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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who knew Britain was two different worlds?, 11 July 2012
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This review is from: Among the Hoods: My Years with a Teenage Gang (Hardcover)
Anybody who has had even the slightest brush with the UK's `Employment Service' or `Social Security System' will know what a bureaucratic, inflexible system it is. If you are 16, illiterate and without a single person in the world to help you negotiate it, it's no wonder you are going to find other, often by necessity anti-social, ways to exist.

Unlike her friends in the visual media (all behaving badly here), Harriet Sergeant took the time to become deeply involved in the complex lives of Tuggy Tug and his gang over a period of three years. By the end, every middle-class value she holds has been comprehensively smashed as she realises that for one section of society, absolutely nothing in the majority's world is relevant to them - and often is a hindrance rather than a help.

Almost every page reveals the gulf in existence and experience. Boys are scared to stray beyond a few streets in winter, even out of their room in summer for fear of attack by other gangs... yet will commit street robbery on other black boys (never white women, as that's a prison sentence) for food money - but will remain permanently hungry as they spend on other things.

They are not just illiterate, but unable to communicate in anything but a patois used among friends - so no chance of being employed, even if a well-meaning businessman takes time from his schedule to interview them; and despite having self-taught skills that could prove valuable if only they could be harnessed.

From young mothers who can't cope with them, to foster carers who have them taken away just as progress is being made, to schools hidebound by doctrine into providing nothing useful, to `social security' providing nothing of the kind, to crime to provide what `social security' can't, to prison; which provides the only stability they've ever known...

Harriet Sergeant writes about it all with a beguiling style that makes the reader see beyond the highly dangerous criminals that their backgrounds have, it's clear, offered them little opportunity but to become. It allows readers like myself to connect, briefly with those that we wouldn't employ, nor wish to pay more tax for (it'll only get spent on keeping them in a grotty hostel / terrifying prison / Government scheme that looks great on paper but doesn't work in reality).

This book should fuel a revolution in social thinking, but alas a more likely outcome is that the state inertia highlighted will continue to condemn useful people to permanent hell, even from birth. Still, one pair of middle class hands has stopped wringing and worked on changing lives, by action and by pen. If enough take the right message from this book, it's possible that 'Harry' may just have written something that, ultimately, may provide a little hope.
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