John brings us two books dealing with important social issues on our doorsteps.
Firstly, the problem of drug dealing, violence and exploitation of young people and adults by urban street gangs has become a significant issue on the Wirral and in Chester, Wrexham and other surrounding areas.
Simon Harding’s County Lines is an insightful and brilliantly-researched book that exposes how getting caught up in a gang structure can affect individuals, families, friends, schools, colleges and also communities.
The author’s detailed knowledge of the County Lines structure. In particular his interaction and conversations with active members of gangs, enables the reader to gain a proper awareness of the repercussions of becoming a part of gang life.
Simon takes the reader headlong into the murky world of professional gang leaders, couriers and victims. Many readers may find aspects of the text emotionally disturbing, especially when it talks about violent retributions.
“County Lines” is a continually evolving model of drug distribution methods. From urban metropolitan centres like Liverpool and Manchester. To rural cities, towns and villages, including Wrexham, Gresford, Coedpoeth and Llangollen.
The Evolution of Street Gangs
Harding highlights how the drug market and social media interaction have created opportunities for the evolution of street gangs. This access to new business areas has created considerable wealth for gang leaders within a structured entrepreneurship framework.
This “Prism” structure entices young people to become actively involved in criminal activities by creating and establishing drug markets. Some students in schools, colleges and universities are easy prey and vulnerable due to emotional issues, friendship and family breakdowns, bullying, financial difficulties, and limited educational success. In contrast, the gang culture creates a “buzz”, group involvement, easy money and “acceptance”.
Simon has used a range of case studies. These interviews provide intimate and harrowing insights into the experiences, roles and lives of a county lines team.
Readers will see how the culture affects users, dealers, families, communities and also the police.
Some readers may have siblings or be aware of others who have become immersed or trapped in gang life. The findings emphasise the emotional turmoil and consequences, often sending a shiver down the spine.
The strength of the author’s research, unravels the processes of “grinding” and how county line “managers” use to control their teams. Their methods include exploitation, intimidation, debt bondage and violence.
Readers may reflect on the recent gang-provoked deaths in Liverpool as the author discusses how extreme violence is a regular occurrence.
A Dog-Eat-Dog World
In a dog-eat-dog world, gang leaders are not playing games and show no mercy to protect their income.
Harding extensively covers the phenomenon of violence as a lifestyle in the sections on “Exploitation and Sanctions” and “Cuckooing and Nuance Dealing”.
The research indicates how the grooming of young and vulnerable individuals develops into joining gangs.
Simon highlights how meeting their leaders’ sales targets, loyalty for safety and an outlet for pent up-energy creates a difficult life to escape.
The “county lines control repertoire” creates a mindset of compliance and also entails subtle forms of mind manipulation to ensure that crew members do not step out of line. The key focus of the business model is financial profit based on compliance and control.
This is an outstanding book, providing valuable in-depth analysis of the threat of county-line drug activity. The insight into the criminal activities, violence, emotional control and how the gangs generate fear takes the reader beyond the headlines and directly into the lives of the victims, offenders and professionals involved.
It should be pre-requisite reading for parents and every type of education involving vulnerable and at-risk youngsters.
Secondly, an increasing number of young people experience social, emotional and health problems from issues linked to interaction or friendship difficulties, isolation by group rejection, body image, mental health and online safety.
The evidence clearly highlights how bullying, particularly “subtle bullying” (bullying by an apparent friend), is increasing among teenage girls.
In an enlightening, thought-provoking and engaging dramatized work of fiction. Toxic by Natasha Devon discusses the emotional trauma of bullying the key teenage character Llewella experiences.
A vital feature of the storyline is how it raises awareness of the emotional impact of “subtle and hidden bullying”.
The author highlights how many girls experience friendship difficulties that can deteriorate into toxic relationships through emotional and personal traumas. These hardships include panic attacks, anxiety, mental health issues, negative body image perceptions, eating disorders, and online safety.
The Mindset of Lewella
The author creates an insightful range of scenarios based on the mindset of Llewella. The daughter of a single mum, Cerys Williams, whose parents were Welsh speaking and lived in Llangunnor.
Llewella describes her mother as the Welshest woman who ever lived and wanted to “stamp a bit of her culture on me”.
The problem for Llewella is that they lived in Surrey, where no one could pronounce her name, so they called her “Loo”. From her perspective, this was an additional issue alongside the fact she was overweight, of mixed race, and had no father figure to call her his “Special Little Princess”.
All these things became emotional stumbling blocks in her efforts to seek group acceptance and friendship.
The book focuses on how Llewella, in her need for acceptance and group recognition, latches on to and attempts to develop an intense friendship with Aretha.
The story evolves over a range of interactions, illustrating how a need for acceptance and a desire for a friend can leave an individual vulnerable to the power of a bully like Aretha.
These manipulative individuals have learnt how cultivating acceptance and belonging leads to control of the vulnerable individual.
You learn how Aretha uses “gaslighting”, carrying out a manipulative power game with Llewella. She uses emotional and psychological manipulation, control and intimidation, moving from best friend to worst enemy.
Llewella experiences considerable self-doubt, anxiety, loss of self-confidence and a growing dependence on the perpetrator. In contrast, Aretha gains satisfaction by fulfilling her need for power and control over others.
Unfortunately, the author does not include a section or scenario at the end of each chapter providing pointers or solutions. A group discussion might also have resolved the root of the problem.
Creating a thinking continuum would have enhanced the contribution and impact of this “socio-novel” and addressed and promoted clarity about barriers, support issues and ways forward for victims, perpetrators and onlookers.
Failures to hear from parents, extended family and professionals with ideas for ways forward is a missed opportunity to extend and enhance the impact of issues discussed within the text, highlighting a growing social issue
Evidence shows that many have suffered the effects of gaslighting last into adulthood. The rejection, exclusion from activities, online harassment and emotional torment, lead to distrust and hurt.
Schools and colleges have promoted many ways of addressing emotional and mental health issues caused by bullying. They encourage skills to deal or cope with conflict and gaslighting. However, evidence highlights that combating female bullies and manipulative individuals continues to require a greater focus.
Finally, for more book reviews, click here.