Byron Vincent - Escape from the sink estate
We're fortunate that our supporters often direct us to articles and features they think we'll like. Now and again, those articles are so vital and so relevant to what we do that we just have to share them here. With thanks to @davidjhaines on Twitter, then, we'd like to share a BBC Viewpoint article entitled 'Escape from the Sink Estate', written by poet Byron Vincent.
Byron's article charts his own life path from 'scumbag' to 'middle class' ("I own a breadmaker now and everything"), along the way highlighting the factors and circumstances that led to his involvement in offending, his homeless and drug use. Most pertinently, he highlights how the local culture on the housing estate where he lived significantly shaped the choices he faced and the decisions he made.
"Those born into Britain's underclass don't exit the womb with an insatiable desire to shoplift branded sportswear, any more than soldiers are born with a heightened capacity to kill. Yet I watched pretty much all of my peers grow up to engage in sustained criminal activity. Not because of a genetic predisposition. Not because a life of crime is an easy option - it really isn't - but because the people with the worst social and economic problems have been ghettoised and isolated".
Byron's story would resonate with many of our participants, many of whom come from backgrounds where employment and stability isn't just rare, it's unthinkable - a different world of which they're simply not part. Part of our role, then, is to help people to widen their horizons, to see different futures for themselves, and to understand the skills and qualities they can bring to the world.
"The underclass of which I speak didn't create itself - it's a product of ghettoisation. Taking a bunch of people with social and fiscal problems and forcing them to live en masse together is an idiotic idea that is destined to create a culture of perpetually spiralling criminality. If we want the disenfranchised underclass to adopt the morality of the mainstream, social housing needs to be integrated into mainstream society. That means individual houses among the private residences. Social housing estates shouldn't be these separate isolated places that keep poor people out of sight and mind. That model is not only distasteful - it clearly breeds problems that affect everyone".
Byron's rationale about social housing aligns closely with our experience of imprisonment. For many, prison simply reinforces existing cultures and beliefs, and does little to change people's underlying goals for their future. For that, you need something more personal, more aspirational. More like Venture Trust, in fact.
Do go over to the BBC and read the whole of Byron Vincent's article, it's very important indeed.