Beneath the Surface

Looking back at her teenage years, Alice (not her real name) reflects on the hurt she experienced and the missed opportunities to do things differently.

I was 13 the first time the police pinned me down on the ground, handcuffed me and put me in the back of a police van. I was 14 the first time they strip searched me and put me in the cells. The police officer who did it, stood watching a crying and shaking 14 year old girl and said ‘if you don’t do it we will do it for you.’ I was 16 when I spent Christmas Eve in the cells all night after being strip searched again. I spent the night in tears scratching my face and pulling my hair out. Within those years I’ve lost count how many times they stopped us in the street, to take drink and fags off us, write down our names, and usually to put me in the back of the police car and force me to go home.

My mum used to hoover the house on a Friday night in advance of the police knocking on the door to bring me home, to come looking for me after I’d done something, or to get details about me when I’d went missing. As ridiculous as that sounds that my mum used to hoover for the police, I guess she felt it was the only thing she had any control over. None of us had control over anything at that point. Only the police, other professionals and some of the people around me seemed to have any power.

They’d turn up at the house other times too, sometimes to charge me. One day, when I was still 15 they turned up at the door with an indictment from the court ready to take me into custody until my court date. I spent a year going back to court and getting reports written about me, and another year on probation. The social worker who wrote my report called me ‘brittle, sullen and uncommunicative’, and she recommended I get a tag and probation. The media printed my full name, address and that I had mental health problems. I still feel the shame years later.

When people talk about children who cause harm to others, I was definitely one of those children. When I look back at my actions, I realise that someone easily could have died, but that child could have also been me. I was being harmed too. The child inside me still wants to know ‘why did no-one care?’

I wonder what would have happened if the police officers who obviously saw me as at risk when they tried to keep getting me to go home, instead asked me why I was doing it, or if I felt safe. Since they were the only ones out there on the streets in a position to do anything, why didn’t they? Why did they punish me instead sometimes just for seeing me as at risk? When I became a risk to other people, why did no-one look beneath the surface to understand the reasons behind it?

When I look back I have struggled throughout the years to see underneath that surface too. The labels and words used by people around me, including professionals, have left a permanent mark on that child. Brittle. Sullen. Uncommunicative. Troubled. Young offender. I still get caught up in calling her those things too sometimes.

But most of the time, I look back and see the scared child that I was, who was trying to do everything possible to escape from being hurt. A child trying to protect herself and find safety. A child who felt unheard and in pain. When I see that child, all I wish is that the police and other professionals had seen her too.

If you have experience of the justice systems, or are a family or carer of someone who has had contact with the justice systems, please contact Ross Gibson via to discuss how your views can be shared.


Music matters

“Music can give young people a way to open up”. With the recent ‘Ban Drill’ debate linking drill music to violence and crime, Amy blogs about the importance of this music to young people – and why we should listen (both to what the music and the young person is telling us).

Drill music often provokes contentious and emotive discussions which are typically linked to violence, crime and gangs. One of the main implications of the genre is that it can glamorise crime and some argue that for this reason it should be banned. An alternative perspective is that the existence of drill is indicative of crime and societal issues which exist regardless of the music, drill just makes it harder to turn a blind eye to it.

I was inspired to write this after being given blanket guidance as a young person’s practitioner that I should not allow young people to listen to drill music in the presence of staff. The ‘Ban Drill’ debate has previously played out in mainstream media with the main argument for a ban being that drill glamorises, encourages and can be linked to violence, whilst those who opposed argued this would be censorship and would negate the right to self-expression. Of course, the debate is not as straightforward as this and would be a separate blog post. My argument is that ignoring or disallowing listening to drill is less effective in supporting young people than listening with them and inviting understanding and productive conversation.

Music is important to a lot of (young) people and often reflects aspects of identity. Whether it’s drill or classical music, I would bet showing an interest in the music is more likely to be appreciated and inspire conversation than to have it shrugged off as “a load of rubbish” and told to stop listening to it. Moreover, if a young person hears judgement being passed on music which they relate to, it is possible that they will feel this judgement on a personal level.

Showing an interest and being curious about young people’s music and the themes raised in it can be enough for conversations about their experiences and opinions to transpire. Listening together can help to facilitate conversations around whether drill glamorises violence and can be an opportunity for productive and meaningful debate. However, drill is more than glamorising crime as there are also lyrics which touch on trauma and pain, artists’ experiences with the justice system and what they have learned. In fact, lyrics often discuss the road to desistance and some encourage a life without crime:

Now I’m tryna make it out the hood
Make music and live this life
‘Cah beefin’ over a postcode is a waste of time now, I’ve realized
Back then I was young and reckless
Now I’m thinkin’ wise

I want this tune to be an inspiration to people
Everythings facts
It’s got a clear message of my life
Growin’ up on the roads and jumpin’
Tryna come off the roads now

[Kidavelly – Story Time]

With young people who listen to drill music, the glamorisation of violence should be something which is worthy of conversation, rather than being shut down. Additionally, these conversations can go hand in hand with related adverse experiences, trauma and pain. Music can give young people a way to open up to practitioners which is comfortable and on their terms, and practitioners’ discomfort or lack of understanding of drill should not be a barrier to this. It is very likely that people can listen to drill music without being directly influenced by it. To that end, the aim should be for young people to listen to drill if they wish to with the ability to recognise glamorisation and not be inspired by it.

Young people listening to drill music should be the beginning of a conversation, not the end of it.

About our blogger

Amy McCourt is a newly qualified social worker who graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2020.  She has experience of working in residential childcare and did a placement in secure care during her time at university.

Photo by Gavin Whitner.