Great Pretenders: Pursuits and Careers of Persistent Thieves

By Neal Shover | Go to book overview

4
Identity, Lifestyle, and Character

The personal and social consequences of disadvantage and disrepute function not only to reduce the number of options available to thieves from working-class backgrounds but also to shape the utilities they value and pursue. A distinction can be drawn between persistent thieves whose crimes in part spring from strong and enduring identification with crime as a means of livelihood and peers whose criminal identification and involvement are weak or intermittent. It is an important distinction, if only because career choices and decisions regarding participation in criminal acts are influenced by it. Identification with crime means the degree to which one sees it as an attractive and potentially bountiful source of income and livelihood or simply as a readily available means of resolving immediate problems. In the same way that some persons identify with and would like to become physicians, others see crime as either an attractive, if only short-term, occupational option or as a dependable and expedient source of income. Only offenders who identify with crime and see it as a desirable personal option will invest the requisite time and energy learning about it. The comments of an English burglar could not be more accurate:

[T]echnical education by itself will never make a burglar. He must have many other qualities too which are inborn, but which are polished by practice. He must really want to be a screwsman [burglar]. He must not take it up just because he is too idle or incompetent to make a living of working, and thinks thieving is easier. 1

To the young, thieves or hustlers who display the trappings of success can be objects of attention and admiration. Piri Thomas commented approvingly on "Johnny D," an adult in the New York barrio where he grew up:

-77-

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Great Pretenders: Pursuits and Careers of Persistent Thieves
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • 1- Pathways of Persistent Thieves 1
  • 2- Origins, Options, and Preparation 29
  • 3- Changing Criminal Opportunities And the Unskilled 49
  • 4- Identity, Lifestyle, and Character 77
  • 5- Career Changes and Termination 119
  • 6- Threats, Decisions, and Confinement 151
  • 7- Crime Control and Persistent Thieves 175
  • Appendix: Materials and Methods 189
  • Bibliography 197
  • About the Book and Author 213
  • Index 215
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