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Beggars and Thieves

Lives of Urban Street Criminals

Mark S. Fleisher

Publication Year: 1995

As the incidence of violent crime rises in the United States, so does the public demand for a solution. But what will work?
    Mark S. Fleisher has spent years among inmates in jails and prisons and on the streets with thieves, gang members, addicts, and life-long criminals in Seattle and other cities across the country. In Beggars and Thieves, he writes about how and why they become and remain offenders, and about the actual role of jails and prisons in efforts to deter crime and rehabilitate criminals. Fleisher shows, with wrenching firsthand accounts, that parents who are addicts, abusers, and criminals beget irreversibly damaged children who become addicts, abusers, and criminals. Further, Fleisher contends that many well-intentioned educational and vocational training programs are wasted because they are offered too late to help. And, he provides sobering evidence that many youthful and adult offenders find themselves better off in prison—with work to do, medical care, a clean place to sleep, regular meals, and stable social ties—than they are in America’s cities.
    Fleisher calls for anti-crime policies that are bold, practical, and absolutely imperative. He prescribes life terms for violent offenders, but in prisons structured as work communities, where privileges are earned through work in expanded, productive industries that reduce the financial burden of incarceration on the public. But most important, he argues that the only way to prevent street crime, cut prison growth, and reduce the waste of money and human lives is to permanently remove brutalized children from criminal, addicted, and violent parents.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

The research for Beggars and Thieves was funded by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Center for Survey Methods Research, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Leslie Brownrigg (U.S. Census Bureau) and Karen Colvard (Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation) supported this research over many years. ...

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pp. xi-xiv

Most people have opinions about crime and criminals—perhaps because they have at some time committed a crime themselves—but few people can fully identify with persistent criminals. Most people don't know how such criminals feel about themselves or others, how they see the world, ...

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pp. 3-19

Tattoos, faded from decades of wear, adorned Angelo's forearms. "Ink," he said, "tattoos from when I was a kid on the street." I'd seen hundreds of tattoos on the arms of active criminals hanging around street comers and prison inmates filling cellblocks, but these tattoos seemed out of place ...

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1. Street Ethnography

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pp. 20-77

Linguistic anthropologist and ethnographer James Spradley conducted ethnographic field research on First Avenue in Seattle, among "urban nomads," about 20 years before I conducted this study on the same street.3 Spradley showed clearly how valuable detailed linguistic data are ...

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2. Distorted Families

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pp. 78-107

In this chapter, informants report memories of early-life family, school, and peer relationships. Life history data were self-conceived stories, and they provided important information that I would use to understand the social and emotional dimensions of street culture. ...

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3. Adolescent Survival

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pp. 108-156

This research among delinquents and gang members focused on life histories, social life and street survival, and social adjustment between these people and their families and peers. Unfortunately I didn't systematically collect data on aggregate rates of street offenses. ...

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4. Sanctuaries

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pp. 157-183

Red Hog is Dannie Martin's prison nickname. Red Hog was one of my informants at USP Lompoc,2 and has recently become a published author.3 He was paroled in the spring of 1993, soon got drunk and drove a car into a freeway abutment, and was returned to federal custody for violating the conditions of release. ...

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5. The Street

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pp. 184-216

Street hustling is mundane.1 Life on the street for an adult hustler is cold: there are few material or hedonistic rewards; sexual partners are often difficult to find; status and prestige rewards are absent; there is little sense of personal power, except when feeling particularly narcissistic from too much cheap wine; ...

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6. Aging

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pp. 217-240

The ethnographic observations and interviews in this book support a well-documented fact about criminality: criminal involvement increases from childhood to late teenage years and then slowly diminishes.1 I think this phenomenon is not singularly the result of aging. ...

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7. Ethnography and Anti-Crime Policy

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pp. 241-272

The findings of this research can provide policymakers with the significant facts about delinquents' and adult criminals' life trajectories, enable policymakers to conceptualize crime-related issues in a way that leads to effective anti-crime policies, and offer an ethnographic assessment ...


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pp. 273-286


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pp. 287-292


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pp. 293-324


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pp. 325-332

E-ISBN-13: 9780299147730
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299147747

Publication Year: 1995