All God’s Children

Brief history of James (Butch) Bosket: Butch Bosket was born and raised on Ninth Street in the African-American section of Augusta, Georgia. His father James was an alcoholic who beat on his wife and son. The father abandoned them and disappeared. Then his mother left Butch with his grandmother Frances and never came back for him. Butch grew up as an orphan of Ninth Street, always alone. He learned begging, gambling, hustling, fighting, and stealing as a child. He joined the boys’ gang that ruled Ninth Street. He killed another boy when he was eight.

Butch had no human attachments and lived by the street code of defending his honor. Example of behavior #1: Butch was sent to the Wiltwyck residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed boys, which specialized in rehabilitation. He immediately displayed an innate gift for art. At first, he was always fighting and destroying his own work and that of the other boys. He rarely finished a painting. Butch was painting an Indian when he began to attack his painting, causing the teacher to believe Butch thought the painting had come to life.

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Butch lost touch with reality in a psychotic break. After such an attack, he felt the need to attack and blame other objects and people, such as the brush, the paint, his pictures, the art room, and the people around him. Butch had not made a mistake. The table had bewitched him. He was projecting his own suspicions which, outside of art, made him hostile and paranoid. He was sure everyone was against him, and to make sure of this he behaved to turn people against him. Butch was saved by his ability to anticipate an outburst and because he could make friends.

Discussion: (1) Differential Opportunity Theory — Butch admittedly never became friends with boys other than those who lived on the street. He learned their beliefs and commitments to violent behavior. He joined a criminal gang and idolized criminals. He had no access to legitimate education or behavioral models. There are several problems with this theory. This fails to explain his psychoses and delusions and belief that the paint of an Indian came to life. It also does not explain why all poor kids do not become criminals or join gangs.

The theory also makes it sounds as if there are only two routes – good and bad. (2) Crime and Labeling Theories – At this point, while Butch’s criminal tendencies are very evident, he is considered too young to label. Labeling is performed by the observers and experts and not by the criminals. There is no explanation given or seen why Butch started out on his criminal path since he was living with his grandmother, who was working all the time. The book indicates that he did have some non-criminal adult role models. Also, despite his lack of formal education, he was very intelligent and creative.

As a child, Butch was not hearing voices or separating himself from reality through a psychotic break. (3) Heredity Study (Richard Dugdale) – Criminals are born that way and have a crime gene predisposing them to crime. Because of the Bosket family history of violence and crime, this is a possibility. However, this does not take into account a person’s upbringing or the environment in which he or she was raised. Also, it is now recognized that mental disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain rather than by retro-evolution.