THE CULTURE OF ALCOHOL IN RELATION TO SECONDARY AGED PUPILS: a feasibility study
Report submitted to funders in 1989, John Schostak, Richard Davies
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PROFILE NUMBER 6
Debbie is 16 years old. She went into care in 1986. Before that she says "I never been anywhere before, I ain't done nothing. I was out in the country and I wasn't allowed out or anything at home".
Her parents split up. She has got 3 step brothers, two "real" brothers and a step sister living in another part of the country. These latter live with Miriam's mother while she stayed with her father and stepmother. It was when Miriam's second family began to break up that she went into care. There was "loads of hassle, ending in divorce so they got rid of me".
She is living at the moment on an intermediate site for older teenagers where a process of staggered independence is begun. The site contains altogether three separate bungalows, two for the youngsters and one for officers. The move from one bungalow to the other marks an official stage in the youngster's development. Newcomers live first in one bungalow and enjoy a semi independent status until they indicate the potential to look after themselves. At this stage they move to the next bungalow where they have much greater independence. The next step on this ladder at age 18 is off the site altogether to a shared house in College Road and complete independent living, no longer in "care". Two of the bungalows are for youngsters and the third, "the top", is for officers. In her bungalow there is a TV in the living room which also has a suite. There has recently been a new officer in charge and he has made some changes that Debbie doesn't like - which is why, she says, she has been "snotty recently". The regime has become severer. They are not allowed visitors for a whole night. They are not allowed to go to the "top" bungalow. They are not allowed anywhere near the second bungalow "We're just all fixed in our bungalow".
Debbie works on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturdays at a supermarket. Altogether she does 15 and a half hours a week. If it is possible her brothers come and visit her on Sundays. She usually sits in and watches television when she's not at work. She seldom goes out.
Coming into care was "a total new experience" for her. She had more to do, more freedom "I knew more...you learn more than you do..when you are in care than you do when you're at home because you learn how to stick up for yourself. You know how to look after yourself". She was in fact unhappy being in care but her stepmother wouldn't have her back because "the family had broken down completely", and her real mother didn't want her back because she hadn't enough money and "because she didn't want me full stop". (This was to avoid disturbing the relationship the mother was trying to establish with her stepdaughter plus, her mother said, she wanted "a break"). Debbie was faced with the reality of a prolonged stay in care, 5 years, that is until she could get a place of her own. She was then 13. She was very "cut up about it". She felt rejected and pushed out. She then found out that there were people who had been in care all their lives or at any rate even longer than she had.
When Debbie entered the home there were 16 other young people there, mostly girls."Girls in care" she says "are really bitchy". Particularly when there's a new girl in "when they think they're going to take so and so away. So they all stick together and call me dog and everything. So I went running out, didn't I. I said: Oh no, I can't hack it, I can't hack it". On this first day she escaped to the staff room and sat there. Eventually one of the other girls came along and said sorry to her and took her up to her room. Later the same day she went into the living room and the other girls asked if she was alright and asked her name and generally behaved in a friendly way towards her. "They go "Do you smoke?" They say "Go on have a few blasts". I say "I don't really smoke". She started smoking.
The first "puff" she ever had was when she was five. She was playing outside her house.There were some older children around who happened to be smoking. They offered her and her friends a cigarette "I took a blast of it, inhaled it and coughed my guts up. I always remember that, That's always been stuck in my mind for ages". Her next encounter with a cigarette took place some years later when she was 12. She was at the bus stop and a boy she knew was also waiting there. He was smoking "So of course he passed the fag over to me and I had a blast of it". But at that moment her dad came passed her in the car and for a horrible moment it looked as if she might be caught. But, as luck would have it, he didn't see her.
She regrets smoking now she says. It costs too much money. But she has cut down a lot "because I am working now and like Saturdays when I work I go two and a half hours, three and a half hours without even wanting a fag". It's always the first fag in the morning she says, which tastes nice, but you get dizzy "pop a straight fag first thing in the morning, except for a roll up, you always get a nice taste out of it. Just the first blast is lovely, then the rest is a normal day. I always usually try to scrounge a fag in the morning". There have been effects on her physical capabilities: "I used to be a really good sprinter. I can't run no more"
There was another thing that she had to do in order to belong to the group at the home. "They go "Are you a virgin?" Well like this. And I didn't know..cause I'd been at school and at home. I didn't know nothing about this, I go "Yeah". This was not the best thing to have said "And so all the time I was there I had this..I had people going "You virgin! You virgin!. So that was one of the things I had to lose to get into that group. I had to lose my virginity. I always regret that. That's just to get in one group that was. And that was so horrible. You just get pushed into it. You don't like it. You don't like it. You just get pushed into it". Pressure continued to be applied from both boys and girls until she finally gave way "That's just one of the hard things. When you get forced into losing your virginity it is horrible". But everyone in the home where she is now (which consists of semi independent shared houses supervised by a full time residential social worker) "will respect a girl who has got their virgnity because we have always wanted it back"
There was another step necessary for integration into the group. "Everyone was doing nicking and to be in the troupe at all, you know, you had to go nicking, you had to smoke, you had to do all this stuff. To get into the group. To be one of the people at the edge". It was necessary to "do all this stuff and that stuff just to be in with them, if not they would just sit there and take the piss out of you. And you got a hell of a hard life in care if you don't join in with them". Some people find it very hard to mix in with other people she says "you have just got to know how to do it".
She used to skive from school in order to go "nicking". She remembers the first time she skived "I was shitting myself". But she soon acclimatised although the school did not: "about two months later the school chucked me out".
She was scared the first time she went "nicking". But this also,
like missing school, became easier "once you know you could nick something
you just keep on doing it, keep on doing it, don't you". She was young
enough to find it exciting. They always went in a group. Some of the group were
at another school and they only had mornings available for these sprees. At
first she was only required by the others in group to go in the shops and observe.
The others meanwhile had told her what they were going to do. "We all have
to like pretend to be looking at stuff and everything and we had to cover where
the mirror is or something. We have to to cover her so they can't...the mirror
can't see anything. And they used to do the same for you. And we just used to
work round like that". She says the whole thing was very easy.
She was never caught stealing as such but factors inherent in the situation itself caught up with the group. One day she was in British Home Stores. A friend of hers wanted a pair of shoes she'd seen in there. So Debbie went in and asked to try them on. When the opportunity arose she found she could only steal one of the shoes because her jacket was not big enough to take both. Just as she got out of the shop she slipped on ice dropping the stolen shoe onto the ground. She jumped to her feet and ran off meeting Gary, another member of the group, saying "three times" that she couldn't go back into BHS. She was really embarassed she said. Grant (another member) returned to BHS and stole the remaining shoe. After this they went into Debenhams where Grant stole a pair of jeans while Debbie covered for him. Someone else from the home was also in Debenhams. This was Ian who was not at all happy about what the others were doing. He already had a criminal record and the consequences for him would be very serious if he became in anyway implicated in these activities. As a result he "shopped" them to the police. Debbie explains why he did it "He thought it ain't fair. Those can do it but I can't because I'm going to get nicked and put away. So he sort of grassed them up so we wouldn't do it".
Nowadays, she says, she would never nick "I ain't done it since I left
the home" which was nearly two years ago.
She rarely goes to pubs or nightclubs and intends to save all that until she's eighteen. "I could go if I want to. I can dress up and look like 18 if I want to but then..I always feel that people...I feel that I...I feel that I'm looking at and people I know I'm under age and everything. I swear people can tell I'm under age or not because it's obvious. I can always tell if people are under age". She experiences intense self consciousness "I am paranoid, anyhow. If I go into a pub or anything even drinking coke and I've seen people looking at me. Same on buses. I hate it, I do. I can feel people glaring at me all the time and thinking...I'm bad".
She doesn't go out. She stays indoors most of the time at the Home where she lives now. "It's alright but it's boring". There are other young people resident there. The problem is they are always arguing "always about stupid things". For example there is a 16 year old boy at the home, Dean, who is "gay". "He knows he's gay and everybody else knows he's gay". Against this background sensitivities run high folllowing any remarks about homosexuals "If you want to say something about you saw this bent person or something about being gay or lessies or anything, you can't say it when he's there" Dean always takes it personally and he will aggravate the situation for the rest of the evening. But "to tell you the truth I think Dean is lovely. Except for his arguments and everything, except for him getting nasty, he's one hell of a nice bloke. He's got a heart of gold".
But when she gets back to the home and everyone is rowing all she can do she says is shout "shut up! but it is just like talking to a brick wall".
She doesn't drink and seldom goes out. "My parents and me were most anyhow. I was too young. I didn't really think about alcohol - even though they had alcohol in the house and they had parties and everything but you don't really think about it". Her little brothers used to try it she says "but that's what you expect from young people" .She did not take any notice of it until she moved. She remembers her mother used to let them have a glass of wine on a Sunday, when they reached "a certain age". But this was very rarely.
She thinks there's a lot of "rubbish out now" about young people and drink. Where there are problems it is mostly associated with nightclubs. Young people tend to go in groups, she says, and they have to be like each other and "people get other people to buy booze for them and because they're in a gang they think if they drink they're hard, they've got to go like the rest of 'em. That's how come half of them are on the booze anyhow". She knows this because "I been there myself. You spend all your money on booze and everything. It's just not worth it...plus it has bad effects on you. I didn't like it". She thinks people at night clubs tend to drink "loads too much and then they make so much of a fool of themselves and they look so stupid you don't want to be near them".
She says if you tell people what to do "they will go and do the opposite". The most adults can offer to young people growing up in a world where alcohol is present is to offer advice and guidance "but some people will take it in and see the point but other people will just go ahead and do it themselves anyhow....nobody's listening to you. Some people do but some people don't. You shouldn't waste your breath for it".
As for marijuana "There's loads of it about". Quite a few of the boys she knows "are just getting stoned out of their head all the time". She says she would take marijuana but she wouldn't take "The heavy stuff". She doesn't think that marijuana should be illegal but "Hefty drugs I don't like because my mum was addicted to cocaine and she has only just got off it...hefty drugs I don't want to know about".
When she was younger she used to be violent "I was so upset and I think I just took it out on anyone who was there. Anyone who said one thing wrong. I would just hit them. I was hitting teachers. I was hitting pupils. I was hitting staff....I have now calmed down a lot. I have had it all out.....It was just all on your back. You have to let it out somehow and my how was just hitting people....just hitting out and violence".