Anarchy 101/Approved School: how does it feel?
how does it feel?
Currently, the concerns of “respectable” American sociologists with organisational theory and with the terminological manipulation of “function” and “system”, as well as the development by not-so-respectable sociologists of the interactionist approach to deviance, have been displayed in a quite considerable literature. We can expect similar developments in this country, as the professionalisation of sociology and “the desire to be of use” proceed apace. But it may be salutary to remind ourselves now that it was left to the Daily Mail in 1967 to bring to the public eye the experienced realities of the boys in Court Lees Approved School.
A danger with social science—the science of human life and beings—is that it eliminates the human actor from the picture. Intent on according a “scientific” regularity (and implicitly a predictability) to human behaviour, the science may cease to be interested in, or even to allow meaning and autonomy to, the idiosyncratic behaviour of the actors under study. This danger may be particularly marked when the “scientist” is concerned with the disadvantaged and the inarticulate.
Howard Becker and the Becker “School” have been portraying the social world of the deviants in American society for some years. They have not stopped short of expressing a preference for that world over and above that of conventional society. Recently, indeed, Becker made an attempt to give methodological status to his sentimental predisposition for the Theory and Practice of Cool. In another issue of this journal this attempt has received some attention. Suffice it to say here that the temptation to give occupational and academic legitimacy to liberal inclinations can be dangerous in its consequences. Simply to represent the way in which the deviant sees the world (because he is a deviant) is not to state the truth about the world, and is not to help a social science to state the truth. That is another debate. But what concerns us here is the desire of liberal social scientists to give the impression that they are behaving in a strictly scientific manner by the language they use and the familiarity they demostrate with models and mores. They do this because it is part of the game in the sociology industry. One of the rules of this particular game is that good sociology does not stop short at the reproduction of juicy interviews or stories. It is supposed to interpret the stories: to divide them up into “manifest” and “latent”, “functional” and “dysfunctional”, “innovative” and “ritualist”. The result quite often is that we become more familiar with the categories than we do with the subjects. Only very rarely does the subject have his say. And he can never argue about his category.
Now, in the search for the disadvantaged and the inarticulate, the thesis-hunter will soon alight upon the institutionalised deviants of the British penal system. They fulfil most of the requirements. And the approved school boy is perhaps one of the likeliest candidates for sponsorship, since he suffers earlier and longer than most. In England and Wales, a boy can be sent to Approved School at the age of 10, and thus deprived at a psychologically-crucial time of the relationships he has constructed with family and peer group. The most common, and the most revealing, description by approved school boys of their situation is that they have been “sent away from home”. The period of institutionalisation can vary (officially) from 9 months to 3 years, but in cases of recidivism and in cases where there is nowhere to return to, it is possible for a boy to remain in approved school until leaving senior school at the age of 18 or 19. He is, in other words, quite unambiguously disadvantaged compared to boys of his own age in the population at large, and, in terms most meaningful to him, cruelly disadvantaged compared to boys of his own age and acquaintance who may (in the arbitrary business that is the penal process) have escaped institutionalisation for all their undoubted delinquencies. The liberal sociologist will undoubtedly be sensitive to these unfortunate whims of Fate.
Moreover, the approved school boy does not have a voice. He is not organised to propagandise his point of view in any general sense, or to rectify grievances in any specific sense. He cries out for a Champion, giving articulation to the suffering he experiences but cannot express. The sociologist-Champion, given the immunity of science, may therefore ask to enter approved schools to assume his chosen role. It will of course be understood that the permission to enter will be dependent on his undertaking to produce a value-free evaluation of the suffering experienced. Research of this sort is intended to give correctional ideology a sociological christening. Parenthetically, the approved school boy who gets to read the research report may wonder what happened in the translation.Most of the pressures described (slightly sceptically) above are part of my personal experience. I am not claiming to have avoided the obvious consequences. However, I shall attempt to avoid any methodological or other prescriptions in what follows. I want to portray the world of the approved school boy through his own eyes (or rather, mouth), with a minimum of commentary, or, at least, with a minimum of extrapolation. The concern is to represent the world of the approved school boy, and to leave the reader to ponder on its relationship to the world in general, truth and the universe. Some explanatory remarks and connecting paragraphs will be necessary, but they are less trustworthy than the texts.
Approved Schools in Britain
“About half are deep in the countryside, and their isolation makes it harder to attract good staff, get regular visits from psychiatrists or Home Office inspectorates, or recruit professional people as managers. Instead, in most of them, the managers are local gentry, retired army officers, and people of sufficient means to have the time available. They decide a child’s future, the date of release, the most suitable kind of after-care.”
There are some ambiguous proposals in the air for the reform of approved schools, and the creation of “youth training centres”. But these proposals are in Government White Papers, and so we may be forgiven for not giving them any urgent discussion. At the moment, children can be sent to approved school for “being in need of care and protection”, for “being beyond control” or for offences against the criminal law. Some 90-95% of boys in approved schools are offenders, whilst only about 30% of girls are in this category. The schools themselves, all of them theoretically emphasising a “social” as opposed to an “academic” education, are classified by age-range. Boys between 10 and 13 at the age of admission go to Junior Schools, those between 13 and 15 to Intermediate Schools and those between 15 and 17 to Senior Schools.The approved school is not necessarily the first port of call for the delinquent boy being processed through the penal system. Depending on the temper and mood of the magistrate, a boy can as easily find himself sent to a Detention Centre for a period of 3 or 6 months in order to benefit from a “short, sharp shock”. The approved school boys who have called in at these institutions on the way tend to be a little fitter than their colleagues, and to be slightly more perceptive about the nature of authority in the “correctional institution”.
On the Way In
Before arrival at the “receiving” school, a boy is likely to have experienced at least two other institutions: the Remand Home and the Classifying School. He is likely to have been remanded to the home whilst a social work and/or probation report is prepared on him and his home background. The decision to send to approved school is made by magistrates on the basis of this report, and, presumably, on the basis of the offence itself. Theoretically, the “needs” of the young offender are to take precedence, but sentencing research has been unable to demonstrate any real move away from tariff-based sentencing by magistrates. A certain kind of offence “merits” institutionalisation; another does not.
The social work-probation reports have a traditional internal structure which reflects “individualist” or very crude “environmentalist” theories of crime. About a third of the document is taken up with descriptions of family and school background (this information is of course taken from the adults “concerned”); another third with personality tests and characteristics; and a final third with a brief offence history and recommendation to the court. The suspicion must be that when an over-worked social worker is involved in completing such a report, his main worry will be to fill out these traditional paragraphs and not to deviate from the recognised structure. To do otherwise would be to invite retribution from the bench. Everyone knows that social workers are “conning” magistrates most of the time, in order to prevent more stupidity than is necessary on their part, but there are limits to the extent a magistrate can be conned. In the final analysis, however, the social work report is more influential than anything else in deciding whether a boy should be sent to approved school. That is why approved school boys have usually been sent away “for their own good”.
The above process can take some weeks. The exact period will be dependent on the seriousness of the offence (and whether it is to be tried in magistrates’ or assize courts), the amount of work each court is involved with, and the efficiency and caseload-sizes of local social workers. During this period, the boy will be in Remand Home, where he will be beginning to learn what institutions are about, to construct new peer groups, and to construct explanations of his predicament.
A common stereotype is that approved school boys (and borstal boys alike) are forever bragging about past criminal exploits and successes. In fact, it is very rare even to hear a boy mention his offences, although he will never tire of talking of his past. Most importantly, a great variety of explanations are offered as to why he was sent away, most of them accompanied by well-documented diatribes against the arbitrariness and insensitivity of magistrates.
“I’ll tell you why I was sent away. I was sent away ’cos I was scruffy. And ’cos one of my parents had got cancer. I should have been sent home for that not sent away. To help out and that. So I absconded from the Remand Home three times and from the Classifying School twice. Makes you sick.”
The role of other authority figures in school and on the street-corner is also a subject for frequent comment.
The period in Remand Home is followed by a further spell in Classifying School, a much larger institution staffed with psychiatrists as well as by orthodox approved school staff. The length of time spent in Classifying School will again depend on the work-load of the responsible officials, as well as the availability of places in what are thought to be appropriate receiving schools for individual “cases”. Again, there is a period of considerable uncertainty and anxiety for the boy. Information about the various approved schools in the area circulates amongst the boys, and letters are received from boys already in them describing the masters and the general conditions. During this period of anxiety and exploration, many abscondings occur. One in five boys absconds some time during his sentence, and most head for home.
“I’m in here for fighting, not for being a master criminal or owt. How I got sent away is: see, one day I was at school and the Headmaster came up to us and he says ‘Right, you’ve been swearing at workmen’ and I says ‘I haven’t’ and he says ‘You have’. And there was this gorgeous young secretary in the office and I didn’t want to be shown up, specially when I had me long hair. I turned round and he hit me on the arm with a cane and it went red. Well, I’m very nervous and I just turned and hit him. And when I hit him he didn’t like it. And he said ‘Oh, you get out of my school, you’. So I went. And the next thing I knew I was on probation.”
How It Is
Prince: “When you at least get out on a weekend for a couple of days, you feel free, like you never did before. It’s queer.”
If boys do not brag about offences, abscondings certainly do become (for some) a matter of considerable pride. This is particularly true of the calculated absconding. Most abscondings are not of this variety, but are rather spontaneous expressions of despair. They tend to involve rather half-hearted attempts to “go home”—to deny the reality of having been sent away.
Timpson: “I nicked off ’cos I was being picked on. Knocking around with that Davis gets me into trouble. He picks on me and leaves me to get into the trouble. We was having this scrap and I got picked on by a master and I got sick. So I went.”
In the case of the calculated absconding, the preparations are often quite prolonged and sometimes a decision is made “not to go”.
Question: “Can you tell me the events last week that led up to your decision?”
Jones: “I think it was Tuesday and Jack said ‘Do you fancy doing a bunk?’ and I said ‘Nah’. I said ‘When are you going?’. He said ‘After Mike gets reviewed’ (i.e. for his release licence). So I said ‘Alright’. I wanted to go before the review. I asked him to go earlier but he said ‘Nah, it’s not worth it’. I asked him about it a week earlier and he said ‘Nah’.”
Question: “Why was it not worth it?”
Jones: “He said he might be getting out soon and he’d start changing his mind.”
Smith: “Might as well go to Borstal: you only do eight months there.”
Jones: “You know how long you’re doing there: you don’t know how long you’re doing here.” Or detention even. (Some dissension.)
Question: “Alright, you said you were going to wait for Mike’s review. He didn’t get his licence. What happened next?”
Mike: “I says I’m going tonight and we planned it out. I woke Smithy up about 2 o’clock in the morning and he says ‘I’m going’. I come down the stairs first and woke Jonesy. I says ‘Are you going?’ and he says ‘If Smithy does’. I says ‘He is going’. He says ‘Alright’. So I went upstairs and told Smithy to get his clothes on. He says ‘Wait half an hour’. I’d got my clothes on, ready, y’know. Got into bed. Half an hour later he says ‘Nah, I’m not going. I’m too tired!’. Ha! I was calling him all the names under the sun.”
Question: “Why did you have to wait for Smithy before you went?”
Mike: “He’s a good mate of ours, ’sides, two’s better than one.”
Jones: “If I went with him, and I wanted a job, me and Smithy could get a job. But I don’t think he could.” (i.e. Mike.)
Smith: “’Cos he’s only fifteen.”
Jones: “’Course, he could do in his best clothes.”
Question: “Where would you go?”
Jones: “I know this hut on the moors. When me and me mate nicked off before, we went there. I could go to our house and get me tent and jet-stove. And frig off.”
Smith: “Plenty of lasses.”
Question: “What’s keeping you here, then?”
Mike: “It’s too late, init? See, if we go in the middle of the night, there’s this big chance of getting nabbed, in’t there? If we go round about this time, there’s not.”
Jones: “We’ve really planned it this time. Tomorrow night when we go to the Youth Club.”
Mike: “You’ve gotta plan it, ’cos someone keeps finding out and snitchin’. That’s what makes me sick.”
Question: “You’re going to go tomorrow night straight from the Club?”
Jones: “Yeh, and we’ll head straight for Melchester.”
Smith: “Get lost, you can get the bus to Springley from there, can’t you?”
Jones: “Yeh, but it’s too risky to go to Springley.”
Question: “Does it normally take you a long time to nick off?”
Jones: “Depend. You gotta plan sometimes.”
Smith: “Tell you what. Go into the staff toilets now. You know the nightwatchman’s book, have you seen it? Just look in there. It’s got ‘Smith and Jones left the school’—absconded from school. ’Bout fourteen days out. Me and him.”
(Jones and Mike absconded some three days after this interview, though not from the Youth Club.)
Researchers have attempted to correlate abscondings with “personality types”, period of sentence and time of the year (Christmas, etc). Most of the spontaneous abscondings do tend to be concentrated in the earliest part of sentence, but others are the result of more complex situations developing either in the school or in a boy’s home background and outside peer group relationships. The spontaneous absconding drops off as the boy comes to find a place in what has been called the inmate social structure.
In the initial stages of commitment, the boy is assigned a place in the informal social structure by other boys according to various consensual criteria. Only later does the boy have the chance to achieve an alternative placing by his own efforts.
Question: “How do you decide on other lads?”
Thomas: “How they go on. You decide if they’re a good kid.”
Question: “How do you decide on that?”
Thomas: “Well, he might be a puff, or a cracker, or a good kid to follow.”
Question: “What kind of kid is that?”
Thomas: “Well, he might fer instance have a reputation from before. He might have been a good kid at the Remand Home. Or might know some kids in Springley or Melchester or one of them places.”
Once the assignation has taken place, the boy has a greater or lesser chance of being “taken under the wing” of more experienced boys. In this particular school, the boy is offered a place on a particular dinner-table by a “table-leader”. To be offered a place by a high-status boy signifies acceptance by one of the influential groups in the social structure. Secondly, in this school, the boy can be offered a “sharer”. The “sharer” relationship is a response to the scarcity of cigarettes, sweets and comics in the school. Although boys will bring back supplies of these valued items from leaves, these will very rarely last throughout the week, and there is no guarantee in any case that leave will be granted in any regular or predictable fashion. Often, then, boys can be reduced to their four-and-sixpence pocket money (much of which is taken up with other expenses in any case). Boys solve the scarcity problem by sharing with others. These sharing relationships normally involve two people, but they can take more complex forms. Most frequently, however, the relationship is between a younger and an older boy. The most obvious rationale for this arrangement is that the older boy can prevent the younger boy from having his supplies “nicked”. Less obviously, but more important in terms of supplies, the younger boy is more likely to be granted leaves (in order to encourage him at the beginning of his sentence) than the older boy, and is therefore able to obtain the goods more frequently.
Question: “How did you first get to hear about sharing?”
Tomlinson: “Just after I came, Smithy came up to me and asked me. Told me how it worked.”
Gibbons: “If one person doesn’t go out (i.e. obtain a leave), the other can get the tabs and that.”
Question: “Is Smithy one of your best friends then?”
Tomlinson: “Nah, not exactly, ’cos he’s my sharer. It’s different. He has me as sharer ’cos I can get the slies on (i.e. grease around the masters for a weekend leave). Like Briggsy and Wrighty are sharers. Wright’s a cracker (i.e. “mad”) and Briggsy knows that, but Wright gets out more than Briggsy ’cos Briggsy is near his licence.’
This initial period in the school can be understood as an “inception period”. It is comparable, but not entirely equivalent, to the processes of role-deprivation and mortification which Goffman describes as obtaining in adult “total institutions” (maximum-security prisons, mental hospitals and concentration camps.) The “inception period” does involve the creation of new roles, but in approved school these roles are less strictly “institutional” but are assigned according to criteria which the boys find genrally meaningful. What is observed by other boys is how the new boys “go on”.
“Going on” in the inception period involves an adjustment to the fact of being sent away, and decisions about how to cope, how to “make out”. This is really a decision about an institutional career: how to organise oneself and one’s behaviour in order (ultimately) to obtain an early release and (immediately) to receive regular weekend leaves. Leaves are normally awarded as reward and privilege in return for “good progress” during the week. The crucial decision to be made, then, is to remain out of trouble, and this is a complex decision (since “trouble” is endemic in an authority situation). There are several obstacles in the way of a smooth, trouble-free performance of a chosen institutional career.
Firstly, the range of possible roles is extremely limited, since approved schools are not characterised by a particularly varied social structure anyway. The only formal status divisions are between houses (which tend in this school to be divided up roughly by size and age of boy) and between “class” and “trade” boys. The younger boys attend class until their fifteenth birthday, then moving on to the trade-shops, where they are taught (at least in theory) the elements of a particular trade. But these formal divisions are unimportant compared to informal assignations of status and role. Whilst the new boy is attempting to make his decisions about institutionsal career, he is being tested out by older boys to see if he can be useful in their careers. He will be tested out on the soccer field, scrapping in the houseroom, and, most subtly of all, in “snitching”. He will be given some (usually false) information—usually about a “bunk” (i.e. an absconding)—in order to test out whether he will pass on the information to staff. The results of these “tests” will then be compared with general stereotypes the boys hold dear (i.e. masculine as opposed to effeminate appearance; ability to “keep the cool” as against a tendency to anger or tears; ability to manipulate the school language and lore as against a clumsy imitation of the same). The role will be assigned on the basis of these decisions. In this school, the range of roles is also associated with ability demonstrated in the “sharer” relationship.
The second obstacle in the way of a smooth institutional career is the staff itself. Staff tend to be unpredictable, moody and demanding, exhibiting many of the characteristics of the institutionalised personality. From time to time, staff memebrs will test out a boy themselves. They will do this to measure his “progress” and to look for a change in his “anti-social values”. Sometimes, too, the Headmaster, particularly the Headmaster who periodically intervenes in a school’s routine, may create problems for the institutional careers boys have mapped out for themselves. So, for example, after he had discovered a ring of tobacco-barons, the Headmaster of this school “clamped down” on the school as a whole, withdrawing privileges and leaves, and having the boys “scrubbing out” for a fortnight. This kind of intervention can threaten the relationships boys have created with staff and jeopardise their plans for early release. On the other hand, it may ease the progress of boys who find it difficult to operate a career in the unstructured approved school situation.
Question: “Anything special that makes you sick about the school normally?”
Arthur: “Yeh, it’s soft.”
Question: “You’d like it to be tougher?”
Arthur: “Yeh, it would be better the way we’ve had it all week, with this clampdown.”
Despite all these obstacles, however, the decision a boy makes about institutional career does tend to guide a boy’s behaviour. Since, as we said before, the available careers and roles are limited, the behaviour is easily recognisable and an argot is used to identify the various kinds of adaptation. The argot makes it quite clear that the relationship between these roles is a hierarchical one. A table-leader is quite unambiguous about the consequences of the seating-arrangement he enforces on his table:
Williams: “The people we put at the top will get their licence sooner than those we have put at the bottom. They’re the greasers, the snips.”
The “greaser” role involves the attempt, which is obvious to all, to “get in” with the staff. Staff and boys disparage this role. One of the classroom teachers puts it this way:
“The point is that I am not one little bit chuffed by a kid who is forever saying ‘Look what I have done’ simply and solely because he thinks—as many of them do—that if he can get his hooks or claws into a member of staff, that member of staff will from then on say ‘Oh yes, so-and-so washed my car, so-and-so chopped my sticks, so-and-so cleaned my shoes. …’ More am I impressed with the kid quietly doing a job, not just standing there dumbfounded and saying ‘Mr. White, there’s no equipment, no dusters’.”
Equally disparaged is the boy who attempts unsuccessfully to carry out the “greaser” role, and retreats to either of two other identifiable roles.
The first of these is the “snitcher” role, where the boy passes information to staff in a much less obvious and blatant fashion than does the greaser. By definition, this role is assigned by others (often by rumour) rather than purposively achieved—since no-one is ever really certain who is doing the snitching. Snitching is one of the most despised activities in approved schools, akin as it is to the snitching that occurs in the peer group situation outside the schools (in the classroom of the secondary mod, in the local police station, etc.).
Snitching is very risky. If a snitcher is discovered, he will almost inevitably be “scrapped” by the bigger boys. It may take time to arrange a “rumble” of this kind, but the “punch-up in the bogs” is a common event in the everyday life of the approved school in general. The snitcher is also in danger of demotion on a dinner-table and loss of a sharer relationship. Demotion on the table means that the boy will probably receive smaller portions and be denied second helpings. As long as this can be shielded from presiding staff members, informal “dietary punishments” will be a common weapon in the hands of high-status boys in the school. Officially, of course, this kind of informal social control—wielded by the boys themselves—is frowned upon, but since the high-status boys are relied upon in other respects, these are recognised limits to staff intervention.
If the second sanction is applied—withdrawal of access to tabs and other valued items associated with the sharer relationship—the snitcher may be forced to assume the role of “pegger”.
The pegger attempts to obtain his smokes from the barons by purchase, or, if unsuccessful (or broke), will be reduced to scouring the ash-trays and the rubbish-bins for dog-ends. This activity is, if anything, even more despised than snitching, since snitching at least bears some relathionship to getting out, even if that end can be pursued more cleverly.
Reece: “It’s getting worse in the school at the moment. That’s why the boss has clamped down. All the peggers there are. Lots more peggers in the school. Lots of tramps. Once one starts pegging, all the lot starts pegging.”
Question: “Why is there all this pegging?”
Reece: “’Cos all these new boys come from trampy places like Melchester. Not exactly tramps. Not very well off, and when they come back from a weekend, they’ve got no tabs, and they have to peg. Get the dumps (dog-ends) and light ’em up in bits of paper and then they get nabbed. The person who nabs them goes and tells the boss. And the boss clamps down. ’Cos if there’s a lot of pegging, it means there’s a lot of scrapping and a lot of selling goin’ on.”
If a boy is able to avoid being assigned one of these low-status roles in his early days at the school, the way is left open for him to achieve high status in the social structure. Achievement of these roles would appear to be dependent on the efficient performance of sharer relationships, a co-operative endeavour on the dinner table, and an ability to “keep the cool” in one’s relationships generally. The other stereotypes we mentioned before as being highly valued by working-class delinquent boys will also play their part. One of the central requirements is the ability to avoid being exploited, without resorting to snitching and without turning one’s back on mates and sharers.
Question: “If you look at the sharers, one of them is a big lad and one of them’s small. Why’s that?”
Wilson: “’Cos they’re taking the little kids for suckers.”
Beattie: “Getting slies on them (i.e. ‘taking them for a ride’). See, the big kids say ‘Oh, I’ll look after the tabs’, ’cos the little kids get them nabbed off them. Someone kicks ’em in for ’em.”
Wilson: “If it’s baccy (i.e. loose tobacco for roll-ups) you cannot count it. If it’s cigarettes you can tell whether they’ve taken any. But with baccy you cannot. See, they take you for mugs. But sometimes you’re not the mug they think you are. … You’ve got to play wide on them sometimes. They’ll take a sly tab, if you’re not careful, and go sly on yer. Go wide on yer, crafty.”
Beattie: “Normally what happens is that the small kid finds out he’s being jipped and so he just tells the big kid ‘I don’t want to share with you anymore’. But if you’re sly it doesn’t get to this.”
The boy who can keep the cool, who can keep sly, has several alternative roles available. Two considerations operate in the decision about these roles. The most important consideration in most boys’ minds is to obtain an early release. This does involve getting on the right side of staff, and creating the impression of “making progress”. Second to this, however, is the task of making life bearable during the period at the school. Several activities and consumables are available to ease the progress through the school. The most elaborate situation that can be achieved will involve a regular supply of tabs and sweets throughout the week, a table-leadership (with the bonus of second-helpings) and a regular responsibility for leading boys out of school on visits to Youth Clubs, the cinema and the local baths. A boy can do all of this in one week and still finish the week with more money than most to his credit in the school bank. The two roles which connect with these considerations are those of “workieticket” and “baron” (sometimes called the “slyzie” in this school).
The workieticket role is a sophisticated version of snitching. It amounts to a willingness to co-operate with staff against individual boys and with high-status boys when they are charged with responsible tasks—without ever making it obvious that one is “slyzing” on others. Clearly this is a demanding role, and appears to be acted out mainly by more experienced boys, and particularly by boys with experience of other institutions. Boys in general have an ambivalent attitutde towards “workietickets”. If the staff, and particularly the Headmaster, are easing the life inside the school in some way (e.g. increasing privileges for the week) everybody becomes a workieticket—hoping to be amongst those chosen for privileges. The workieticket proper, however, has a range of strategies available for all circuimstances, and usually manages to show himself exceptionable even in a general clampdown or in any collective withdrawal of privileges. In these circumstances, he is generally disparaged by others—if only out of anger and despair. The ideology associated with “workieticketing” is clearly exemplified by one boy:
Harrison: “’Course, the best way (i.e. to obtain an early release) is to be a real bastard for the first six months about, and then to get sly. Now and again, you can afford to make a mistake, or to get wrong (i.e. get into trouble). But mostly you keep sly and they say you’re coming on (i.e. making progress). You just keep yourself to yourself.”
“Baroning” is a much more risky option than “workieticketing”. The baron can be responsible for bringing down the wrath of staff. If he is discovered in his activities, the baron can have his privileges withdrawn for some considerable period, and a general “clampdown” can occur in the school at large. Yet there is probably more baroning in approved schools than staff would realise, and certainly more than staff would admit to. Baroning is an inevitable response to conditions of scarcity, and a means (for some) of alleviating the pursuits of the early release.
Question: “When you go home on a weekend leave, how do you pay for it?“
Prince: “We pay for it. Some lads have postal orders sent in. But we pay for ours. Out of the bank money and our debts. See, there’s always a lot of racketing in the school. Fer instance, I had about ten tabs last week—on Friday night—I smoked three—and I had double my money practically. I gained five and a tanner … on seven tabs. Sell ’em around West (one of the houses). Can sell roll-ups an’all. For a bob. Just the same as a tab.”
Question: “With those in debt to you, what do you do if they don’t pay?”
Prince: “Threaten them. Kick them in the face or the money.”
Bryan: “Are you serious?”
Prince: “Yeh, I’ve done Tom Briggsie. He owes me one and ninepence.”
Phillips (Prince’s sharer): “You can’t sell a tab to someone you can’t fight. Unless you can call on someone who can, scrap ’em. I mean you wouldn’t sell one to Smithy, fer instance.”
Question: “Why—because he’s a big scrapper?”
Phillips: “He’s not big … it’s his mates behind him what’s big. Jonesey would stick up for Smithy.”
Although “baroning” is risky, it is seen as a necessary service which quite properly is carried out by the more experienced, high-status boys. Any guilt that might be associated with “baroning”, and any worry about the repercussions that would follow discovery, is neutralized by the reference to staff rackets.
Question: “This is all going on behind the backs of the staff, is it? This collecting?”
Prince: “Nah, I think the boss knows. I think most of them (i.e. the staff) know.”
Question: “Would they like to stop it?”
Prince: “Some of them would, but they got their own racketing. Rackets all o’er. Fer instance, there were some green slates waiting for the Boss’s house, y’see. Mate of Mr. Johnstone (the Building Instructor) was making them. Used the lads and the waggon to transport it. But it would have been cheaper to use other stuff. Boss got wind of it, I think. Doesn’t want slates any more. Uses mahogany.”
Phillips: “Mr. Dennis, he’s a good racket. Goes down the gardens Monday night. Takes cabbages, apples, owt he wants … sells stuff on the sly outside.”
Prince: “They have small rackets going on between them as well, y’see. Say, like, Mr. Roe says ‘I got some paint for a certain job’. Mr. Hallas’ll say ‘I need some bricks to build a small wall’ or something like that. So they’re alright, y’know. Or Mr. Roe with his building stuff’ll say to Mr. Johnstone ‘You do this for me, Jack: I’ll see you alright’. All kinds of rackets like that going on at the school.”
“Baroning” and “workieticketing” can of course overlap. Boys may be involved in both these roles simultaneously, or else at different times during their “career”. But there is another role in this approved school, and in most, and this tends to be much more distinct and autonomous. The “scrapper” in the approved school (who may be called various things in different school argots) dominates his peer group by violence. Approved schools are not, however, totally dominated by the scrappers. Even in the senior schools, the size and vigour of individual boys is only one element in the social structure that boys construct and the life-projects they pursue. But the threat of violence is always present, even in schools where physical methods are little used by staff. The “punch-up in the bog”, previously mentioned, is evidence of the continuing influence of the scrapper in the social structure, just as the “collecting” of debts on a weekend is evedence of the importance of the baron.
The precise relationship between the “scrappers”, “barons” and “workietickets” in the higher reaches of the structure and the “snitchers”, “greasers” and “peggers” in the lower reaches is not at all clear. It persists as an essentially hierarchical relationship, but the relative strengths of the groups pursuing the different careers within the hierarchy will vary according to particular situations in the life of the school, and important events in the lives of the boys in the school. The dominating influence in the inmate social structure will however—in most circumstances—rest between the “scrapper” and the “baron”. The scrappers tend to be more visible.
But the “softer” boy does not have to scrap. He can choose to work his ticket, or he can baron his way through a career in the school. Doing this is less risky than scrapping and tends to have a greater pay-off. He is just as likely as the scrapper to be nominated for a table-leadership, for weekend leaves, and for formal positions of responsibility in the house and in the school at large.
Question: “Is being a big lad simply a matter of size, then?”
Smith: “Nah. Just like who you have had scraps with and that, and how you fight and that.”
Question: “You think it’s just fighting that’s involved.”
Smith: “Bound to be, in’it. Come to think of it, the best scrapper leaves, the second best scrapper becomes best scrapper, and everyone goes one up. And keeps on going like that until the softest one becomes best.”
How It Appears
I have not attempted here to deal with the “cause” of these structures, roles, careers (call them what you will). It may be that the thesis-hunter will assign them to “organisational structures”, “institutional imperatives”, “psychological adjustments” or even the accidents of human variety. I personally prefer to see them as products of human problem-solving, arrived at by people with memories and futures. The point for our purposes is that the “disadvantaged” and the “inarticulate” (sic) approved school boy has created a recognisable social structure—a well-defined set of values, expectations and folklore. The structure/culture which results may or may not have anything to do with “reform”, “consciousness” or the Theory and Practice of Cool. But it does have an autonomy and meaning of its own, and the structure may pass unnoticed whilst the categories of sociological enterprise accumulate for accumulation’s sake.
I have no intention of mistaking the appearance of this social world for its essence. What was said to me by approved school boys is no more and no less likely to represent the truth about that world than the remarks that were passed by staff. But it does represent a description of an autonomous structure and culture which is unlikely to be understood in applied sociology—except through the spectacles of the studious “research-practitioner”, intent on evaluating the relevance of values for reform, and industrial work-performance.Anarchists and socialists do not yet have a clear position on whether to reform or to organise the social deviants in the penal process. When we agree on this strategically, we may agree empirically on examining the structures and the roles the approved school boy has already created in action.
- ↑ Jock Young “The zookeepers of deviancy” anarchy 98 (April 1969) pp. 101-8.
- ↑ The texts in this article are selections from tapes in the author’s possession. These record conversations held with some 30-40 boys in a particular approved school in 1967. All names are fictitious, and the accuracy of their presentation is a matter of trust.
- ↑ Jonathan Steele in The Guardian, 9th February, 1967.
- ↑ Erving Goffman “On the Characteristics of Total Institutions” in Asylums (Penguin 1969).