People often tell me that my police background prepared me for this type of work with the street boys. At the time I didn’t see it, but as I write this I can see that maybe I might be less intimidated by these boys due to my previous line of work. The difference is that in the police you are generally not emotionally involved with the people you are dealing with. Sometimes you might deal with a case where you do develop a relationship with a victim or witness due to preparation for a court case and then it is hard if the result is not what you had hoped for. But working with these boys was so much more challenging because it was impossible not to get emotionally involved due to the length of time that we were working with them for. In most cases they didn’t have anyone else that really loved or cared for them. They grew to love and trust me, but they were physically damaging themselves everyday right in front of me and I was powerless to stop it. The problem is that we were involved in long term work without resources or partnerships to support us adequately. This wasn’t anybody’s fault; it was just how things worked out due to the ship’s unexpectedly long dry dock.
One incident I recall where my police background was definitely useful was in preventing a gang fight! A mixed group of school students were crossing the road near to the bridge. One of them made a comment to one of the street boys as he probably knew him from a time when that particular boy had been in school before. But it was the wrong thing to say because suddenly all of the street boys were summoned from under the bridge, in an attempt to protect this boy’s reputation, and they were carrying very large rocks. The students, now terrified and no doubt wishing they had remained silent were herded onto the bridge like cattle and cornered by the street boys and the rocks. This all happened in a matter of seconds.
At first I just stood there wondering what on earth was going on, but then I saw the expressions on the faces of some of the street boys and I realised they were really angry and were going to throw the rocks at the students. One of the rocks was twice the size of a person’s head! I ran into the middle of this scene as there was about twenty metres between the two groups who were facing each other from their battle lines. I shouted at the smallest boy, Reuben, who had the biggest rock, to put it down, thinking that he would obediently obey me as I had a close relationship with him, but he ignored me completely. I then shouted for Matthew the street boy’s group leader and he appeared. I shouted at him, “Matthew, you have to stop this! If Reuben throws that rock he will kill one of those kids and go to prison for the rest of his life.” I couldn’t believe his casual response. “No, he won’t. He’s a juvenile, nothing will happen.” Later I learned that this was essentially true....
I was still standing between the two groups so that any rocks would hit me first. I knew that the boys wouldn’t throw rocks whilst I was standing there (or so I hoped!) The amazing thing is that there were loads of adults around and no one was doing anything to resolve this problem. They were all just watching and waiting. In the end, Matthew relented and signalled to someone in the other group and called off the whole thing. The students fearfully made their way off the bridge and were chased up the street by the street boys to “see them off.” I was amazed at how quickly little cute Reuben had turned into a monster, and how he had blatantly ignored me when I tried to talk to him. It was a lesson in loyalties though and demonstrated to me that their ties to each other as their “street family” were still stronger than their ties to us.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish