This paper is an account of the interview of one adult aged about 45 years, based on his life perspective from childhood. In order to ensure confidentiality to the source of the information, I chose to refer to the respondent as Jones. Jones is 45 years old male of the African American origin.
He is a prison convict, serving his final year jail term as a serial bank robber. The interview was conducted on June 4th 2012 in the prison compound and lasted for about 2 hours. Jones was born in New York, as the second born in a family of three. The father was a retired military officer and the mother a house wife. At the age of five, Jones’ family relocated to Jamaica, where the family lived a life full of misery, caused by poverty.
During his early ages, Jones made frequent visits to his friends in the southern part of the city where issues of racial discrimination were more prevalent. As an African American, Jones was always a victim of racial discrimination. The experience affected his perception about the law enforcement agencies in the city as well as the federal government.
He developed a negative perception on law enforcers and the ability of society to protect the vulnerable individuals and government. He was particularly unhappy with violence and the inequality the African Americans faced in society. Jones was always on revenge missions against the ills of racial segregation meted to him and other African Americans. He dropped out of school at the age of 13 because being in school would not lead him achieve his objectives.
Jones later joined a robbery gang that was notoriously known for street robbery attacks targeting the whites. In his first robbery mission, Jones was involved in a foiled robbery attempt in a drug store. He was arrested by the police and sent a youth rehabilitation centre where he managed to escape under unclear circumstances.
During his childhood, Jones was kicked out of several schools mainly due to discipline cases. His family being overwhelmed sent him to a relative in Chicago. The move, meant to change his behavior bore no fruits; Jones continued carrying out petty robbery attacks and was again sent back to his parents in New York by his host. On arriving in New York, Jones was on his mission again as usual, robbing and falling in the hands of the police. This time he was arrested and put under juvenile detention for two years for violently robbing a lady of money and jewelry. He did not stay for even half the jail term; he plotted a jailbreak that was executed through an outburst that distracted the prison security. After the escape, Jones fled to Canada, where he was caught again and sent to Montreal prison. He returned to New York at the age of 17 after finishing the jail term at the Montreal prison.
His mentality this time was to enjoy a sumptuous life that society had robbed him; he needed expensive cars, jewelry and lavish houses. His gang hatched a plot to rob from the federal banks as a way of revenging against the federal government which was insensitive to the ills that plagued the African Americans. After a series of robberies attacks on the federal banks, his gang was netted by the police, eight months down the line. This was after one of the gang members was caught in a different robbery instance and in the process of pleading for mercy, revealed the gang members. Jones and his crew were arrested and taken to a federal correction facility in Chicago. They were sentenced for a jail term of four years each. While in custody, Jones became notorious with violent attacks on fellow inmates and officers in the correctional institution.
Two years later, the federal bureau of prisons came up with an educational program targeting prisoners. Jones together with other inmates enrolled for the program and later started attending classes. During the learning period, the prison department allowed students free time but was not strict on ensuring class attendance. Jones together with other inmates took advantage of the loophole to organize robbery attacks on the federal banks again.
They used the money to buy luxury apartments and cars. Their bus driver informed the authorities of their robbery instances and the gangs were caught. The program was disbanded, during Jones’ trial, the driver declined to witness before the caught fearing that his life would be threatened. The trials were suspended, and Jones served the rest of the sentence in the same jail.
After he completed his sentence term, Jones’ behavior did not change at all; he was determined to carry out more careful robbery attacks on the federal banks. He recruited and trained more crew members to his gang to execute intelligent and faster robbery attacks that left the police chasing at the wind. This did not happen for long before Jones was arrested and jailed again. This time as in the previous sentences, Jones organized a prison break and managed to escape from jail through a fierce shootout with the police. He was later captured again and put behind bars for a total of 25 years, during this period, Jones decided to join formal education and earned a bachelor’s degree in business three years later.
He then made several appeals to the prison authorities; his jail term was reduced to 5 years 3 of which he served under a supervised parole.
In his works, Green (2002) brings out an analysis of how an individual’s life perspective is shaped with time, environment, social status and relationships. An event through which one’s life transit often shapes his or her behavior. In the preceding interview, Jones grew up in troubled childhood; full of violence and hardships resulting mainly from segregation and poverty. The life he lived shaped his choices and actions in life. He dropped out of school and joined a robbery gang in order to revenge on the federal government which, according to him had neglected the interests of the African Americans leaving them vulnerable to the violent attitudes of the whites.
Green (2002) defines a cohort as “a statistical group of individuals with similar and unique characteristics”. Cohort effects refer to behavioral effects that belong to a given generation.
The behavioral effects are often synonymous with the times and social changes of the generation periods. These effects have been seen to vary from one cohort to another, members of cohort share characteristics that are unique to it, drawn from the experiences of the time. Jones’ belonged to a gang that was involved in a series of bank robberies meant to revenge against the federal government.
His crew members can be classified to a cohort that experienced similar pains that resulted from racial segregation and poverty. The cohort effects disposed by Jones signals the “macro historical influences” about the course of his life. Thornberry (2004) indicates that both cohort and cohort effects present the concepts of social and historical ages. The social age defines the norms and values that society expects members of a given generation to carry. According to Thornberry (2004) society has an expectation on when members of generation should marry and transit through the various stages of life in a normal way. The historical age, on the other hand, refers to ones empirical age. Hutchison, e.
d. (2011) points out that there is a close connection between social age and historical age, the “changes in social ages along the historical age” affect the behavior of the individual’s life.
Life transitions as pointed out by Hutchison, e.d. (2011) pays close attention to one’s biography and how “the timings affect one’s life transitions such as marriage and child bearing”. Every transition has an impact on the behavior of a person depending on the pressure that the new responsibilities the acquired position bestows to the individual. In his childhood, Jones’ life oscillated between sharing moments with his poor parents and visiting relatives in different cities. Life presented him with challenging experiences, which awakened his urge to reverse the situation.
Jones dropped out of school at a tender age of 13 years to join a robbery gang and started earning living through robbery activities. In the course of his new lifestyle, Jones was at loggerheads with the law enforcers. He found himself behind bars on several occasions as a result of his criminal activities. On three occasions, he managed to escape from prison through organized outbursts. Later in his criminal lifestyle, he enrolled for a bachelor’s course in business, which marked his journey to a changed lifestyle.
Hirschi and Laub (2002) define trajectories as “long term life patterns” resulting from a particular lifestyle or behavior.
Trajectories comprise of life events and transitions that lead to some point of turning back. Greene and Gabbidon (2011) suggest that there are strong connections between childhood experiences and adulthood perceptions. Jones’ childhood experiences were surrounded with racial segregations and lots of hardships. Jones blames the federal government, society and law enforcers for failing to protect vulnerable African Americans from violence and segregation. The perception changes his attitude towards school and makes him drop out of school to embark on robbery attacks as a way of getting back from society what had been denied from him. His life is dotted with a series of robbery attacks, arrests, violence against fellow inmates, organized prison breaks and indictment. In the first encounters with the police, Jones was indicted for few months, which he hardly served to completion.
Because of abject poverty and his criminal behavior, his parents often send him to stay with relatives in other parts of the city. Change of environment, instead of reducing his criminal activities only sharpened his criminal skills. After several years appearing in court to answer to same criminal judges, Jones made up his mind to study for a degree program in business. After earning a bachelor’s degree, he negotiated for leniency, which the prisons bureau agreed to reduce the jail term to 2 years.
This marked the turning point of Jones’ life from a criminal to a law abiding businessman. There are a lot of similarities between the content in the literature and the interviewee. The literature discusses much on issues of trajectory, transition and turning points as a sequential path for most criminals. Jones’ behavior pattern can be traced on the same path from the beginning to his turning point when his behavior reforms.
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