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March 22, 2007

Meet Jerome aka Outlaw aka Badboy aka Rapid: He denounces his father for being a drug dealer and doing nothing for his children, yet he himself is a drug dealer and does nothing for his children

Posted by Emily Kingham

Prison writer-in-residence Emily Kingham finds it difficult to locate the goodness in babyfather and drug dealer "Jerome".

This is a character study of a young, London prisoner. "Jerome" is a 25-year-old black man. He introduces himself as Jerome aka Outlaw aka Badboy aka Rapid. He needs more than one name to project the conglomeration of selves within him. He also has an over-inflated sense of his own importance, but that is easy to see through. Like women who wear too much jewellery, Jerome must be feeling insecure. But all these names tell me something more worrying because each of them encapsulates an element of his personality. Each element of his personality is reserved for special use depending on whom he is with.

At the tender age of 25, Jerome has three children by three different women. He calls them his babymothers and the ages of the children suggest that he moved fairly quickly from one woman to another after the birth, or even conception, of each child. These women, he says, are quite happy with the situation, even saying that they would forego other partners in order to have more children with him. One can only imagine the meetings of this particular branch of the Mothers' Union. But, at this point, it may be worth remembering that Jerome is a young man, and young men are prone to boasting.

When I asked him about his father, he said that his father was a drug-dealer and that he "hated" him. I once met a psychoanalyst who put forward a theory that the lack of fathers in the black community would lead to mass cases of schizophrenia in its young men. Certainly, the splitting of personae and women and children points to a disjointedness in this young man. Jerome clearly does not respect his father, and has had no sustained relationship with him. But instead of turning away from the path his father is following, Jerome also sells drugs for a living. He shows no awareness that he is doing exactly what he said his father does. Similarly he has no awareness that the very thing he castigates his father for - creating children and not "being there" for them - he has reproduced himself. He perpetuates the non-existent fathering skills that he himself experienced.

He is creating a mirror image of what he disparages. He has, in effect, become his father. There must be a sense here of coming to terms with his experiences as a child by repeating them, but this time he is owning the childhood he endured by being the one in charge, the "man" of the piece. He is filling his father's absent shoes. If he takes the place of his father perhaps that will bring him closer to him - the man he never really knew and must have longed for as a child. However, there is a tension here. This is not a father he can idealise, and we need to idealise our parents in order to maintain faith in family and society. If we see our parents as "failures", how can we respect our elders? The man Jerome is getting close to is a man he does not respect or value. He does not see in his father a man who has made mistakes and has been incapable of sustaining a relationship with his mother. He sees a failure, and that is what Jerome has also become.

Jerome does not know what it is to be a man. Boys who are brought up by single mothers will get a bad press about men. His father, as his mother will repeatedly have told him, did not fulfil the traditional expectations we have of fathers and husbands. By extension, one can venture that he does not respect men. This can only mean that he does not respect himself either.

When it comes to being a father, he seems to think that impregnation is all it takes. Plus making a token appearance and keeping "everyone happy"; juggling his babymothers by means of manipulation and maintaining appearances within their community. These relationships are primarily about status and appearance. They have nothing else in a society where consumerism is rampant and the economic means to achieve these prizes are slim.

There is something very biblical about Jerome and his babymothers. It is as though they have reverted to Old Testament harems presided over by Old Testament kings. The language they use reduces relationships to their biological function. (A friend of mine heard two girls on a bus discussing a boy's attractiveness: "Would you breed with him?" one asked the other.) There is no intimacy here, no trust and no faith in human relationships. In order to maintain harmony within his harem, Jerome cannot connect with any one of these women intimately because he will have to guard against them thinking that he is doing this with the others. He has to keep a certain emotional distance, i.e. he has to juggle them. This dynamic protects him from what he fears the most: having to relate to anyone, and ultimately, having to relate to himself.

Also, having different familes in different locations means that he is always on the move. Given the nature of his criminal lifestyle, he cannot stay in one place too long, so he never stays around long enough to build up any intimacy. So each relationship is a means of him projecting a part of his personality.

Jerome, as all these young men do, categorises women into babymothers, wifey, girlfriends, and lastly, "things that I do". So they are not whole human beings either. We all know that this is what pornography does: objectifies and categorises women. Now it is being done to families.

"Before you get them pregnant you have to work all the maths out," he said. When he goes out to work he sells drugs, and uses them. If he is good at his job, he makes between £300 to £400 a day. If he uses as much as he says he does, he cannot really be providing for his three children. These young men connect fatherhood with "providing". In reality, these girls and their children are living on benefits.

Jerome talks fondly of his children but has no real consideration for them. He probably has no realistic concept of the future. He is planting seeds that are never going to grow. His children will, in turn, disparage their father.

It's difficult to feel compassion for Jerome because his attitude is one of self-congratulation. But one has to remember that his defences are so entrenched because his pain is overwhelming. And, this is essential, he will not allow himself to be overwhelmed by his pain. He cannot be vulnerable to emotion, and since he cannot manage his emotions he does not have any. Maybe he'll feel anger once in a while because that makes him feel strong. Unfortunately, being angry means being violent or exercising the threat of violence.

Jerome has turned a bad start in life to his seeming advantage. The mechanism of recovery has sprung into action so that he can boast of having women "wrapped all around him", as a member of my magazine team put it. This will, of course, create envy in other men. And Jerome, who like any boy, wants to compete with his father, has turned that symbol of authoritative masculinity into Everyman. Hence his rush for mass-impregnation. He wants to be the best.

What about the women? Jerome said his mother blamed herself for his involvement in crime. She had given him everything he wanted as a child. He could be under the impression that women are capable of giving their children everything they want, so men don't have to do anything. Women are the providers in his experience. Black women have certainly complained that their men are not living up to their expectations and that they have to be strong in order to keep their families together. This female strength seems to be alienating men. As well as this, if his mother did spoil him then he would have learnt that if you get everything you want, and you don't have to work for your pocket money, or treats, then everything loses its value, and you never really experience the deferral of gratification. So you become used to getting what you want when you want it.

I was discussing Jerome with my magazine team and the library prison officer. He pointed out that Scottish clans were stronger if they had a progenitor - "a lot of children made a clan stronger," he said, "creating loyalty and warriors". Gang culture is modelled on an archaic social structure. The library orderly pointed out with some glee that these gangs "could all wipe each other out". Well, that's something to look forward to, I thought.

I once met a social worker who expressed approval for the idea of compulsory sterilisation (she was rather drunk at the time). But the thought impressed itself upon me: if you work in the system too long, you get to feel like that: overwhelmed by the "messiness" of life. What, in societal terms, is the antidote? I live in northwest London where gun crime is high, and stabbings and muggings are routine. There has been a recent influx of affluent media-types who have brought their young families with them. These high-earning, successful parents are creating an appetite for shops with names such as "Brilliant Kids" - a café where parents can take their toddlers to be massaged and taught yoga (yes, really) while they sip their skinny lattés and read the property pages of the Sunday Times. Along with Brilliant Kids have come the usual over-priced, truffle-stuffed delis and rarefied, size-zero boutiques. Their projection of their lifestyle is as narcissistic as Jerom'’s splitting of himself is schizophrenic. Neither of these two groups is creating a sustainable community in which everyone partakes and takes pride in.

As for Jerome, he attended one workshop and never came back. I suspect I challenged him too strongly. But the other boys returned and they are writing stories for their children. And once I got past their babyfather personae, I found well-meaning, spirited and perceptive young men. They have made mistakes, and they will make more, but they have a goodness of heart still beating within them. I just couldn't locate the goodness in Jerome.

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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"Would you breed with him?"
This sounds like something out of a wildlife programme. Were Darwin able to see these goings-on, he would be horrified to see his principle of sexual selection being thus played out in today’s Britain.

But it is not only among the lumpenproletariat that one sees animal behaviour. Among the "great and good", conductor X was notorious for being a bull seal who treated the females of his orchestra as his harem.

But I would take the animal metaphor one level further. The earning class is a productive plant being drained of its sap by that mighty Bloodsucker, the Treasury, through its feeding organ, namely Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The "benefit scroungers" are not so much direct parasites as scavengers lapping up the honeydew secreted by the bloated body of that monstrous Bedbug.

(Please excuse the mixture of botany and zoology).

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at March 31, 2007 06:02 PM
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