result of my intervention

Steven VanderStaay (vandesl@OKRA.MILLSAPS.EDU)
Sun, 27 Mar 1994 17:23:51 CST

lives of a subject of mine, "K," and his mother, at a point when I felt such an
intervention might save their lives. I write now to fill people in on what
At that time the boy, at nearly 18, was inevitably bound for prison
(and perhaps death by drive-by shooting) if he did not get (re)arrested before
he turned 18. The mother, who begged me for help with her addictions, could not
get help until he was off the street and safely out of her life. My solution:
let the counselor in on the situation, pointing out that if the boy went to
reform school now we could save him a prison sentence while allowing the mother
to get treatment (The mother felt she couldn't get treatment while he was
"free" because she had to get a relative to come stay in her apartment with her
4 year old and, if that happened, K would take over the apartment, terrorize
them with his friends, etc.) My problem: how to do this without breaking my
bond of confidence with him.
List advice was overwhelmingly on the side of intervention.
Interestingly, however, people who had done ethnographies of street life
cautioned me about doing so, however, warning "First, do no harm." Having
written a book about homelessness (1992), I shared much of their
experience and respected this perspective. However, I was also persuaded by
those that said to intervene that, because my subjects are of my culture, I am
necessarily a participant and, because they are minors, necessarily responsible
for them.
I explained the situation to the counselor without telling him anything
he didn't know, thereby protecting K's confidence. Unfortunately, the counselor
has dozens of kids in the same situation and didn't think it remarkable.
Fortunately, K got arrested on his own account (shooting at an occupied
dwelling) and now is in detention. I've got a restitution officer (an ex-addict
himself) working to get him sent to reform school (rather than prison) and,
perhaps, it will all work out.
Reflecting on it all, I appreciate greatly the help I received from
individuals, and remain curious about certain questions. Most importantly, I
can't help wondering if the ethnography of illegal activities by teenagers
isn't, at some level, impossible.
Steve VanderStaay