One child grows up to be somebody who just loves to learn. And the other child
grows up to be somebody who just loves to burn (198) An excerpt of this poem
paints a picture of two brothers, John and Robert Wideman, leading different
lives. Robert Wideman, embraced a path common for black men during that era; a
life of crime, glamour, and drugs. Quietly sitting in jail, he reminisces deeply
about his troubled past and the consequences of the future that now haunts him.

John, on the other hand, chose the path less taken by those living in the same
world as he did and in due time become a successful professor at a University.

How did two people from the same origin, living in similar environments, and
raised by a caring family choose such different paths? Some might explain the
cause to be risk factors, learned behavior, or missed opportunities. When
explaining criminal behavior, it is inevitable to identify sociological,
behavioral, and psychological problems as causes of crime. John and Robert
always dreamed about running away from the poverty embracing their community.

Even though they shared the same dream, each considered different means of
achieving this dream. John determined early on that " to get ahead, to make
something of myself, college had seemed a logical, necessary step; my exile, my
flight from home began with good grades, with good English" (27). In order for

John to climb the social status, he realized that his only ticket out of poverty
and his community is through a good education. Status must be earned through
hard work and determination. Robert is just the opposite of John. Early on,

Robert acknowledged that school and sports could not satisfy the glamour that

Robert so much desired? Unlike John who disliked blackness, Robert "got a
thing about black. See black was like the forbidden fruit" (84). Robert
embraced the people living in Homewood, Pittsburgh. He felt connected to them
especially when he discovered Garfield "cause thatís where the niggers was.

Garfield was black" (85). By embracing what other people valued and thought,

Robert incorporated the same criminal values as his own. Robert has accepted his
fate, a life of glamour through deviant behavior. Delinquency at an early age
may have contributed to Robertís behavior. According to Cohen, deviant
behavior derives from an inversion of values. Robertís values can be best
summed up by the statement "[t]he thing was to make your own rules, do your
own thing, but make sure itís contrary to what society says or is" (58).

Inversion of values is practically portraying what society views as socially
acceptable, unacceptable. A great example explaining this inversion of values is
captured during a school strike. Robert recaptures the greatest moment of his
life when he took over the school. Through his eyes, "[i]t was the white
manís world and wasnít no way round it or over it or under it ... so I kept
on cutting classes and *censored*ing up and doing my militant thing every chance

I got." (114). It seems that Robert felt frustrated living in such an
oppressed environment. He once believed that prosperity can be achievable but
somehow his belief in what society has taught him relating to success is wrong.

Through this belief, Robert maintains a violent life. Other variables such as
family, the community, and opportunities for success play a critical role in
shaping the behavior of adolescence according to Cloward and Ohlin. There were
lost opportunities when Robertís family decided to move back to Homewood from

Shadyside. A good education in a community that cared for the student was
stripped from Robertís grasp. Robert was never able to attend the school that
his older brother had previous graduated from. Now living within the boundaries
of the poor community, Robert is exposed to violence and the substandard values
of the neighborhood. Homewood is a community that scared Robertís Mother. Her
prediction of trouble and Robertís wild side connecting turned into reality

" [a]nd she was right. Me and trouble hooked up" (85). As a child Robert
constantly needed the attention of his family members especially his mother.

From a different point of view, we can say that Robert was a neglected child,
emotionally. During a time when Robert needed the people he loved most, they
were not there for comfort or guidance. Sometimes Robert felt the "least
important. Always last. Always bringing up the rear. You learn to do stuff on
your own because the older kids are always busy, off doing their thing" (88).

To strive for the attention Robert needed, he turned to his troubled community
for instant gratification We cannot just blame Robertís family or the
community for his behavior. Part of the problem explains Sutherland is that
crime is a learned behavior. Essentially, Robbyís criminal behavior is a
result of being directly in contact with criminals. Robby is a like a virgin in
the drug business. He didnít know how to use drugs until he meet friends that
were into drugs and getting high. Robby describes the first time he gets hooked
on drugs. Squirrel and Bugs Johnson are "like my teachers," teaching me the
tricks of the trade (104-5). Interestingly enough, Bugs Johnson had previously
learned how to use drugs from an infamous Uncle Carl also known as the "King
of the Junkies" (105). . There seems to be an admiration for these types of
guys through Robbyís eyes. Robbyís relationship with drugs and the values
that have been passed on gets him into real trouble not only with his family but
also with the law. Many times have Robby have been arrested and jailed for his
drug habit. A friend, a teacher you could say, taught the Robert the business of
swindling. Smokey was an old fellow set in the old ways to which Robby found
admiration. He would take Robby " under his wing and show him the ropes...He
the one that taught me the TV Hustle". It is obvious that to us why Robert
behaves the way he does. Itís simply because of something he learned and we
now know that Robby is now committed to life because a deal had gone bad. Robby
never reveals the reason why he chooses to use drugs. However, Robert shows
signs of personal frustration, alienation, and a negative sense of self. It is
amazing how Robert interpreted his birthday as a bad omen. The month of December
is a truly difficult time for Robby. It was a season of sadness to hear that on
his birthday, his grandmother died and his sister had a miscarriage. There was
always an overwhelming sense of sadness. Robby explains it quite simply,

"[a]lmost like not having a birthday. Or even worse, like sharing it with your
brothers and sister instead of having the private oasis of your very own special
day" (92). Among Robertís family member, he felt the most alienated crying
most of the time. Somehow, drugs must have resolved this alienation. Robertís
personal frustration with failed dreams also drove him to use drugs. There was a
time in Robertís life when his only wish was to become successful. He would
dream about expensive car, pretty clothes, and making it to the top. Robertís
dream was as vivid like the bright blue sky. Despite all these visions, there
was no means of achievement, just failures. Therefore, his only companion that
would take his mind off of these fail dreams was drugs. Robertís aspiration is
to achieve prosperity but rejected the method to accomplish this dream. Merton
would define this type of behavioral adaptation as innovation, which explains
why Robert stole the television from his family. Robby was obviously hooked on
drugs. The urge to use drugs (goal) was overwhelming. To satisfy the drug habit,

Robert burglarized his family (the means), to pacify his cravings. It is
difficult for someone to view this type of behavior as wrong. Robby admits that

"[h]aving lived in the "life", it becomes very hard-almost impossible-to
find any contentment in joining the status quo" (57). Conformity is not a
behavior that Robert found gratifying. In his community " the emphasis was,
get the most you can get with the least amount of work" (241). This statement
has profound effects. It is an attitude that frames the minds of criminals.

Practically, it is stating that crimes are acceptable and that prosperity
through education is wrong. There is no one answer to why Robert Wideman led a
life of crime. However, Robert is a person with many identifiable risk factors.

He was born into a poor community where violence and crimes are rampant. His
role models were often criminals. If there were opportunities for Robert to
succeed, he would have certainly taken that chance. Unfortunately, the only
opportunities present in his neighborhood were criminal opportunities.

Robertís greatest failure was to perceive his fate as something that canít
be changed. Only through times of isolation did Robert realize his mistake. We
can change our attitudes by first looking within ourselves for that commitment.


Wideman, John E. Brothers and Keepers. New York : First Vintage Books, 1984