And the other child grows up to be
somebody who just loves to burn
An excerpt of this poem paints a picture of two brothers, John and Robert Wideman, leading different lives. Robert Wideman, embraced a path common for black men during that era; a life of crime, glamour, and drugs. Quietly sitting in jail, he reminisces deeply about his troubled past and the consequences of the future that now haunts him. John, on the other hand, chose the path less taken by those living in the same world as he did and in due time become a successful professor at a University. How did two people from the same origin, living in similar environments, and raised by a caring family choose such different paths?Some might explain the cause to be risk factors, learned behavior, or missed opportunities.When explaining criminal behavior, it is inevitable to identify sociological, behavioral, and psychological problems as causes of crime.
John and Robert always dreamed about running away from the poverty embracing their community. Even though they shared the same dream, each considered different means of achieving this dream. John determined early on thatto get ahead, to make something of myself, college had seemed a logical, necessary step; my exile, my flight from home began with good grades, with good English (27).In order for John to climb the social status, he realized that his only ticket out of poverty and his community is through a good education.Status must be earned through hard work and determination.Robert is just the opposite of John.Early on, Robert acknowledged that school and sports could not satisfy the glamour that Robert so much desired? Unlike John who disliked blackness, Robert got a thing about black. See black was like the forbidden fruit (84). Robert embraced the people living in Homewood, Pittsburgh.He felt connected to them especially when he discovered Garfield cause thats where the niggers was. Garfield was black (85). By embracing what other people valued and thought, Robert incorporated the same criminal values as his own. Robert has accepted his fate, a life of glamour through deviant behavior.
Delinquency at an early age may have contributed to Roberts behavior. According to Cohen, deviant behavior derives from an inversion of values. Roberts values can be best summed up by the statement the thing was to make your own rules, do your own thing, but make sure its contrary to what society says or is (58) . Inversion of values is practically portraying what society views as socially acceptable, unacceptable.A great example explaining this inversion of values is captured during a school strike.Robert recaptures the greatest moment of his life when he took over the school. Through his eyes, it was the white mans world and wasnt no way round it or over it or under it … so I kept on cutting classes and *censored*ing up and doing my militant thing every chance I got. (114). It seems that Robert felt frustrated living in such an oppressed environment. He once believed that prosperity can be achievable but somehow his belief in what society has taught him relating to success is wrong.Through this belief, Robert maintains a violent life.
Other variables such as family, the community, and opportunities for success play a critical role in shaping the behavior of adolescence according to Cloward and Ohlin. There were lost opportunities when Roberts family decided to move back to Homewood from Shadyside. A good education in a community that cared for the student was stripped from Roberts grasp. Robert was never able to attend the school that his older brother had previous graduated from.Now living within the boundaries of the poor community, Robert is exposed to violence and the substandard values of the neighborhood.Homewood is a community that scared Roberts Mother. Her prediction of trouble and Roberts wild side connecting turned into reality and she was right. Me and trouble hooked up (85).
As a child Robert constantly needed the attention of his family members especially his mother. From a different point of view, we can say that Robert was a neglected child, emotionally. During a time when Robert needed the people he loved most, they were not there for comfort or guidance. Sometimes Robert felt the least important. Always last. Always bringing up the rear. You learn to do stuff on your own because the older kids are always busy, off doing their thing (88).To strive for the attention Robert needed, he turned to his troubled community for instant gratification
We cannot just blame Roberts family or the community for his behavior. Part of the problem explains Sutherland is that crime is a learned behavior. Essentially, Robbys criminal behavior is a result of being directly in contact with criminals.Robby is a like a virgin in the drug business. He didnt know how to use drugs until he meet friends that were into drugs and getting high. Robby describes the first time he gets hooked on drugs.Squirrel and Bugs Johnson are like my teachers, teaching me the tricks of the trade (104-5). Interestingly enough, Bugs Johnson had previously learned how to use drugs from an infamous Uncle Carl also known as the King of the Junkies (105). . There seems to be an admiration for these types of guys through Robbys eyes.Robbys relationship with drugs and the values that have been passed on gets him into real trouble not only with his family but also with the law. Many times have Robby have been arrested and jailed for his drug habit.
A friend, a teacher you could say, taught the Robert the business of swindling. Smokey was an old fellow set in the old ways to which Robby found admiration. He would take Robby under his wing and show him the ropesHe the one that taught me the TV Hustle.It is obvious that to us why Robert behaves the way he does. Its simply because of something he learned and we now know that Robby is now committed to life because a deal had gone bad.
Robby never reveals the reason why he chooses to use drugs.However, Robert shows signs of personal frustration, alienation, and a negative sense of self. It is amazing how Robert interpreted his birthday as a bad omen.The month of December is a truly difficult time for Robby. It was a season of sadness to hear that on his birthday, his grandmother died and his sister had a miscarriage.There was always an overwhelming sense of sadness. Robby explains it quite simply, almost like not having a birthday. Or even worse, like sharing it with your brothers and sister instead of having the private oasis of your very own special day (92).Among Roberts family member, he felt the most alienated crying most of the time.Somehow, drugs must have resolved this alienation.
Roberts personal frustration with failed dreams also drove him to use drugs.There was a time in Roberts life when his only wish was to become successful. He would dream about expensive car, pretty clothes, and making it to the top. Roberts dream was as vivid like the bright blue sky. Despite all these visions, there was no means of achievement, just failures. Therefore, his only companion that would take his mind off of these fail dreams was drugs.
Roberts aspiration is to achieve prosperity but rejected the method to accomplish this dream. Merton would define this type of behavioral adaptation as innovation, which explains why Robert stole the television from his family. Robby was obviously hooked on drugs. The urge to use drugs (goal) was overwhelming. To satisfy the drug habit, Robert burglarized his family (the means), to pacify his cravings.It is difficult for someone to view this type of behavior as wrong.Robby admits that having lived in the life, it becomes very hard-almost impossible-to find any contentment in joining the status quo (57).Conformity is not a behavior that Robert found gratifying. In his community the emphasis was, get the most you can get with the least amount of work (241).This statement has profound effects.It is an attitude that frames the minds of criminals. Practically, it is stating that crimes are acceptable and that prosperity through education is wrong.
There is no one answer to why Robert Wideman led a life of crime. However, Robert is a person with many identifiable risk factors.He was born into a poor community where violence and crimes are rampant.His role models were often criminals. If there were opportunities for Robert to succeed, he would have certainly taken that chance. Unfortunately, the only opportunities present in his neighborhood were criminal opportunities. Roberts greatest failure was to perceive his fate as something that cant be changed. Only through times of isolation did Robert realize his mistake.We can change our attitudes by first looking within ourselves for that commitment.
Wideman, John E. Brothers and Keepers. New York :First Vintage