Revealing insight into the parallel world of gangs
James Patrick wrote his book in the late 1960s but so much of it seems to speak to today and our growing worries about gang violence. In his book there is a map of Glasgow's gang territories. A similar one exists today. The territories sit neatly within the poorest areas. Patrick is a pseudonym chosen by the author who was, when he researched the book, a teacher in an approved school. He befriended a pupil called Tim and, with the boy's connivance, accompanied him on his weekends out and joined the young man's gang. Tim was effortlessly well-behaved throughout the week at school. He was just above average intelligence and likeable. In deciding to open his teacher's eyes to gang life, he understood the risks far more clearly than the author did.
Initially, Patrick found himself accepted into a loose association of youngsters who spent their days hanging around street corners and their evenings in pubs and dance halls. Most of the time they told stories, or stared into space. Then, in a finger snap, violence could erupt. On his first evening, a man accidentally brushed against a gang member in the pub. He was bashed over the head with a glass bottle. He and his mate were then dragged to the floor where they were jumped on and kicked in the head. On this, as on all occasions, all gang members joined in. I was reminded of a pride of lions or pack of wild dogs, springing into action at the prospect of a threat or a kill.
The boys, for that's all they were, would send out challenges to enemy gangs and, mob-handed, do battle, fuelled by fear and aggression. Once the fight started they expected no mercy and gave none. Tim, so temperate throughout the week, demonstrated his leadership skills with hammer, club or blade.
In a matter of weeks the situation had become too hot for Patrick to handle but, during his time with the gang, he gleaned valuable information. Tim, for example, inherited his role from older brothers who had gone on to greater violence and were thus feared and respected. His father encouraged his participation and his mother ignored it. The gang offered Tim, and his contemporaries, a life. Outside it they were poor, uneducated nobodies. In the gang they had station and respect. Approved school, borstal and prison were regarded as unfortunate side-effects.
I might have put A Glasgow Gang Observed back on the bookshelf in the history section - for some of the gangs mentioned date back to the 1880s. However, a series of articles in the Evening Times in 2006 convinced me little had changed. Reporter David Leask witnessed gang warfare and discovered the gangs made appointments to fight. Weapons included golf clubs, metal poles, razors and knives. And gang membership still restricts its members to their own territory. When Leask told an unemployed Ruchazie youth there were jobs at Glasgow Fort, the boy looked horrified. He said: "I would have to get a number 38 bus and that goes through Garthamlock. There is no way I'm going to risk my life like that."
However, to those growing up in these areas, the advantages of gang membership outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, for the youth who is growing up without a stable family or much education, arguably it is an intelligent decision. It offers protection, companionship, acceptance, status, a peer group and purpose. That is what our side of the parallel universe has to understand. That is what we have to counter.
Colette Douglas Home, The Herald, 4 Sept 2007
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