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May 08, 2006

Kate Moss and Pete Doherty could do with some bang-up - prison writer-in-residence Emily Kingham explains why

Posted by Emily Kingham

When young offenders are sent to prison they do not - in general - mend their ways; they do not - in general - learn the lessons they should have learnt as toddlers. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Prison writer-in-residence Emily Kingham explains why Kate Moss and Pete Doherty might benefit from time inside.

Wanted Man, a song written by Bob Dylan in 1969, and covered most famously by Johnny Cash, is a list of all the places a criminal is wanted. It is a boastful recitation that includes Albuquerque and Tallahassee, Baton Rouge and Buffalo. It implies his confusion of being desired with being hunted. This confusion has disturbing intimations about the motives for committing crime.

Kate Moss and Pete Doherty are two such figures who confuse being desired with being hunted, or punished. I wonder if they see themselves as outlaws. Bonny and Clyde were lovers who courted danger. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were two of the most beautiful people of their generation. Moss is far and away the most wondrously gorgeous girl of her day. Doherty is a charismatic poet whose looks suggest a lost boy. What does their joint descent into merry hell tell us about sex, identity and self-destruction?

Pete could do with being banged up,
one of the guys on my editorial team decided the other day.

"Roy" is in his forties and he recognises the signs. He used to dress in Gucci and Armani. If he wanted a car, he got it. Then he realized he had everything he wanted and what was he left with? Nothing. There was a great big feeling of emptiness inside him. He filled it with drugs. That feeling of emptiness, I suspect, is what Moss and Doherty are running away from when they seek their druggy stimulation. "Roy" recognised that behind the image of completeness – a career, critical acclaim, designer girlfriend –all these objects were just that: not people, not evidence of worth, but functions that make Pete feel good. They are useful for a man who feels incomplete. Pete does not introject good experiences. He does not have a sense of self. His very public criminal escapades are cries for help.

Prison brings you bang up against yourself. Then it strips you down to nothing. You have to build yourself up again, using only yourself and the kindness of others. It's like an intense course of psychoanalysis – the ego's defences melt away as the analyst holds a mirror to the analysand's pseudo selves. We all present fronts to each other; in analysis and prison there are no fronts, only mirrors.

A few years ago Moss and Doherty were voted the hottest couple in the UK by Tatler magazine. If you go to any council estate in England you will find couples like them: addicted to crack and coke, fighting and abusing each other, neglecting their children, and last but not least, committing crimes. No one thinks Kev and Tracey are hot. But the famous get away with offending behaviour in a way that would be unacceptable amongst the rest of us. They get away with it, because our culture is narcissistic. We are as empty as Kate Moss when the drugs run out and Pete's gone for a Burton. We need our shots of glamour and the prurient rush we get in order to feel good about ourselves. We wouldn't feel so good if we were looking at a pair of spotty herberts dressed in hoodies and trackie bottoms.

It's these kids in hoodies who remain the bogey men of our cultural mirror-gazing. Their public criminal escapades send them straight to gaol. The Howard League for Penal Reform published its research on offenders aged between 18 and 20 today. The report said:

Sending these young men to prison does virtually nothing to ensure that they will live crime-free lives on release.
It added that prison could make their re-offending
all the more predictable.
When asked what would help them stop committing crime, 55% of the 86 young men who took part said employment, and about a quarter said stable housing. Touchingly, 22% said being in a relationship and
having far more constructive relationships with their families
would also help.

The report, entitled Out for Good, concludes that the system does little to ensure young offenders make amends for what they have done, or recognise the impact of their behaviour on individual victims, their families and the wider community.

They do not learn the lessons they should have learnt as toddlers, in other words. They do not see other people as people but as a means of addressing their problems, because in order to relate to other people as human beings, they have to be able to relate to themselves. The psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein, posited a theory of narcissism that stated if there was a rejection in early infancy (if the mother was too distressed to respond to her baby's needs, and the father absent) then the energy we direct into our relations with love objects is withdrawn back into the self. That self needs constant stimulus. Drugs can fill a vacuum, so can shopping, gambling, over-eating and sex.

But drugs and crime will also gain you the kind of attention Kate Moss and Pete Doherty so desperately seem to seek. Their folie a deux is nothing new. But Roy is right. Pete needs to do some bird and get his head straight. Given his intelligence and desperation he will probably be one of the lucky few who are able to take advantage of the opportunities prison offers. This opportunity is simply the time to think and reflect on the kind of behaviour that has led you to a cell. There are no distractions: no Kate Moss, no pressures to consume, just time and confinement.

Meanwhile, Kate needs to stop looking in the mirror, and find what's going on underneath that glorious façade that propels her into destructive relationships. The drama of crime and/or dangerous relationships is a marvellous respite from boredom. Thinking about it, maybe she could do with some bang-up, as well.

Emily Kingham is the pseudonym of a writer-in-residence at a Category B prison in South East England. She is a writer and journalist. To read Emily Kingham's previous columns on prison life see Notes from a Prison.


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A thought-provoking piece on the awesome emptiness that must lie at the heart of narcisstic celeb "culture."

But aren't Pete'n'Kate broken up?

Posted by: james mcqueen at May 8, 2006 10:35 PM
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