Content Warning: The following extracts reference interpersonal and institional forms of violence. Including racism, child sexual abuse and domestic violence.
"By the time I was born, my mother’s family had been settled for about 18 months; a council estate in earshot of The Pennines, it was typical of the post-industrial North. Communities here hadn't yet been entirely decimated, but the effects of neo-liberalism were beginning to take a vice-like grip. Factories were closing down, unemployment was rising, the far-right was growing among the white-English population, and racist attacks were rising on the Bangladeshi and Pakistani-immigrant communities who had arrived around the same time as my family. Whilst the African-Caribbean diaspora was relatively small in the area, in comparison to other parts of the country, it was still viewed as a target for a similar kind of hate. My grandfather made links with patriarchs in all migrant communities, links not based on any mutual solidarity, but ones that he could exploit financially. Similarly, he was unafraid of making deals and working with the parts of the far-right that were more interested in making money than they were in defending Queen, country and the Anglo-Saxon race. This is how he met my dad and introduced him to my mum. They didn't make a ton of money - many mouths to feed and all that - but using a bit of charm, a lot of violence, and his white-skin privilege, he found a myriad of ways to get by. "
"Me and Robbie both got broken. Our families were broken in their own ways. Men and women who'd been beaten, raped, colonised and left traumatised in more ways than they could count, then took out all that damage on me and Robbie. They took bats, belts and cocks to our bodies. They tried to feel momentarily powerful by wreaking havoc on our minds. But by our mid-20s, Robbie and I had gone our different ways. I got lucky, got chances to get off the trauma cycle, got a chance to think, to rest, to sleep. But Robbie didn't get those chances, he kept going around and around. At 25, he got banged up for the last time, got trapped by the prison system that had been after him for most of his life."
"The goal of abolition is to imagine modes of being with one another that go beyond the logic of these systems. Abolition is “both a long accumulation and future planning of acts, performed by and in the name of peoples and communities relentlessly laboring for their own physiological and cultural integrity”. It is this relentless struggle for physiological and cultural integrity that I present in the poverty-classed bodies of my essays. The inner-city, criminalised youth embodied by “Valerie”, “Sanjay”, “MD” and myself were raised in a time where first, a Conservative government denied that our communities existed, then, the New Labour social and cultural project castigated us for not participating in said communities. Sanjay and MD, racialised young men raised in poverty, explored the avenues open to their racial, classed and gendered position to resist the symbolic and institutional violence of the white-supremacist societies they lived in. My grandfather and father appear as different embodiments of poverty class and masculine violence; one shaped by colonialism and anti-gypsy paradigms in the UK and Ireland; the other, my father, embraced specific forms of white supremacy, from his position during the deindustrialisation of Northern England, generational poverty and the nationalist propaganda that spread in the 70s and 80s. Each attempted to deny the carceral power of the state and capital over their existence, but fell foul by seeking solace in the violence of the patriarchy. As white, cis-gendered men, my grandfather, my father and I, also represent different configurations of white supremacism, and its unquestionable connection to the carceral society. As mentioned before, the carceral systems of surveillance, control and punishment were first brought to life in the plantations where Africans who had been enslaved by white Europeans were held captive. It is vital, then, to highlight that, as Dylan Rodriguez states:
“The long historical praxis of abolition is grounded in a Black radical genealogy of revolt and transformative insurgency against racial chattel enslavement and the transatlantic trafficking of captive Africans”.
"We talk for a while, or rather, he talks. He tells me his dad's an Indian businessman who does shady things, and he lives in his mum's basement and that she's a mystic from Barbados.
He tells me he's been out of lock-up for a couple of years now. He spent four years inside for beating one of his dad's competitors with a metal bar after his dad paid him to. And this is how we bond. We drink the cider and smoke on the bench, until we run out of cider. He invites me back to his house, says he has more booze there. Tells me I can crash there if I want. I look at him, all 20 stones of him, and know out here in the park I could get away from him if I wanted. But in his basement? In his basement, I'd be trapped. I want to die though, I'm tired of this. I want him to take a metal bar and crack my skull right open. I don't care if he skins me and wears me as a hat. I don't care if he's got other bodies stuffed and mounted on his wall. I don't care if he decides to chain me up and torture me for years. I don't care. I'm tired, and I don't mind if I suffer, and I don't mind if I die.
He doesn't do any of this though. We go back to his basement, which is dirty, and a bit weird with posters of TV shows and the planets on his wall. He's got some rum, he's got some wine, he's got some pills and we get wasted. He makes us some ham sandwiches.
I fall asleep on his floor. "
"In “Impoverishment of Thought”, Mick Harvey writes about the psychologically deadening effect of working-class jobs. The wage labour that many of us are forced to do is repetitive and mind-numbing. In tandem with this, many of us face an onslaught of stresses and strains that leave us seeking refuge in mindnumbing past times. It’s in the face of this struggle that we need to develop strategies to enable us to think beyond binaries, beyond the ways of being that have been offered up to us. Sanjay seemed to find some of this in his storytelling, and the art and literature that he loved. I don’t know where it took him, but in witnessing and remembering his efforts, he gave me an insight into how I might begin a similar journey. It would take a good few years before I was prepared to start seeing the importance in his example, and even longer for me to see how it resonated with the abolitionist path. Only in reading the work of adrienne maree brown and then Octavia Butler did I begin to recognise it consciously. It was then that, only very gradually, did I begin to grasp the ways in which I relied on very colonial and patriarchal pedagogical patterns. That the work I had done to unlearn violence and oppression had been with the vernacular of the violent and oppressive forces. I had created a defence from learning from my emotions, from learning from my body, and the dislocation from my heritage and the biological communities I come from meant I was unable to learn from them, as they tried to speak through my body. As we search for queer and post-colonial methodologies and pracitices, we must embrace our imaginations in ways that are not rooted in individualistic ideology; find ways to connect with one another. I feel it is in the collective imagination that we will find ways beyond our current carceral culture."
" In “Commiting Harm is not the same as being abusive” Da'Shaun Harrison states that “abuse is about a continued and repeated force of violence that mistreats, mishandles, or exploits someone's body, being and/or feelings. It is about a commitment-interrogated or uninterrogated- to enforcing violence onto someone else with no interest in stopping”. This is not a description of my punters as a teenage sex worker, it is a description of how society as a whole treated Darren, myself and our friends for much of our childhood. As much as the sexual abuse, it’ss the abuse and the trauma caused by the social and economic system that caused Darren and myself the greatest harm. This is reflected in our experiences. In seeing counsellors, he recounts his experience of talking about the sexual abuse he suffered as not dissimilar to “Good Will Hunting”, “once I understood it wasn't my fault, everything got a little easier” he told me via text a few weeks ago, “that stuff you wrote about in your book, about not understanding your body, I didn't have that. I just thought what happened was on me”. Instead, what caused him more pain is “the world just kept acting like it hated me, maybe because I was poor, maybe because I was black, but it hated me. I didn't know why”. Darren's period of rehabilitation exacerbated this, “I got clean. I got a job. I got a wife. And then the world treated me better, and that made me think everything that had happened, the violence, being in prison, had been my fault. Had been about my choices”. For Darren, what is harder to rectify is his own agency within the social and economic structures.
I feel him deeply on this, there are many times when I tell myself that, given how good my life is now, if I'd only made the right better choices early on, so much pain for myself and for others could have been avoided. That the persistent poverty and deprivation I experienced was connected to the decisions made by my mum, by dad and myself. This is compounded by the conviction that I had agency throughout my childhood and youth. One of the biggest criticisms I had about my first book was that I used the term “child sex worker”. Many folks were keen to inform me that the sex I had consented to with punters was in fact rape. My stock response to this was that, from age 11 to 14, I chose to do sex work. I had to work to ensure food and clothing for my sisters, as well as paying for my escalating drug and alcohol consumption. My work choices were limited, and I moved into drug dealing and robbing gradually. But selling my body for sex was, for a while, the easier option. Was I exploited by the men who had sex with me? Absolutely. Do I wish I’d been in a position where that hadn’t happened? Absolutely. Was it work? Absolutely. Did I consent to it within the context of having very few options? Absolutely. My definition of rape has always been sex without consent, maybe I'm wrong on that. But I was raped before this period of my life and I was raped after this period of my life. The sex I sold was exploitative and it was traumatising, but I don't consider it rape. I consented. I don't position myself as someone who speaks for every child put in that position, but the ones I knew then did not think of it as rape either and the few I've spoken to since have mixed responses. Some now believe that as children they were unable to grant consent, which is a large part of the argument of the critics of the term “child sex worker”. I did give consent and those of you who try to deny me my agency can go fuck yourselves. Whilst it might be easier to think of me purely as a victim in those circumstances, I had agency, even if I was massively constrained by the social context and economic system I was living in. So, if I proclaim the agency I had in those conditions, then surely I had agency later on in life as my drug consumption and my violence increased. Surely, these were choices as well? They were, but it's the context that they were made in that matters more. All of the choices I made from age nine until I was in mid-20s were mediated by the fact that I could never be sure if I'd have a dry place to sleep that night, or where I'd be able to get food from, or whether the state would force me to be somewhere of their choosing. For Darren it was very similar, and the same goes for the kids we came up with, both those who have made it this far, and those who haven't. The relentless cycle of trauma generated by poverty and deprivation is the responsibility of the economic, political and social practices of our society. I'm not even going to bother presenting the evidence that there are more then enough resources to provide appropriate shelter and good food for everyone on the planet - do your own fucking homework. Instead, decisions are made that it is not a priority to make that shelter, or of those resources, available to those without them. "