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Trigger Warning

Throughout this book there are references to sexual violence, racism both interpersonal and institutional, gendered violence both physical, psychological and verbal, various forms of physical violence, suicide, drug usage, transphobia, murder, and police brutality.

Extracts From the Book

Two days after I ran away from home that first time, after spending the first night sleeping underneath a tree at the top of the Forest Rec, I tried to rob a man in a wheelchair. I saw him moving through the park alone, and it was dark so I thought I could handle it. I raced up behind him holding a small knife and before I could hold it to him he'd swung his wheel chair and slapped me to the ground. I don't really remember what words were spoken, but he managed to have his hands around my neck pretty tightly pretty quickly. He made it clear that I was going to suck him off or he was going to kill me then and there. I have no idea if he was someone capable of that, as I was a couple of years away from being able to make that judgement. I found his dick inside my mouth, and he moved my head up and down until he came inside. Once he had emptied himself he lifted my head up and drove it against his forehead. The next thing I knew I saw him on the floor, his wheel chair a good five feet away and three kids, a little older than me kicking the crap out of him. I watched this from the floor for a couple of minutes, before one of the kids turned around and walked over to me. She offered her hand and helped me up, and as she did so indicated the man on the floor. I think she must have said it, but maybe she didn't, either way it was enough for me to understand that I should give the man a few healthy kicks.

I spent the next week or two with these kids, until I was picked up by police after getting into a fight whilst I was carrying my knife. I spent a month in a care home before being released back to my mother. Whilst I stayed living with her for the most part of the next year I spent most of my nights on the streets turning tricks and drinking with my new friends. It was never exactly the same kids, but they came from the same pool of about twenty, who were essentially self-employed child prostitutes. Without any adult to secure money or protect us from client interference we were wholly responsible for one another's safety. The night where they had intervened on my behalf had been an example of these kids knowing that if a client thought they could get away with it once they'd try it on another time, and it was always better to nip it in the bud.

There was also a high level of street loyalty. We weren't just looking out for each other, but others who were being turned out by adults. We were organised in the simplest of ways. We'd go out in threes and fours, and walk the streets and parks within eye line of one another. If we picked up, we'd signal how long we expected to be gone by opening and closing our hands (each opening being five minutes). We'd take down the reg. numbers of the cars our co-workers would disappear in, and try to take a good look at the faces of the men (and it was nearly always men).

We, as poor and working class people, are forced by society's structures and institutions into periods of time where survival is all that matters. These period of time can last weeks, months, years and decades. But within these periods our strengths come to the fore, our willingness to engage with our own lives rises. Those lives becoming not just something to be trudged through numbly, but something in which we can embrace. Our commitment to our own lives increases, and when this survival becomes deeply entwined with the lives of others, our commitment to our collective life increases. Our power to defend ourselves and choose how we think and act develops. It is only when the collective exists and is strong that we are able to do more than survive. As children working in the sex industry we were never able to become strong, our bodies were too frail and our minds undeveloped. With no support and no transferable capital, we were only able to survive. Now, as an adult who has experienced poverty, has had to survive, and now has sufficient transferable capital to make my own decisions about my life, I seek others who dream of working for a collective future in which we are not forced into these positions by society, but instead rip its structures and institutions down in order to create something truer and more fucking awesome in its place.

With a few exceptions, the national campaigns and national movements in this country which have a liberatory and transformative agenda are weak. They have little or no power and repeat the same patterns over and over again. They purport to represent the people. They speak for marginalised people, position themselves as the moral compass of the nation, and they always look, sound and act the same. They are as diverse as an E.ON executives meeting, and as strategically coherent as a year 5 trip to Cadbury's World. They talk of ‘outreach’ in the same way other people talk about washing the dishes, as an annoying task that needs to be done because the masses/dishes won't sort themselves out. They believe they have found the cause, the one thing that will finally rally the troops and wake the slumbering masses to their feet. Every time that this proves not to be the case, they move swiftly onto the next cause. Some movements and organizations plough on, in a crusade of righteousness, appearing at events claiming to have the keys to success, which turn out to be the same keys that broke in the lock about a month previously. Their argument for why they failed previously is always that enough people didn't join them and that their foe was too strong and that capitalism, the state, and the corporations are too mighty. This is often the case, but I suppose for me it begs the question as to why energy isn't spent in building strength, in building capacity and in developing a long term strategy that acknowledges the damage that transatlantic neo-liberalism has had on working class, low income communities, and their abilities to work collectively. The far right, fascist and xenophobic movements continue to do this type of organising, as well as the government with it's ‘Big Society’ community organiser programme. However it seems, for the most part, that engaging in any meaningful and sustained way with the communities which have been most affected by the last thirty years of transatlantic neo-liberal polices in this country, has been beyond the left of all persuasions.

I go across the city to find my boy Faizan, we get wrecked and he tells me he has a plan. We take two sawn off shot guns and rob a stash house three blocks from him. We get away with three grand in cash and double that in coke. We’ve been getting high for a week when they find us. They tie me up and beat him for two days, before shooting his knee caps. I'm given a gun and told to go and get double their money back. I do it, bring it back to them, and they beat me with metal bars, snapping both my arms, most of my ribs and giving me a fractured skull.

I wake up in hospital again. The cops question me for hours at the hospital, asking about what happened to Faizan, who is unconscious, and won't be walking for a long time. I don't say anything, I just stare at the fucking hospital curtain, wishing I was back on the street.

Ten years later I'm in hospital again, I'm having a minor heart operation. My partner is with me, and friends come and go regularly to see me. I'm being an ass, annoying the nurses because I keep leaving my hospital bed for a fag outside. The doctors and nurses talk to me with kindness and respect, and I'm shown care by them and my friends. I really don't want to be in hospital, but I don't think any cops are going to come and interview me whilst I'm there, even though I am someone they've arrested recently over the last few years for political actions, stopping me at airports and ferry crossings. They view me as a different type of problematic citizen these days. When I go home in a few days time it'll be to a warm room, in a warm house, with lots of people who will help me get back on my feet, making sure I'm fed and not in much discomfort.

I'm nine years old, twenty years before my minor heart operation, I'm bleeding thick blood from my ass the result of a pool cue being rammed up there by Grandfather on one of the nights he had his friends decided to use me as their dump bucket.

 

I'm sitting at the back of the class room, feeling the thick ooze squeeze along my thigh. A kid nearby throws something at me, I stand up and hit him as hard as I can in the face, he screams and falls of his chair. The teacher rushes towards me and grabs me by the arm, dragging me to the door. I'm swinging my fists and legs at the teacher but they twist my arm. The kids start shouting that I've shit myself, laughing and screaming in delight. I swing a leg out and kick tables over. Other teachers rush in and I won't stop swinging, hitting everything in sight. I'm pinned to the floor until I'm calmed down before being carried out of the room.

All  images by Kelly O'Brien