Taking into account the barriers of access to opportunity experienced by black males in economic and educational realms it stands to reason that, failing normal avenues of access, an individual would fabricate, by any means available, the necessary pathway to survival. It should come as a shock to no one that when jobs are scarce, people turn to alternative forms of “employment”, asserting their own ingenuity in order to do whatever is necessary to ‘make ends meet’. Restricted from access to regular means of employment, black men in particular, in many cases, having been forced to accept the alternative, ultimately surrender to the only remaining option: a life of work that is “off the books”.
Unfortunately the paucity of the situation did not begin with the inability to find a job. It began much sooner than that; it began with a breakdown somewhere in the educational system, a system rife with institutionalized racism, prejudice and discrimination. A system dominated by a perspective that underestimates the young black male student on all accounts. A system that ignores his potential contributions as inconsequential. A system that has failed him in the most important stage of his life, the one where, all things being equal, he would be given the necessary foundational tools ensuring his ability to compete in a legitimate marketplace.
Ill-equipped and without the proper and necessary tools, he becomes bored, and shiftless, turns to recreational drug use, which further dulls his ambitions and destroys his dreams. When he does engage himself in the act of labor, it is often in an underground economy of some sort. He shovels snow, or mows lawns or runs errands for neighbors in order to acquire a bit of mad money to cover the cost of cigarettes, and maybe a little bit of marijuana. Eventually, he turns from smoking drugs, to selling drugs, from washing cars, to stealing cars; from working at CoGo’s to robbing CoGo’s, from dating women, to selling women.
Young, school drop out, underage, his life is now set, and he is doomed to repeat the cycle of adjudication and incarceration. This is the portrait of the young black male who is featured in the study that I did as an attempt to develop a profile of young Black adolescent males who are at risk for becoming incarcerated in the Criminal Justice System in their adult lives. As part of this study, 15 young Black males who are currently adjudicated as delinquents in Allegheny County Court system were solicited to voluntarily participate in an interview regarding certain aspects and influences impacting their lives. This interview was designed to serve as a non-scientific ‘pre-test’ for predicting potential future incarceration statistics. The questions asked in the interview were classified as two types: Objective and Subjective.
The Objective set were of two types: 'yes or no' type questions, and other questions that asked about relationship dynamics. For example, they were asked about the expectations that were placed on them by their guardians, and they were asked what were the values that their family systems held dear. They were also asked their opinions about the importance of education and they were given the opportunity to rate the value of education on a 1 to 10 scale. They were asked to specify the behaviors that led to their adjudication and detention. They were asked about their drug use, sexual activity, parenthood status, and they were asked if they had relatives or friends who had been or who currently are incarcerated. The answers were assigned +/- values, and the scores were tallied to project which dynamic would likely have greater influence on their future life's course, if nothing happened to intervene and cause them to change direction.
Question Set #1 (Objective type)
Q2 2. How do you get along with those you reside with?
Q5 5. Do you have contact w/ parents?
Q6 6. Relationship w/ mother?
Q7 7. Relationship w/ father?
Q8 8. Relationship w/ authority ?
Q9 9. Family members involved w/legal system?
Q10 10. Friends involved w/ legal system?
Q11 11. Family members incarcerated
Q12 12. Victim of abuse?
Q15 15. On Welfare?
Q16 16. Charged with crime?
Q17 17. Ever shot anyone?
Q19 19. Family currently involved with CYS?
Q22 22. Suspended or expelled?
Q23 23. Diagnosed special needs?
Q25 25. Runaway from home?
Q26 26. Do you smoke?
Q27 27. Used drugs or alcohol?
Q28 28. Sexually active?
Q29 29. Tattoos or piercings?
Q30 30. Fathered any children?
Q31 31. Have you ever been hospitalized in a mental health facility?
Q32 32. Ever been diagnosed w/ depression?
Q33 33. Do you take medication to control behavior?
Q14 14. Own or rent?
Q18 18. How old at first contact w/ legal system?
Q20 20. How old are you?
Q21 21. Grade placement
Q24 24. Currently employed?
Q34 34. On a 1 to 10 scale, rate education
The graphic chart figure 1, reflects aggregate data collected on these questions. The bars in the positive range represent the number of positive values assessed, and the bars in the negative range represent the number of negative values assessed for each question in the Objective Set. (R1 + = the positive values reported for Respondent 1. R1 - = the negative values reported for Respondent 1, and etcetera). By looking at this information, one may ascertain the dominant dynamic forces influencing the individual’s life, either positive or negative, and thus recognize them as strong risk factors for predicting probability of increased risk in the future.
The other set of questions were more informational and subjective. These asked about their age and level of education, their goals for the future, and the perceived barriers to meeting them. Each question on the list was assigned either a neutral, positive or negative value for use in assessing the overall environmental and peripheral dynamics impacting on the formation of the young man's character. Positive influences were assumed to identify tendencies leading to functional behaviors, and negative or indifferent influences were assumed to identify influences that may possibly contribute to maladaptive social pathologies.
Question Set #2 (Subjective and Informational)
I feel it important to share the answers to these specific questions because they are pertinent to the subject matter, particularly regarding the types of household configurations of Black American Families, and because of the values, hopes and aspirations of this ethnicity.
The choice of questions that would be included in the interview emerged from the concepts studied in our course content that served to illuminate the risks and resiliencies of the Black American Family. Certain questions were designed to reflect attributes that are historically characteristic of the Black American Family experience. For instance, the interviewees were asked to disclose their family structure. Their descriptions reflect those structures exemplified in the Billingsley text (Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Chapter One).
Q1 List the people in your household
R1 6 mom, 2 brothers, sister, cousin; another sister lives in Phila w/ father
R2 4 mom, father, sister
R3 3 grandmother, father
R4 4 mom, stepfather, brother
R5 3 mom, stepfather
R6 2 mom
R7 2 mom
R8 7 mom, stepfather, sister, brother, 2 cousins
R9 3 grandmother (legal guardian since birth), aunt
R10 10 mom, stepfather , 2 brothers, 3 sisters, stepbrother, stepsister
R11 3 mom, brother
R12 6 mom, 2 brothers, 2 sisters
R13 5 mom, 3 sisters (live in shelter)
R14 4 mom, father, brother
R15 2 mom
In the text, Billingsley lists four major structures of African American Family Types: 1. Married Couple with no children, 2. Married Couple with children, 3. Unmarried mother with children, and 4. Unmarried father with children. The majority of those reported by the respondents fall into categories 2 and 3, with almost half falling into category 3. In Table I.3 on page 33-34 of the text, the author breaks down the family configurations into sub-types which he labels “Modified Nuclear” with alternative headship: 1. Natural Parent (Divorced, separated, widowed, never married parent) 2. Surrogate parent (lone adult raising grandchildren, nieces, nephews, foster children), 3. Natural Surrogate parent (Divorced, separated, widowed, never-married parents raising his/her own children, their cousins, or foster children). These conglomerates support the reports that African American Family patterns in less advantaged situations, have shifted from predominantly nuclear family types to those that form bonds based mainly on kinship through blood lines. Driven by the external pressures threatening the their stability, these families form mini-communities of mutual support, binding together to share resources and fill needs as social and economic conditions work against their favor. The values underlying these types of bonds seem to be lacking where delinquent behavior factors heavily in the equation. While 9 respondents reported no sense of important family values, 6 reported values such as mutual respect, honesty, trust and loyalty as being important. In cases where values are not identified, modeled, expected or instilled, risk for maladjusted behavior appears more prevalent. One wonders where is the breakdown of values transmission? Is it in lack of communication and cohesion and shared sense of identity between members? Is it lack of accountability or emotional/psychological disinvestment in functional familial roles? Does this lead to detachment and disenfranchisement from behaviors that otherwise belie the tendency to positive, cooperative social adjustment?
Q4 What are your important family values?
R1 0 0
R2 1 mutual respect
R3 0 don't know
R4 2 respect, protect each other
R5 1 we just take care of ourselves
R6 1 honesty
R7 1 doing things for each other
R8 0 don't know
R9 0 don't know
R10 2 trust, loyalty
R11 0 don't know
R12 0 no answer
R13 0 none
R14 0 no response
R15 0 don't know
In spite of a majority lack of shared values, the respondents report that work ethic is a strong component of the families in question. Each of the respondents reported an expectation placed upon them by their family guardians (though in some cases they were ignored, which speaks more about the character of the individual delinquent behavior).
Q3 What are the expectations they have of you?
R1 3 Sweeping, dishes, trash, clean room
R2 3 trash, clean room, home for dinner
R3 2 go to school, find a job
R4 3 house rules, chores, curfew, cleaning
R5 0 none
R6 3 chores; court requires curfew, but mom does not enforce it
R7 3 clean room, dishes, trash
R8 2 chores, curfew
R9 1 chores
R10 3 curfew, trash, help w/ younger kids
R11 2 curfew( ignores it), chores
R12 2 curfew, chores
R13 1 used to do chores before living in shelter
R14 3 curfew, dishes, clean room
R15 1 chores
Regarding the parental work ethic (which would be the strongest indicator of a positive influential modeling) all heads of household were employed except two. In cases of two parent households, both were employed, which again, displays the strong work ethic (even though additionally there were reported cases of access to welfare programs to supplement basic needs).
Q13 Who employed in the home?
R1 1 mom
R2 2 mom, dad
R3 1 dad
R4 2 mom, stepdad
R5 2 mom, stepfather
R6 2 mom
R7 1 mom
R8 2 mom, stepfather
R9 1 aunt
R10 1 stepfather
R11 no one
R13 2 mom, brother
R14 no one
R15 2 mom, dad
Other questions which reflected the hopes and dreams for the future:
Q35 What are your goals for the future?
R1 go home, get into school, get a job
R2 get a job to provide for daughter
R3 just be left alone
R4 earn a diploma; get a job with something creative or artistic
R5 i have other stuff to deal with that's just as important as a diploma like staying off drugs
R6 food service work, finish school
R8 get a degree, work in a trade
R9 get out
R10 get a job, help mom, his girlfriend and child
R11 graduate, get a job, join the military
R12 graduate, get a job
R13 go home
R14 graduate, get a job
R15 go home
Questions about impediments to realizing their dreams for the future:
Q36 Barriers from realizing goals?
R1 transportation, clothes
R2 clothing, interview skills, transportation
R3 being locked up; family don't like my decisions
R6 being in placement, eager to get out
R7 being locked up; money for school
R12 being locked up, no family w/ money or education that can help
In conclusion, this experiment was an attempt to show the relationship between delinquency and crime. The risk factors influencing the likelihood for a young black male adolescent’s future incarceration have obvious implications. The risk of incarceration grows among those suffering least access to education, wages and opportunity. Low education begets low wages, which begets low opportunity and this leads to the inability to fund the cost of basic living standards. As a result these men turn to crime, make contact with the underground economy, which eventually takes over their lives. Without a strong educational foundation as the basis for building upon positive opportunities, it is likely that the allure of the alternative offered in the underground economy will set up the individual for habitual involvement in socially unacceptable pursuits. The charge of the young black male is to face the fight that lies ahead of him: to rise up, confront and rebel against the institutional barriers that threaten ultimately to reduce or eliminate his ability to reach his fullest human potential.