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One child grows up to be somebody who just loves to learn. And the other child
grows up to be somebody who just loves to burn (198) An excerpt of this poem
paints a picture of two brothers, John and Robert Wideman, leading different
lives. Robert Wideman, embraced a path common for black men during that era; a
life of crime, glamour, and drugs. Quietly sitting in jail, he reminisces deeply
about his troubled past and the consequences of the future that now haunts him.
John, on the other hand, chose the path less taken by those living in the same
world as he did and in due time become a successful professor at a University.
How did two people from the same origin, living in similar environments, and
raised by a caring family choose such different paths? Some might explain the
cause to be risk factors, learned behavior, or missed opportunities. When
explaining criminal behavior, it is inevitable to identify sociological,
behavioral, and psychological problems as causes of crime. John and Robert
always dreamed about running away from the poverty embracing their community.
Even though they shared the same dream, each considered different means of
achieving this dream. John determined early on that " to get ahead, to make
something of myself, college had seemed a logical, necessary step; my exile, my
flight from home began with good grades, with good English" (27). In order for
John to climb the social status, he realized that his only ticket out of poverty
and his community is through a good education. Status must be earned through
hard work and determination. Robert is just the opposite of John. Early on,
Robert acknowledged that school and sports could not satisfy the glamour that
Robert so much desired? Unlike John who disliked blackness, Robert "got a
thing about black. See black was like the forbidden fruit" (84). Robert
embraced the people living in Homewood, Pittsburgh. He felt connected to them
especially when he discovered Garfield "cause that’s where the niggers was.
Garfield was black" (85). By embracing what other people valued and thought,
Robert incorporated the same criminal values as his own. Robert has accepted his
fate, a life of glamour through deviant behavior. Delinquency at an early age
may have contributed to Robert’s behavior. According to Cohen, deviant
behavior derives from an inversion of values. Robert’s values can be best
summed up by the statement "[t]he thing was to make your own rules, do your
own thing, but make sure it’s contrary to what society says or is" (58).
Inversion of values is practically portraying what society views as socially
acceptable, unacceptable. A great example explaining this inversion of values is
captured during a school strike. Robert recaptures the greatest moment of his
life when he took over the school. Through his eyes, "[i]t was the white
man’s world and wasn’t no way round it or over it or under it ... so I kept
on cutting classes and *censored*ing up and doing my militant thing every chance
I got." (114). It seems that Robert felt frustrated living in such an
oppressed environment. He once believed that prosperity can be achievable but
somehow his belief in what society has taught him relating to success is wrong.
Through this belief, Robert maintains a violent life. Other variables such as
family, the community, and opportunities for success play a critical role in
shaping the behavior of adolescence according to Cloward and Ohlin. There were
lost opportunities when Robert’s family decided to move back to Homewood from
Shadyside. A good education in a community that cared for the student was
stripped from Robert’s grasp. Robert was never able to attend the school that
his older brother had previous graduated from. Now living within the boundaries
of the poor community, Robert is exposed to violence and the substandard values
of the neighborhood. Homewood is a community that scared Robert’s Mother. Her
prediction of trouble and Robert’s wild side connecting turned into reality
" [a]nd she was right. Me and trouble hooked up" (85). As a child Robert
constantly needed the attention of his family members especially his mother.
From a different point of view, we can say that Robert was a neglected child,
emotionally. During a time when Robert needed the people he loved most, they
were not there for comfort or guidance. Sometimes Robert felt the "least
important. Always last. Always bringing up the rear. You learn to do stuff on
your own because the older kids are always busy, off doing their thing" (88).