The Art of Running from the Police


Absolutely everyone who thinks life in Western poverty is peachy must read this. Boys get booked for running, then for not showing in court, then for not paying fees, then for running, then for not showing and round and round…

Is an astonishing read whatever your angle.

Originally posted on Longreads Blog:

Alice Goffman | On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City | University of Chicago Press | May 2014 | 45 minutes (12,478 words)

Below is a chapter excerpted from On the Run, by sociologist Alice Goffman, as recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky. Goffman spent six years living in a neighborhood in Philadelphia. In her groundbreaking book, she explains how the young black men in her neighborhood are ensnared in a Kafkaesque legal system which makes running from the police their only option, and how these men have made running into an art.

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Never young, never old

How old is old enough that not registering the passage of time is okay?
Not in terms that minutes seem like hours or that deadlines come to soon; we have these frustrations in school as young kids. I posit the question to see whether my condition of having been 13 going on 30 has never actually been cured by my true aging.

When people tell you, you talk like an old woman/old man there is an element of wisdom. It’s the knowledge that as you get into your late teens you’ll come to realise that all your pubescent epiphanies that you scolded your allegedly brainless elders with were bullshit- you’ll either have been wrong entirely or so ill educated on the subject that you may as well have been wrong. One day you may even have the pleasure of meeting your 13-year-old self and you will say exactly the same thing to them.

Occasionally you might meet some young thing who is wise beyond their years, but they’re likely to be few and far between.

I don’t pre port myself to be wise although I have always spoken like an old woman. I would scold others who leave taps running; ignore playmates I would self righteously declare attention seekers; fain modesty in light of others praise; cried silently at the death of a classmate and say the reason I didn’t sob was because I had known grief already.

Recently it came to my attention that those I make the strongest friendships with now in work are 5 to 10 years older than me. I have looked back on conversations with them about other workmates who haven’t the experience of other working environments because of their age. And then I realised- those we were talking about were around my age. I might defend it and say I learned hardwork early having been raised in a care home, washing cars at 13 and working in a shoe shop as soon as I was legally employable. Is it that I am ahead, my age group behind or that I feel older?

Is it even okay for me to feel older? Having been rightfully called out as a teen am I not now just perpetuating that same behaviour? Will I have another realisation that I am bullshitting people… and this time it’s not just myself and my family, it’s new friends: people who consider me an equal.

What does society think? My old woman opinion on that question is that it is legitimate to lose track of your age when you are over 40. Some years will pass without your noticing. A 20-something who has to work out they’re age from their date of birth, however, must be slow in some way.

My birthdays have been uneventful since I was 18. Perhaps because I am a December baby meaning it requires more effort to seperate the celebrations and people aren’t always able. It took time (a good ten minutes) for me to remember which birthdays had passed by trying to recollect what I did on those days. Turns out I have been at work on each creating the daily blur of get up, wash, eat, walk to work, walk at work, walk from work, eat, wash, sleep. Using my date of birth was actually quicker (I timed it).

With feeling and false certainty I said that someone a year younger only had a lack lustre working style because they were young and would learn. For my sake, of having defended the lazy bugger I do now hope they learn. And faster than they have been doing.

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An Open Letter to Britain

WP_20140917_001 1

When I was last at rock bottom- hungry, depressed and aimless- I had what seemed to be an endless amount of time to watch the media and news of each passing headline. Each story passed without me raising my small voice in any way. I rarely shared or posted stories in social media, more than likely because I was withdrawn from life. Armed now with information from that period (not that long ago) that reveals patterns and tides of armed conflict, corporate corruption and overreaching surveillance, I have come to raise my voice a little in a rather peculiar way.
The main story I have watched unfold… Well actually it hasn’t unfolded. For those who it affects, such as myself, it’s been a roller-coaster ride. To what am I referring? The Scottish referendum.
I first mentioned this several posts ago, addressing those outwith the U.K. as a by-the-way-this-is-happening-in-case-you-hadn’t-noticed. My comments described why the Scots were looking for political change (the coalition) and that even though that was the case, we might not want to let the politics affect friendships in England.
Voting day is today. A Thursday no less (it’s a traditionally English phenomenon to hold elections on Thursdays).
Unluckily for me I am still trumpeting a similar message even at this late hour. But along this journey there were moments, fleeting days, within which I was a definite ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voter. On nearly every occasion a discussion or piece of information had swayed me from the fence and planted me into one or tothers field, only to later be uprooted by counter-arguement, more detail or the dreams of possibility.
The most recent derision in my household has been the £17 billion loss in investors money. Looking into it, you find out that the headlines that suggested the reason for these companies jumping ship being the increase in ‘yes’ polling was nothing but wording. The withdrawals were actually caused by the rises and ebbs of the value of money to bonds- the country was recovering and was on a high so the only place for it to go was down. With this knowledge these companies were pulling out so as not to make any loses. Again! The Bloom imperative; money is good faith. In the case of The Royal Bank of Scotland the belief of officials that the upheaval of people fleeing in either direction will cause loss for their business may have been a major factor. The thing I hate about it is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. These investors pull out and then in turn smaller businesses panic and pull out their money too. The big companies know better than us and can see things we can’t see- they must be right in saying it will cause problems! Moronic. Unfortunately still likely to worsen if the vote is ‘yes’, however.
What makes the Independent in me is the idea that the governement we have now does not represent us. Extending the detention of suspected terrorists, privatizing health care (in the sneakiest way possible), under-representing the benefits of the Alternative vote, putting English students even further in debt than they already were, utilizing this referendum to distract the English people from the political struggles they should be grappling with, pulling Britain away from the E.U. piece by piece… It all just makes me viciously angry.
I live in England now and I work in hospitality, so am constantly asked ‘what do you think?’, ‘can you vote?’, ‘what would you vote?’. Every time I want to scream! Not just because it’s constant, therefore close to overwhelming with the hugeness of it all, but mostly because the real question is ‘what do they think!?’. Most would answer something about the Scots as people. That, is to miss the point of what I would ask. What do you think of your government, England? Why is it a question of us leaving you when we should be united to change the whole bloody country!? That’s what’s going on here. The Scottish people are motivated to envision a whole new government. No governing body is ever perfect, but the ‘yes’ voters have the audacity to dream a country that they could live in where it was closer to representing them. They could do it with you, but they will do it without you.
An ocean is made of a thousand drops (~ 1.6036 x 10^25 drops actually) and this post is just one of them. To those that do get to the end of it, in particular my Scottish friends and family, going into independence is to reach for a world of uncertainty. But that shouldn’t make you afraid of it. In fact that’s the part that’s great about it- if it happens, a slew of possibilities and innovations await. Yet, for the nationalists amoung you please spare a moment to think about those who are scared, those who are sure of and therefore will cause the country’s demise. Think about the English, Welsh and Northern Irish. It’s not fair if what you do affects them and they can’t do anything about it. They won’t get mad at Westminster- they’ll get mad at you. Rather than fight their anger with anger remember to be compassionate and altruistic.
Either way, spare a thought for Ireland- the two sides left after their independence killed each other in the street. Don’t let Scotland come to that.

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Barely Awake


There was a time a while ago where words failed me- the poverty I attempted to write about had consumed my vitality. I attempted to describe it then, but what Sampsel has done with this poem conveys it so much more accurately. Simple yet chilling, wordsmith-ed precision.

Originally posted on kevin sampsel:

Wake up feeling groggy—
Hypnotized, nearly catatonic.
Bleary, beaded eyes
Seeing blurry.
Barely awake.
Rise sensing icy trance—
Boredom—blood pumping slowly.
Sluggish, apathetic soul
Stirring calmly:
Oddly so.
Barely living.

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The time you take

Let those of wealth never be reason
For argument of plenty
Between those impoverished-

The battle against it
Is lost,
Before it has even begun.

The pursuit of happiness
Reaps rewards en route
Ever more worthy of,
The time taken to attain.

The asinine attrition
By the elite
To bear weight on the bourgeois,
And indispose the povre-

Although immoral,
Is not
Worthy of Dwelling thought
For those brought,
Low already.

The pursuit of happiness
Reaps rewards en route
Ever more worthy of,
The time you take to try.

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The easiest job

*lifts chair, sighs*
“Oh, it’s a tough life!”
Sarcasm notes detected, “Well… it would be if you had to do it full time,”
“You’ll be alright then. Part time?”
“No, I’m full time.”

Do you know, I have finally figured out why retail, hospitality and laborer staff are paid so little money. It’s not because the work is easier by any means- what difficulties you have in office work are swapped out for physical exertion. It’s that people think your job is easy.

I should have known it would come back to that Bloom imperative; money is good faith. It’s the emotion you pour into it when you earn it, give it away or hoard it. There’s work that needs doing, so the managerial staff in bars and shops stay and do it thereby pushing hours worked well over the lawful 50 max a week. Even with the profits margins built for building up-keep, other staffs wages and development of the venue there is still not enough to pay these hard working members their due. They all do it for different reasons, but it’s in cities and towns all across the country. The love of the job, the ambition to progress, the duty to the company or the support of the team, whatever it is that keeps them going just for them to do it all again the following week. It’s good enough that they believe in what their doing and so continue, whether it is only a belief or not.

It’s the customers that haven’t the faintest clue that really make me laugh. There’s a bartender looking at you, who has just gone past her 60th hour that week, who has a combined caffeine and nicotine craving, who is still smiling despite the fact she should have lost patience for you 5 minutes ago, and your response is to patronizingly repeat your entire order for a family of four exactly the same way you said it the first time because she asked if it was to be a large or small glass of pinot grigio for your wife. Had it been me I would have cut him off by rudely repeating the order louder than him, but no… She allowed him to finish and asked politely again with an added explanation as to why the volume is an important thing to mention. Would your wife like to get drunk quicker or slower? Do you know what, I think she’ll want it to be quicker- the sooner to her not registering your obnoxious BS.

My apologies that this post is so negative. I should warn you, it continues on the same vein. I’m in a bad mood.

Stag nights. I can’t say much for the hen parties; I’ve never been cajoled by the ladies. If what I describe applies to the treatment of male bartenders hosting for hen do’s then at least we can say that there isn’t a gender disparity. The Gents love to tease their engaged mate something rotten, and the theme tends to follow the notion of reminding them that they are going to be with the same woman for the rest of their married life (however long that ends up being) and that there are a wealth of beautiful women they will never be allowed to go anywhere near, but may well want to. A lot of the time, as we know, this is why strippers are hired as if the enforced lap dance is going to make them long instead for loveless sex that never satisfies them. If one has not been arranged it tends to devolve instead into a pretty bartender being singled out and cajoled for the rest of the evening.

Do you know what, the Grooms-to-be tend to be alright guys, hence why they have managed to build a successful enough relationship that they will soon be declaring to their God, family and the law. They know what their mates are trying to do and have varying degrees of appreciation of how irritating it is for the bartender. Where they can they will get you to play along or conceal so as to keep the rabble manageable.
The degrading objectification is hard to deal with, however. What no one seems to get is that this is not the first party of people you have served that day, and isn’t even the first party to try and distract you like that. It will be the most objectifying thing that’s happened to you that week, but rest assured someone else is getting married next week and will also visit with a group of womanizers. Your wedding, your stag do does indeed only happen once (or at least that’s the intention) and congratulations; have a great time. But the bartender is neither your party organizer or a stripper, so leave them the fuck alone.

Things like a shot of coke for their jager, a fake name and number do no harm. But tips for bartenders in that situation: blowing kisses instead of a peck on the cheek is no better, just don’t play along for that; don’t lean over and touch them; don’t let them lie on the bar; and if you just can’t someone else can serve them, that’s perfectly alright. A lot of the time if you start to play along with no reservations it will only escalate and won’t be long before they are asking you to do things that are totally inappropriate.
People say that it’s just good fun- and that’s cool. If you’re comfortable playing along, go for it. You’ll be well loved, get plenty of tips and trip adviser kudos. Just don’t forget why they started singling you out in the first place. It’s not because they knew you’d be cool with it or that you’re fun and entertaining. They had no idea if you’d be okay and didn’t care to find out. It’s because you’re pretty, and that’s all.

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Lifetime Dirtbags

What happens to teenage Dirtbags? And why were they teenage Dirtbags to begin with?
I met my best friend in math class. My skills had been underestimated and my ability stood forth enough that I was moved into the top class. It was strange to think that I might be rubbing shoulders with those destined to be doctors and professors. It had never occurred to me that as a researcher math would actually be a very important aspect of my career, therefore it was by luck that I was proficient without applying myself. I was lead along the corridor, apprehensive of the social duress that might be awaiting my arrival two doors down. Mrs Hendrick welcomed me in and offered that I might choose my own seat, which proved that I was now in respectable company- trusting an eleven-year-old to sit where they will work best without distraction displays a lot of faith in the student. And there she was.
Bright red hair, big brown eyes, spindly fingers weighed down to table height with large rings of skulls and the grim-reaper. At this age we wore our style as an identity badge and this girl was screaming without saying a word. She is quiet, my best friend- she’s gentle and excitable at her best. But she is also bi-polar. She has an inborn chemical imbalance to her system that results in giggling highs and strife filled lows. My attention was drawn to the idea that we wear ourselves and our personalities in our taste and style. I was ordinary looking, pliable. I always had been. If you spent enough time with me you might have thought from the notion of taste and style that I was the bi-polar one. Or perhaps that I was never sure what I liked or who I was. A colour a week keeps my vitality at its peek- I wore clothes based on what colour I liked that morning. Sometimes I wore grey eyeshadow, sometimes pink lipstick. There might be a blue butterfly around my neck, or there might be a guitar pick on a black chain. Teenage me was a Dirtbag in disguise. The music was my badge. That did result in being referred to as a ‘mus-o’ and some cliquey/hipster behaviour (because no one had heard of my bands and I liked them before they were cool). Although my Mama often accused our music of being ‘slit-your-wrist’ worthy there were lyrics within a lot of it that talked of being full of life and feeling truly alive. We loved the songs that felt like you were screaming your emotions from the rooftops, and admittedly the only thing that fit how she felt whenever she was down was music that discussed depression and suicide. Our taste was not dictated by the friends we’d made or our rebellion from our parents. It was all about the songs that already seemed to be speaking about and for us.
One of the best lectures I have ever attended was one on the Psychology of music taught by a man named Adrian C. North. I was majoring in applied marine biology at the time so attending a different life science lecture was a welcome break from the intense ecology, microbiology and chemistry courses. He spoke about a few relevant studies he and his PhD students had done- but the jist of it was what left an impression. He compared work by Raymond MacDonald, David Hargreaves and Dorothy Miell with his own to try and ascertain the best angle of approach to study the importance of music in our lives. It’s a bit deep for a personal blog [Developing identities in music education, David J. Hargreaves, et al. Volume 5, Issue 3, 2003. Music and Adolescent Identity, Adrian C. North & David J. Hargreaves, volume 1, Issue 1, 2006- pg 75- 92.] but in essence one of them believes that music develops us and the other that we look for music as we develop- both agree that as adolescents we then use this music to show others who we are. In his lecture he hypothesized that we choose music for the aspects that we identify with and that once we have done so, it creates a shield or hiding place that we might use while we figure out the parts of our character not yet defined.
My best friend dressed the part of course. Most of the time it was to avoid too much interaction with kids who were not of the same taste. It cut out a lot of the leg work and requirement to make connections and it worked very well. Although, a lot of her time was spent hiding at home when she couldn’t find the courage and energy to come to school. As expected, she was chastised by our classmates and other close friends. They would call her out and tell her she wouldn’t do as well in exams, but she always did. Eventually they changed tact and said it wasn’t fair that she got to stay home. As the spoken poet Shane Koyczan wrote so well, “as if depression is something that can be remedied by any of the contents found in a first aid kit”. We were very much a clique in the sense that we only tended to blend with those who professed to like similar music whether they dressed in black or not.
I have not yet had the opportunity to visit another high school to see how they as a chain have changed. Have the types of cliques that you will find be different? Have they merely absorbed current culture? If they have, then I can imagine that the schools play host to NEDs, Hipsters and Anti-Hipsters as current archetypes of what were NEDs, Preps and Dirtbags. As a concept, how old are cliques? Preferences have probably always separated the alligators from the crocodiles but it’s more than likely that before the 60’s you just kept your interests quiet if you were too different from your peers. Is being NEDish, preppy or gothic a phase? My mother told me that my trench-coat wearing friends would stop wearing them when they tried to find work.
We are not so much older that Mama has been entirely proved wrong. All of us are looking for work or have it though. Therein lies the story. What happens to teenage dirtbags? All the ones I knew still are Dirtbags. It’s because liking music, whether it’s hardcore or not, has very little to do with ‘what is cool’ or ‘what is popular’. Many of our parents would think this crazy, but it’s true. Did our long black coats, funky hair and tattoos stop us from following our dreams? Well… my best friend is a gaming programmer. Some of the others have gone into psychiatry, physiotherapy, photography, physics (ph-ph, ph-ph-ph). It’s just me that’s hanging onto my ambition by the tip of my fingers. So on the hole, us lifetime Dirtbags do alright.

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