15 DECEMBER 1961, Page 13


To find out for ourselves, and perhaps even be useful, may I suggest this? Alcoholics Anonymous have understood that the sole difference between the non-drinking alcoholic and the boozer is one of fact, not nature, and that each is equally necessary to the other. Borrowing this idea, and being technically 'non- criminal,' I have tried on occasion to keep in contact with men who are criminal in fact: with the dual objective of delaying their return to prison and of lessening the criminal ten- dency in myself.

In practice, I've found the most useful factor to the criminal is simply that you're there. Appeals to morals are quite useless, but an appeal to interest will be listened to: 'it's a mug's game, mate, you'd make much more in legitimate business'; and 'did you know lots of them pack it in when they're middle- aged, so why not now?' (this does happen, and is what one might call the 'criminal meno- pause'). The only useful appeal to emotion I've discovered—though you should take time before saying it—is, 'What does your dad (kid, girl, and so on) feel about you being in the nick?'

The difficulty of this amateurish initiative is that unless you're available quite a lot, you're not much use; and if you pick them up and drop them when you're bored, it's worse than if you'd minded your own business. The whole experience reveals the obstacle to the curative approach: the time and human endeavour it must involve. To cure one mental patient may take three doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and art- therapists to each sick man. To 'cure' one criminal may take even more men and women. But after all: as well as being a humane pro- cedure (and highly instructive of what one didn't realise about society and oneself), it could per- haps, if practised on a wider scale, cost less in the long run than punitive administration does and shrink rather than spread the area of crime.

In proposing this 'Criminals Anonymous' to anyone interested, I must add that it is, of course, not a new idea and that effective work of this kind—though in a shun social area—is already being done. 1 must give warning that the contact may try to tap you for fivers, possibly pinch your hair-drier or transistor, kid you or bore the pants off you with lamentations; in short, be a total nuisance. It is also important to find someone you can match up to psychologically and even physically, or you may get out of your depth and be dangerously useless to yourself and him. I must chiefly insist that anyone prompted merely by curiosity or by notions of 'redemption'— anyone, that is, who doesn't understand that morally we're all in the nick together—should leave well alone, and watch a crime serial on the telly as an alternative occupation.