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Mark S. Fleisher, BEGGARS & THIEVES: LIVES OF URBAN STREET CRIMINALS
(University of Wisconsin Press, 1995)

From Subject
<LUISARTURO@aol.com>) Beggars & Thieves: (Kershaw)
Patrick Z Carlson <pzcarls@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu> BEGGARS AND THIEVES (CARLSON)
Kari Didricksen :kadidri@ilstu.edu BEGGARS & THIEVES (Didricksen)

 


Date: Tue, 11 Feb 1997 19:48:22 -0600
From: LUISARTURO@aol.com (by way of Gary Klass <LUISARTURO@aol.com>)
Subject: Beggars & Thieves: (Kershaw)



Mark S. Fleisher, BEGGARS & THIEVES: LIVES OF URBAN STREET CRIMINALS
(University of Wisconsin Press, 1995)


Reviewed by:
David C. Kershaw
mailto:LUISARTURO@aol.com
Illinois State University


"That asshole Maniac sat there and cursed and yelled at the kid,
'Come'ere you little motherfucker. I'll kick your fuckin'ass if you don't
get over here, now.' Ace stood there looking at that asshole. 'Get over here
you little motherfuckin' asshole. I'll kick your fuckin' ass. Come here,
you shit!'
"It was brutal. There was nothing we could do. The little guy walked over
to that asshole, stood in front of him, looked up at him with his big eyes,
and put his head on that motherfucker's leg, and stood there like that,
didn't move."
"I knew the kid'd get the shit knocked out of 'im. There was nothing we
could do. Nothing!"

According to BEGGARS AND THIEVES, the lives of Maniac, T-Cool, gang
youths, Popcorn, and all the street hustlers whose lives were chronicled
are destined to be played out together on the margins of lawful society. They
are not there by choice, but by circumstances. However, it is unlikely that
given the choice to be incorporated into society, these people would want to;
or if they wanted to, that they could get over the obstacle of years of
experience that have colored their perceptions, behavior, and general
adaptive strategies


Although each person examined experienced a different set of situations
that made their lives unique, they all shared a common set of exposures that
lead them to similar paths in life. This common experience, called the street
lifecycle, is marked by four stages: 1) childhood stage, 2) teenage stage,
3) systems stage, and 4) postsystem stage


Without exception, the lives of these individuals began in neglectful or
abusive homes (this is the beginning of the childhood stage). These men and
women were molested, beaten, and left to fend for themselves by their
parent(s), the parent's lovers, and the parent's crime and drug associates

Regardless of who beat these children, it is important to note that these
early non-caring situations resulted in long lasting effects that inhibited
these individuals from being able to identify with and participate in the
manner society deems appropriate. Through the process of enculturation,
"[infants] acquiring quickly and accurately the cultural perspectives and
speaking abilities typical of their communities (p.12)," these individuals
came to view the violence, abusive language, neglect, drugs, and crime as
societal norms and adjusted their survival skills, and interpersonal
relationships accordingly. This adaptive strategy resulted in the defensive
worldview


The defensive worldview is characterized by feelings of vulnerability,
the need to protect oneself, a lack of trust, the need for social distance, a
use of violence to repel others, an attraction to defensive people, and the
expectation that no one will provide aid. This defensive worldview magnified
itself in the following stages. Additional characteristics of the childhood
stage were periodic homelessness and legal system indoctrination


The transition between the childhood and teenage stages occurred because
of a number of factors. First, the distrust, frustration, and withdrawal
associated with a defensive worldview resulted in the inability of these
people to relate to peers and for untrained educators to handle them. These
exiled children turned to others like themselves for safety and survival

Second, with their first contact with the juvenile justice system came an
even further removal of these people from our socioeconomic world


Their teenage stage involved participation in delinquent groups and
gangs. These groups of similar individuals provided safety from predators on
the streets and a means to gather life sustaining resources. These groups
focused on material wealth through street crime, self-protection, folklore
around death, and partying to numb depression. Mobility became common-place
in the teenage stage. Through contact with the street, and group activity,
deviance became the norm rather than occasional (p.118). However, the social
networks developed here were weak and held together only by perceived real
and fabricated threats. Social interaction revolved around substance abuse
and reciprocity in material gain. Fears, experiences, and last names were
rarely exchanged. In exchange for safety, the distance between lawful
society's and the individual's social and cognitive skills increased


Criminal behavior and substance abuse escalated in the teenage stage and
caused a transition into the systems stage, where these people began to
revolve in and out of prison. However, this did not bother these men and
women. In fact, prison provided a better life for them than they had on the
streets. "Giz ya a chance to relax." (p.161) For some, death would have come
from their addictions. However, jail saved them. In fact, all received vital
social, medical, and psychological services as well as access to sex, drugs,
shelter, food, and less violent environments. Imprisonment was a social norm
and not to something to fear. However, leaving was difficult. Leaving meant
reestablishing social crime and connections and finding a place to go, for
survival. Shelters and the street became the dominate residences over time

At this stage, there was talk and sometimes futile attempts to go straight,
but the pathologies of their parents are fully ingrained


There comes a point however, the postsystems stage, when these
individuals become so addicted that jail becomes a deterrent. Their values
had not changed. Instead, the pain of detoxification was so great that they
could not withstand extended periods in jail. Treatment only placed them back
in the systems stage anyhow. Life revolved around raising money in less-risky
ways to satisfy their substance needs and to a degree, food


This is the street lifecycle of abused and neglected children according to
Mark S. Fleisher


Drawing upon his research and experiences working for the Federal Bureau
of Prisons, Fleisher immersed himself in the lives of these street criminals

Criticizing the information current anti-crime policy was based on as being
too quantified and incomplete, Fleisher's ethnography sought to provide the
most detailed and accurate picture of the life-cycle of societies most feared
and least understood citizens


Over several years, Fleisher interviewed, observed, and participated in
the lives of the "informants" he came to know through working (buying and
bartering) the streets social networks (weak as they may be, according to
Fleisher). This study occurred everywhere from bars and corners, to prisons
and missions. The study resulted in the identification of the street
lifecycle just presented


Fleisher contends that current approaches to crime and gangs have missed
fundamental points. They assume too readily the ability of man to change
through opportunity and education and that these offspring of abusive parents
will have the same cognitive developments as society at large. These
assumptions are flawed, says Fleisher. They fail to account for enculturation
and its impact over time in an environment isolated from traditional culture;
an impact that is unassailable. Fleisher presents several approaches for
reducing crime


First, Fleisher recommends a preventative approach of removing children
from their abusive parents before they cause damage that is irreversible and
model their children after them. The results of the family treatment approach
of social work is to further enculturation to crime and deviance, rarely
reform. His goal is to place these children in community homes where they
will receive the attention and positive social situations that will prevent
them from being like their parents. The ultimate result will be reduced
crime, violence, and wasted human lives


Criticism from those who would say that foster homes are not perfect, is
averted by Fleisher, by noting that abused children would be better off than
they are currently. Also, he calls for a new foster system where providers
are professionally trained, subject to high levels of oversight and
accountability, and so on. Even if the resulting system is not perfect, to
save one life in three would really be multiple lives saved in future
generations. With no effective and sustained intervention, our abused
children will only deteriorate socially and mentally and no lives will be
saved


This proposition is hard to argue with. How many times do we see stories
of children returned to abusive, drug addicted parents, only to be killed or
neglected to the verge of death? It is a fact that many in society think too
many chances have been given already. However, these are the extreme although
not uncommon cases. The problem is that Fleisher's arguments fail to take
into account the marginal cases. When someone paddles a child to instill
order, is this abuse, do we take these children? Where should the line be
drawn is an important question which was overlooked. What about
constitutionally protected rights of parents in raising their children? The
courts will never allow a carte blanc right to the states or national
government to remove children upon an instance of alleged abuse. This is even
more true in the fact that often the focus of these programs will be urban
areas, which have a higher percent of minorities. The ability of prejudicial
views to creep-in to determination of fit parents is obvious


Finally, he deflects the common criticism of high, new costs by
suggesting that funding come from expensive prison programs that can
establish few benefits. Taking money from criminals to give to children is an
attractive proposition, but would it cover all the costs of such a program?

Fleisher fundamentally believes that enculturation cannot be removed by
rehabilitation. Instead, violent prisoners should be given long sentences,
basic levels of education, training, and made to work (no work, no benefits),
and anything beyond would be wasted funds. Long sentences for the violent are
beneficial because their crimes' costs are greater than incarceration costs

If they work, the costs are further reduced. Nonviolent offenders, such as
drug sellers, should not be imprisoned. These costs are higher than their
cost on society as free men. Again, individual rights of those involved need
to be addressed; free from cruel and unusual punishment. Also, by not
suggesting drug dealers go to jail, it seems that Fleisher is underestimating
the degree to which the nonfamily environment can have on people's deviance

Also, in talking about high recidivism rates as the basis for ineffectual
programs, what would the rate be for inmates if they have fewer
rehabilitation programs?

In defense of Fleisher, his goal was to identify the patterns criminals
lives take and a root cause, not to establish a detailed policy; that would
be societies job as it involves fundamental constitutional issues. Also,
Fleisher is not alone in his views to remove at-risk youth from these
conditions. Aileen Bigelow's IN THE GHETTO (7 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub

Pol'y 533), argues that the environment can impact all children in a way
similar to war's post-traumatic stress disorder, impacting their ability to
function as society wants and that society's future relies on removing the
environment of abuse. Although we do not know the best policy approach, we do
know that the policy must be abused child focused


"Slim recounted his earliest family memory. "I was pretty young,
probably five or six, but I don't know for sure. I remember being in a motel
room with two of my uncles. I was lying on the bed. It was a big bed

There was a couple of whores in the room. One of them came over and started
playing with me. I remember that! Yeah, that was all right. My uncles came
in from an armed robbery and put their guns in the closet. I asked for one
of the guns. He let me hold it. I knew then, that life was for me."

DAVID C. KERSHAW
luisarturo@aol.com





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Date: Tue, 11 Feb 1997 08:35:00 -0800
From: Patrick Z Carlson <pzcarls@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu>
Subject: BEGGARS AND THIEVES (CARLSON)


Fleisher, Mark S. BEGGARS AND THIEVES. The University of Wisconsin Press,
1995


Reviewed by: Patrick Z. Carlson

Fleisher's book examines the "Sub-culture" of the street world and the
power that crime and drugs have over people. The central purpose of
Fleisher is to examine the ideas of life street people have and the way in
which this culture functions. What is the power drugs have over the street
sub-culture? What are the ideas of life that street people carry with
them? In trying to answer these and other questions, I will outline the
book, comparing one part of the street life to my life in an affluent
Chicago suburb, and examine some of the conclusions drawen from the book to
see if there is a solution to this problem

BEGGARS AND THIEVES examines the lives of the common street criminal

Fleisher looks at both those people in and out of jail, as well as those on
the street and in gangs. Fleisher's book is categorically organized into
different aspects of life for the members of the study. (Each chapter
profiles a different aspect of life for all the "characters"). The first
half of the book is organized into an introduction of all the characters
and basic insights into different aspects of their lives. After the first
section, which is strictly an introduction of all the characters in the
book, Fleisher becomes incredibly interesting incredibly fast. The second
section of the book talks about the family background of several of the
people. Most of the street dwellers grew up in an abusive situation, often
going from home to home and being constantly surrounded by alcoholism and
addiction. One example which best shows the extreme nature of these homes
is that of Leo. Leo's mother was abusive and an alcoholic. He recalls of
the hot Minnesota summers, when his mother used to tie him to a pole and
set a bowl of water just out of reach. She would then proceed to watch him
suffer in the sun and heat. (Fleisher, 100). Another important part of
the first half of the book occurs in the "Expressive Culture" section of
the book. Fleisher defines expressive culture as, " . . . ordered by
symbolic dualism: Strength versus Weakness . . . [with] Life versus Death
. . . being its overarching theme," (Fleisher, 120). This is what made
street culture more easily understood. Most of the ideas which are
introduced will simply overwhelm most people from the area I grew up in

This idea of life versus death among street people is not something which
has gone unheard of in my area. This one idea was central to the entire
book for me because it enforces the idea that this is reality and whether
or not I choose to see, street crime is common

What about those criminals who have been "involuntarily" removed from the
street life? Where dot they then go? Jails and Prisons become their new
homes! Several criminals see prison as a sanctuary though. Several
criminals do not want to leave prison, or know that they will return

Several also will commit some sort of federal offense and serve time in a
federal prison as opposed to spend thirty days in a local jail. One
section concentrates on two career criminals and their differing views on
prison life. Stan has claimed to have enough of prison and vows to never
return, saying that he would rather live on the street than ever return to
prison. Black Hammer, a bank robber, knows that when he gets out, he will
return to robbing banks. He is not at all concerned about returning,
according to him, he gets all the things that he needs right there

Another section that I found particularly interesting is about a prisoner
who is released and accepted at UW for the semester. Blue, a career
criminal, failed to attend class and within six weeks from the start of the
semester, he was back in prison for beating his girlfriend (Fleisher
176-178). Why a person would throw away this chance is beyond me!
The second half of the book starts to look into solutions to the problem
of street crime. Fleisher spends a considerable amount of time on the
Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Treatment Support Act of Washington

Several of the people several in the book either took part in the program
or wanted to take part in it. This program would bring people from the
street into the program and then gradually work them into mainstream
society. One of Fleisher's original informants, Popcorn, was in the
program. He exemplifies the problems with it though. After leaving the
inpatient, they put you up and give you a stipend. With this money,
Popcorn bought several material "toys" (an electronic drum) that serve him
no purpose, but are fun to play with. While he was involved, he was able
to stay clean, but once the stipend runs out and the rent checks stop
coming, he was forced to find a new place and start all over again.
Fleisher also offers up his own solutions to help reduce the problem. His
two main solutions are that when people like this have a child, that child
should be immediately removed from that setting and placed in permanent
foster care or federally funded care houses where they may be loved and
cared for in a proper manner. This is a "no chance" plan that allows the
child to have less of a risk of being brought up into crime. Another
aspect Fleisher s wants to be looked into is prison reform. Over half of
all criminals are arrested again within three years. Fleisher s wants to
know why we spend all this money on reform if most cases are not going to
be successful rehabilitation anyways

I agree with Fleisher in his proposed reforms, but are they really
attainable? Personally, I feel that prison reform is much more important
than removing children from their homes. Prison reform is much more
attainable than the idea of permanent family separation. I feel that
prisons need to concentrate less on the idea of forcing people to learn,
but rather concentrate on the idea of teaching people to do work. Street
people reject the work ethic that most of those in civil society have and
choose instead to take their own route. I am not against the idea of
removing children from their homes, but we live in a society where the
government is too concerned with family values and proper ethics than
immediate care of those who need care the most. Criminals do not need the
care, they do not want the care. But a three month old still needs to be
cared for and loved before it becomes to late.



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Date: Fri, 07 Mar 1997 07:36:48 -0600
To: Reviewed by Kari Didricksen
mailto:kadidri@ilstu.edu
Subject: BEGGARS & THIEVES (Didricksen)


Mark S. Fleisher, BEGGARS & THIEVES: LIVES OF URBAN STREET CRIMINALS
(University of Wisconsin Press, 1995)

Reviewed by Kari Didricksen
mailto:kadidri@ilstu.edu


LEO:
"My mother was an alcoholic and my father tried to keep his farm running;
her drinking was real hard him. I hated the bitch

"When I was a kid, she'd throw empty whiskey bottles at me, from across
the living room. She brought her boyfriends home with her and used to
fuck'em on the couch; she didn't care if we were around or not. She was
always drunk anyways. I remember when I was real young, she'd take me to
bed and play with me

"When I got older, she used to tie me to the clothesline pole out back- we
had one of those free-standing deals, you know-in the summer. You know how
hot it gets in Minnesota in the summer. She'd tie me up with clothesline

She'd wrap it around me, leave me, leave me out there all afternoon, and
put a bowl of water down on the ground in front of me, but I couldn't get
it. My father knew some of the shit that was going on, but he tried his
best to keep the family together. It was nice when she died."
Leo is now in state prison serving two ten year sentences. One is for
armed robbery and the other is for the statutory rape of his live-in
girlfriends 12-year-old daughter. Leo finds the statutory rape okay, since
the girl wanted him. This is a graphic depiction of how many of Fleisher's
interviewes childhoods read. These now adult criminals learned there ways
from enculturation. If a child is raised in an environment where being
neglected, abused, and criticized are the only things they know, the child
will mold a worldview that mirrors their environment. and permits them to
cope with and adjust to the conditions that they are in. The effects of
enculturation are ever lasting. The worldview that these children will
manifest is a "defensive" worldview. It reflects the life that they have
lived. Fleisher examines this worldview and comes to the conclusion that
the only way to stop enculturation of this type is to remove the children
from these abusive and neglectful settings. The children should be
permanently placed in "small long-term residential homes regulated by the
federal government and funded with resources allocated from federal and
state correctional budgets." He sees no other way to save these children

Fleisher needs to consider how foster homes, and orphanages as he is
suggesting run now. Nothing is perfect and although his idea sounds fresh
and new it is not. We have orphanages and they have problems with abuse
and neglect.
Fleisher discusses "street lifecycle" which is the path of life his
informants follow as they move from birth to death. Street lifecycle does
not follow the life events that indicate social maturation. Fleisher
says,"the street lifecycle allows hustlers at any age to speak and act like
adolescents and never acquire responsibilities similar to those marking
social maturation in lawful society." The street lifecycle is marked by
stages. The stages are: (1) "kid's crimes" the onset of drug and alcohol
addictions and juvenile detention, (2) young adulthood marked by going to
prison, (3) aging marked by number of times they have been in prison,
number of years of addiction, and the number of years they have been on the
street. This lifecycle astonishes mainstream society, but this is how the
hustlers live day to day

This lifestyle is the one they would rather choose. Their reasoning for
this is that their's is one with no strings attached, no commitments. They
are responsible for only themselves. They see no reason for them to modify
their lifestyle. If anything they believe that society should change to
meet their needs. Criminals say serving time does nothing to them. They
are not scared of doing time. Actually prison life is good. They are feed
three meals a day and have activities to keep themselves busy. These
criminals also discuss how trying to educate and train them to be part of
mainstream society does not work. If they wanted to be like mainstream
society they would not have choosen the path they are on now. Fleisher
discusses how doing time is like a means nothing to these people. Nothing
bad comes from doing time. In actuality these criminals meet new contacts,
people to do drugs and commit crimes with. Fleisher is extensively against
educating, vocational training, and substance-abuse treatment because it is
ineffectual. Fleisher describes the hopelessness of these people. There
is nothing to help them and anyways they do not want to help themselves

He believes we should not bother with the drags of society. They are a
waste of time and money. Fleisher believes in locking up violent
criminals, but he believes that drug users and sellers should not be locked
up. He does give some what of a good reason for this, and that is that
these people are just being used by others to do the peddly work. The ones
making the real cash are higher up in the chain.
Fleisher throughout the book must bargain with criminals to get the
stories out of them. He gives them food, money, rides, and buys beer. He
is buying and bartering to get the stories he needs. He goes into detail
about how in the prisons there is no exchange of anything (informant fees)
for information. He says though that "illegal behavior to some degree, is
required when doing street ethnography." He reasons that these activities
are okay. He knows exactly what they do with the money and the rides, but
they would do it anyways. He is not their guardians, and so he feels no
guilt or responsibility for what they do with what ever he gives them.
I had a chance to meet Fleisher. To me he seemed to only look down on
these people. He says time and time again how hopeless they are. He was
not open to criticizimes or discussions of the things he said or reported
in his book. He gives these people a life sentence of damnation. I think
there is hope. There are kids who make it, and people who turn their lives
around. I think his opinions should be looked at, but not everyone is
perfect. Another thing I disagreed with is that he only looked at the
criminals and lower class of society. He does not consider the
middle-class abused and neglected children. These people are not exempt
from drug abuse, alcoholism, crimes, or abuse. They can do it just as well
as anyone else. If anything they could get liquor or drugs easier because
they have the cash. Fleisher even mentions these "straights" as he calls
them buying drugs from these kids. Fleisher wrote a good book in the end


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