Tell me, who loves the rehabilitated offender in society today? I was stunned into silence today when I watched the highly charged, emotional roller coaster that is the film Boy A.
Telling the story of a young man that has come through the criminal justice system for a mistake he made in his early childhood, the film takes you through a few weeks in the life of this young individual as he comes to terms with his freedom, learns to live with the guilt he feels and faces the society that wants to hate the villain they don’t know is in their midst.
The film opens up so many questions its quite brilliant. The acting is totally amazing as you are drawn into a compelling relationship with the ex offender that leaves you wanting to reach out and heal his hurt. How very wrong it is to simply judge and assume we know the full story about someone’s life when it comes to having to sit in judgement of their past, their present and their future.
A young man tortured by bullies, hurting by the pain of watching his mother dying of cancer and isolated by a father that hides in a bottle, falls under the spell of a strong, independently minded young lad who has the balls to stand up to the bullies and the world around him. It’s a classic case of one young lad who’s being abused in a totally different way reaching out to another young lad that is seem as odd and different by the socialites of the schooling system and finding acceptance, friendship and companionship.
Does that make what they do any less terrible or horrific? No it most certainly does not. But we are all human, and as impressionable young people we often get caught up in the whirl wind of loyalty and hero worship that overtakes us as young people. How often can you say that as a young person you idolised him or her for the way he or she looked, treated you, trusted you, lead you. Would you go up the path of right and wrong with that individual? Hell yes. I know I’ve done it. Even now I find that I can get it wrong when I form conclusions about people.
Ok yes I don’t go out killing people because I couldn’t get on in life or work my way through difficulties, but sometimes we are not the doer, but guilty by association. The truth of the matter is that the film never gives us an insight into the guilt of either child in the murder as it happens, but we do get a fairly good idea from the lead up and circumstances as to who did what, when.
So yes, the young chap serves his time, and if the film is anything to go by becomes a model citizen. Under the leadership and guidance of a committed youth worker, freedom is born again in the life of a new identity, and “Jack” learns that life isn’t all bad. In the few weeks from the time of his release to the time of his eventual suicide, we follow a humble, grateful and remarkable journey of friendship, love, deliverance and mystery.
We never quite know what happens to the other boy in the incident, other than that he is found hanging. Vigilante group? Jack certainly believes so. Or simply the weight of guilt of what he’s done. Whatever the reason, the death of his closest friend in life to that date, haunts our young ex offender. He dreams about it all constantly, but is that not part of what we get as participants of crime? A life of recollections and memories that haunt the guilty just as much as those left behind?
Hell I know I’ve sat in judgement of the killers of Jamie Bulger. I know I’ve said some pretty grim things about the lads who could torture, degrade and slaughter such a beautiful little boy. I know I’ve sat watching his mother speak with tears running down my face, clearly feeling her pain through a television screen. I have a sneaky suspicion that this movie was in many ways based on this story but maybe told from another side. What happens to the hated of society when they get free?
No one likes an ex con. Once a thief, always a thief I’ve heard said so many times. Yes I do believe that the criminal justice system teaches you to be a better crook. I think that prison is just a learning centre for hardened criminals to recruit and train the next generation of toughened criminals. It’s a problem that is endemic with the overcrowding of hard core criminals with vulnerable, young, green offenders who are desperate to fit in and feel safe. But I also strongly believe that there are exceptions to the rule. Everyone can make a mistake. Everyone faces situations of desperation and crisis that makes them make bad decisions. These are not hardened criminals that are out to cause chaos and discontent. But given time in an prison cell, it won’t take long…
So what do we do when someone comes out and tries again? Well, as society we hound them down. Either as a community we demand to know who’s living in our midst. Rightly or wrongly so, we want to know who our neighbours are. The business community are no less unforgiving. Put in a job application declaring that you have a previous conviction and see how far you get. Rehabilitated or not, you’re on the not wanted list.
So does that mean that ex cons have to live a life full of lies to survive in the real world after their sentence. Of course. Would you walk around like a Jew in World War II Nazi Germany with a star of David emblazoned on your sleeve to shout to the world who you are? Today we read stories of men and women that risked life and death to avoid wearing those stars and think of them as hero’s! Are ex con’s any different?
Maybe not hero’s yes I’ll agree, but human beings who made a mistake and now want to get on with life and put their past behind them. I truly believe that this type of person deserves a chance. But how do we tell the one from the other. How do we know when someone coming out of the prison system is being genuine that he does not want to reoffend or is bluffing his way out to the freedom of relocation or changing of your identity. I don’t know the answer to these questions I have to be honest. I for one was challenged by the movie to re-examine how I feel about people, be they saints or sinners. I am not perfect, and so have little place to be looking down on anyone.
I understand both sides of this argument, and am perplexed as to the solution. But society is somewhat set the way it is, and I for one don’t believe that any ex convict will get a fair deal, no matter what the circumstances, no matter where they end up. Maybe it is some justice that in the end it is as difficult for them as it is for us.
Please, let me know your thoughts. I’d really like to get your perspective on the issues raised in this blog. Thanks.