Hidden Truth: Young Men Navigating Lives In and Out of Juvenile Prison / Edition 1 available in Hardcover
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- University of California Press
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Young Men Navigating Lives In and Out of Juvenile Prison
By Adam D. Reich
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
Outsider Masculinity and the Game of Outlaw
Luis was quiet at the beginning of our interview. He used words carefully and largely kept to himself in the barracks-like unit in which groups of twenty young men live together at the Training School. Terrence was one of his few friends in the facility, and it was at Terrence's suggestion that Luis agreed to sit down with me at all. Luis was one of the more understated and deliberate young men with whom I had come into contact at the facility, and I was surprised by the way he answered me when I asked him to describe how he was before he arrived at the Training School: "Crazy. Yeah, I done a lot of stupid things that I'm not proud of today, but things that I was put in positions where I had to do them. Well, I felt I had to do them. There was probably better ways to get out of it, but I thought of it like there was only one way, and that's the way. And it was always the negative way. So I think, 'Crazy.'"
Luis described himself as "crazy," but then backtracked to say he "had to do" the crazy things he did, or at least felt he had to do them. To win the "money, power, and respect" of outsider masculinity, these young men must perform a controlled craziness, an irrationality that follows a fairly standardized set of rules and rewards.
The Game of Outlaw is what I call the set of rules, understandings, and rewards that provide a framework for the achievement of outsider masculinity. It is an agreement not to contact the police; an agreement to grant respect to those among them who are able to get money, regardless of how it has been acquired; an understanding that particular groups use particular symbols to identify themselves as members; an agreement that "turf" will be respected and that violence will result when it is not; an agreement to separate, by and large, the brutality of crime from the family lives to which young people often return at the end of the day.
This game is constituted and perpetuated by young men themselves, although it is framed by and must be understood in relation to those sources of power not available to them. Flashy displays of money compensate for young men's marginal economic position. The identification, acquisition, and protection of turf, the physical landscape on which the Game of Outlaw takes place, are processes that serve to reclaim and reconfigure land owned by absentee landlords and the state. Violence is an ever-present threat among participants, serving as a sanction for those who violate the rules of the game, a demonstration of power by one individual or group over another, and, collectively, as the symbolic reappropriation of political power among participants. In response to processes that deny them the social power necessary to enact insider masculinity, young men respond with an outsider masculinity that secures their ongoing marginalization.
SITUATING THE GAME OF OUTLAW
What are the conditions in which young men find themselves as they enter the Game of Outlaw, and from where have these conditions arisen? It might be useful to understand the Game of Outlaw in relationship to the movements among black Americans in the 1960s and 1970s—a moment of transition and crisis for masculinity in general, but especially for men of the inner city. Connell (1987) observes that new organizations of masculinity often take place when old forms have come into "crisis." Messner (1992), in his rich discussion of sports as an arena in which men produce and contest masculinity, examines the historical context within which competitive athletics emerged. Organized sports, he suggests, came to fruition in the United States during the transition from small farms and petty industry to large-scale urban manufacturing around the turn of the twentieth century. Men used sports as a homosocial arena in which to combat threats to traditional male roles as property owner and breadwinner, both of which felt uncertain in the emerging industrial economy. Men's physical strength and athletic prowess could freshly distinguish men from women. In a similar way, the Game of Outlaw can be understood at least in part as a response to a "crisis tendency" in masculinity for African American men over the last several decades.
This proposition, of course, implies that participation in crime is in some ways a "black" phenomenon—a collective response to the unfulfilled promises of an earlier era. Participation in most sorts of crime is coded black for the young men in this study. This is far from saying that black people commit all or most crime. Indeed, at least half of those incarcerated at the Training School at any given time are white. But young men involved in crime, regardless of their race, seem to understand themselves as acting "black"—a phenomenon I explore in more detail in chapter 2.
In what ways does the Game of Outlaw derive from earlier political movements? During the freedom movement, black Americans formed cross-class solidarities to challenge Jim Crow segregation. The black church was perhaps the most significant organizational infrastructure for black activism during this period (Payne 1995) and further united people across classes who, living within the same neighborhoods, fought together in the cause of freedom. Alongside the church, however, two other types of organizations wielded significant power. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sought to enforce the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and, more generally, advocated for black rights through the courts. Finally, groups like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) oriented themselves toward direct action (McAdam 1982).
It was the combination of these different forces in the movement that helped to construct the call of the freedom movement much more broadly than the legal realm alone. Indeed, the dominant metaphor of this movement was the story of Exodus, a story deeply rooted in the traditions of the black church. In this movement, then, religion was not an opiate of the masses, not the objectification and displacement of a human essence so scorned by Marx. Religious belief was itself translated into political praxis, was made part of the movement's clarion call for justice.
The freedom movement, however, became a narrower civil rights movement. Doug McAdam (1982) documents how, by the end of the 1960s, the influence of the black church and direct-action organizations had declined, while the influence of the NAACP had increased. The victories ultimately won by the movement were largely legislative, challenging the legal bases for racism in employment, housing, and voting. These legal victories opened up opportunities for a black middle class to enter the academy, to take on new professional careers, and to live among white Americans of their own class.
Yet these same victories fragmented black identity in the United States, making tenuous the interclass solidarity possible during Jim Crow. Indeed, the civil rights won by blacks during this era were consistent with an advanced stage of capitalism in which individual rights are protected at the same time notions of a collective freedom are lost. It is significant that the Game of Outlaw coalesces around the boundary of law/ illegality institutionalized as a result of the 1960s black insurgency. Where race solidarity united black Americans during that period, the young men who play the Game of Outlaw find a new sort of fractured solidarity through their participation in crime.
Other movements that emerged in the 1970s, meanwhile, such as the women's movement and gay liberation movement, harnessed the energy, strategies, and legislative victories of black insurgency while hitching them to white and wealthier constituencies with more political clout (Armstrong 2002). Middle-class blacks, white women, and white homosexuals, then, were the primary beneficiaries of the black insurgency and the movements it spawned. Lower-class African Americans, who had provided so much of the impetus for the movement, were largely left by the wayside.
Scholars and journalists have documented how violent intergang crime decreased in Los Angeles during the period in which black political organizations were most powerful in the 1960s (Alonso 2004; Keiser 1969), a time during which aggression was focused more pointedly at political elites. Indeed, many of the most powerful and brutal street gangs today were established during the late 1960s, and understood themselves, at least initially, to be consistent with political revolution. After the civil rights movement, poor black men were left with circumstances largely unchanged.
What had changed was that the social and economic upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s had made the distinctions between poor young men and women less salient. Economically, young men were denied the dignity of a secure job, as much of manufacturing moved overseas. The dramatically declining rates of unionization over the course of the 1970s are indicative of this decline in worker power vis-à-vis their employers. Those young men who had previously enjoyed a modicum of market power found themselvesjobless,whiletheirfemalecounterpartsincreasinglyentered the job market in the service sector (Hochschild 2003).
Power relationships within the family were changing as well. Within families, women were contributing an increasing percentage of earnings, meaning that they had more power in relationship to the men with whom they lived. Relatedly, there was less tolerance for the intimate partner violence that represents the most brutal form of patriarchal control within the family. Marriage rates, especially among the poor, were declining significantly as well. With no economic power, and decreasing power within the family, poor young men were losing everything that symbolized masculinity in the broader social world.
In the meantime, what "integration" seemed to have wrought for the majority of poor black young men in the United States was little more than the cooptation of "hip-hop culture" by industries looking for new trends to introduce to wealthy, white high-school students. As these young men carved out a space in the social world for themselves, their music and styles became the next new thing desired by all young men.
In the pages that follow, I argue that crime constitutes the assertion of an outsider masculinity. This masculinity retains an element of critique evocative of the years of black insurgency, but it is a pure critique, a critique removed from political practice, which serves to legitimize the Game of Outlaw and so reproduce it.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A SEPARATE SPHERE
For young men engaged in crime, this involvement takes place in a sphere separate from home life. It seems to represent a reappropriation of a male "public sphere" that is distinct from private, feminine domesticity. Women are in many ways explicitly barred from participation in this realm. Allen, a resident at the Training School, explained how crime is supposed to take place outside the boundaries of the home: "If you got beef with someone else, you never involve family. The Asian kid, his brother shot someone in the head. They put the address of his house, but you don't go after his mama. You don't involve family and shit. That's always been a rule. They're good rules, but I don't know who came up with them originally."
This distinction between the street and the home seems all the more significant to these young men because of the lack of male role models within the home. In other words, while some young men learn how to be men by imitating their fathers, many young men involved in crime seem to have little memory of their fathers, or have memories only of what they are committed not to repeat. Home life is then even more exaggeratedly the realm of the feminine. One writer for Hidden TREWTH connected his involvement in the Game of Outlaw with the absence of his father quite directly:
And God! I still wish my Pops was with me.
To come and get me
Out the game.
Now I'm the only son left to carry
Out his name.
—Monopoly, Hidden TREWTH, nos. 7/8
(July 2002–November 2002)
A second author addressed the absence of a father more simply:
Daddy why did you leave me?
Is it because you wanted to be free?
Why don't you want to watch your seed grow?
And to teach me how things go!
—Charles, Hidden TREWTH, no. 12
(July 2003–January 2004)
A third writer recounted one of his earliest childhood memories of his father's abuse:
I ran out to find my father pushing my mother's back against the counter while holding her wrists. He looked up at me and yelled, "Go to your fucking room." ... He walked toward me and tried shoving me in my doorway when the cops knocked on the door and opened it. He started toward the back and that's when the police were quicker. —Hidden TREWTH, no. 12 (July 2003–January 2004)
Given this young man's later experience being incarcerated, his portrayal of the police—as saviors from the violence his father had been inflicting on his mother—seems especially significant. In this instance, the threat from his father was so great as to turn law enforcement into an ally.
The peer group to which many of these young men pledge, on the other hand, tends to consist of both male members of an extended family as well as male friends. Within these groups, the language of family mingles with the language of friendship. This peer group tends to replace the family at the same time it distinguishes itself from domestic life. One's "boys" can be either one's cousins or one's friends. One's "fam" can be either one's extended family or one's gang. When asked who he turns to, Paul explained, "My own people, people that I trust. My boys, my family. Friends you've known twelve years, nobody else." Only those men that he had known since the age of five, he suggested, were worthy of his trust. These few seemed equivalent to family, an extended brotherhood.
Women, with a few exceptions, are strikingly absent as players in the Game of Outlaw, a game that establishes the street as the territory of young men apart from the world of women. When they do enter the game, "girls" tend to be commodities by which young men can earn respect among other young men:
Is there such a thing as love
never know 'cuz I never had none
Girls I just bagged 'em and left them alone
give them the wrong number to the wrong phone
—Richard, Hidden TREWTH, no. 9
(November 2002–January 2003)
Women are not—by and large—those from whom young men try to win respect. This perspective is quite clearly opposed to the deep respect and love many young men have for their own mothers:
I'm in love wit one woman, one heart man and none other than the most beautiful woman alive—my mother —Terrence, Hidden TREWTH, no. 13 (February–April 2004)
It is as if these young men's early dependence on their mothers, absent their fathers, leads to an even deeper need to distinguish themselves from those maternal emotional bonds.
The tacit assumption of young women's passivity in the face of men's advances seeps into the accounts of staff at the Training School as well. One juvenile-program worker discussed how the social networks within which young men pursue women ensure that the next generation will be similarly disadvantaged:
You'll get situations where kids [in the Training School] get permission and write other kids' sisters. Now kids out here, there's something wrong. Now this kid is connecting, networking with another kid and introducing him to his sister.... So now they get out and they hook up with the girl. And they may have sex with the girl. And they may have a baby with the girl. Now we have two different kids with two makeups, which families are both lacking to some degree. Now they bring out another kid, they bring a kid into the world where the kid is gonna be lacking times two because both parents are lacking.
It is well established among young men at the Training School that they come out knowing more about crime than they knew going in. This staff member, however, extended the same sentiment to the arena of dating, as if the young women were one more resource that could be traded on the inside.
Even Terrence's espoused love for his mother became a part of his understanding of his own participation in crime, a commitment to fight to the death rather than see his mother get hurt. That this sort of protectiveness could lead to violence was driven home to me on a morning in the fall of 2001. Anthony almost never discussed his sister, Natasha. On this particular morning, however, Anthony left our staff meeting early, and I found him afterward about to catch the bus with his cousin, Edmond. Natasha's boyfriend had, apparently, been threatening her. Before I knew exactly what I was doing, I was driving Anthony and Edmond across town to Anthony's sister's boyfriend's house. Anthony and Edmond proceeded to "take care" of the boyfriend while I, naively, played basketball at the park across the street.
Excerpted from Hidden Truth by Adam D. Reich. Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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