By Chet Yarbrough
On the Run, Fugitive Life in an American City
By: Alice Goffman
Narrated by : Robin Miles
Alice Goffman (Author, sociologist.)
“On the Run” is a picture of life in a low to no income inner-city neighborhood in America. Its focus comes from a white sociologist’s immersion in black families lives.
Alice Goffman chooses to live with a black family to create an intimate portrait of life as a black youth in a poor inner-city neighborhood.
What Goffman finds is that young black Americans are taught by older siblings to distrust and evade the police. Older siblings have experience with living in a neighborhood with few jobs, a lot of time, and limited legal economic opportunity. The way of making a living is to deal drugs, steal from the few neighbors that have anything, and run from anyone who can accuse or arrest a fugitive for breaking the law.
Once the law is broken and a perp is caught, arrested, indicted, and convicted, Goffman explains “a record” makes running the only way to survive.
Goffman explains running, to many born in this environment, entails lying about your name, where you are going, who your family and friends are, and where you stay at night. The reason is that who you know, and where you sleep makes you vulnerable to the police or anyone searching for you. A good policeman will ask questions and take notes on everyone he/she talks to about someone they are looking for in the neighborhood.
Those who get caught for a crime are trapped in a circle of arrest, incarceration, bail, parole, non-payment of fines, re-arrest, more incarceration, more unpaid fines, and re-arrest.
This systematic recycling of arrest and release is maddening and disturbing to reader/listeners of Goffman’s book. On the one hand you have people committing crimes against other people and on the other you have law enforcement doing its duty to reduce crime.
This disturbing picture with “no exit” is accompanied by physical restraint, twisted arms, and face plants on pavement, bare floors, and carpet that reinforces fear and hate between police and the public.
Most Americans do not see this cycle of madness. Those within the madness see it only as a way of life. To political conservative and liberals, the answer is law enforcement, education, and job creation. To a low-income/no-income neighborhood boy or girl, law enforcement is a recycling dead end, and education, or legal employment are either not available or poorly provided.
All that is remaining in these neighborhoods seems to be personal relationships. Mother’s love their children, fathers are in jail or on probation, boys have guarded relationships with everyone and no one, girls are left to look after the next companion that offers escape from loneliness.
Goffman offers a dismal picture of life in big city poor neighborhoods that recycle themselves with little hope for those seeking a better life.