-boy-12-locked-up-after-plea-to-court-1908047.html)
2 - "Bloody Code," anonymous Wikipedia article, viewed on the 24th of February, 2010. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Code)
3 - "Capital Punishment," anonymous Wikipedia article, viewed on the 24th of February, 2010. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment#In_specific_countries)
4 - Cries Unheard by Gitta Sereny. Macmillan, London, 1998.

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