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Final Exam Writing Assignment: The Jack-Roller

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In Clifford R. Shaw’s novel, The Jack-Roller, the autobiography of a teenage boy named Stanley, who lives in Chicago, Illinois, during the late 1920s is discussed. In the novel, Stanley vividly details the abusive home he regularly runs away from, the delinquent acts he constantly commits, and the changing social situations he is a part of. A major part of Stanley’s delinquent behavior, throughout the novel, can be traced back to the abusive interactions he has with his stepmother. Stanley details the lack of affection from his stepmother, and how her abuse pushed him to form a deep hatred for her; it is implied throughout the novel that one of the main influences for Stanley’s delinquent behavior is his stepmother’s push for him to perform deviant acts for survival, such as stealing for food and clothing. With that in mind, Shaw also states that Stanley’s father thought of his children as “kids who had to be provided for;” adding to the lack of attention and care Stanley and his biological siblings received at home (pg. 48). Stanley distinctly details how his father was absent, and how his stepmother’s lack of care forced him to find his own source of comfort; that comfort came from the delinquent acts he committed, and the older boys in his neighborhood that he idolized, such as his stepbrother, William, and his friend Tony. Stanley found that the more time he spent with the older boys in the neighborhood, the more he learned about being a criminal.

Throughout the novel, Shaw details how Stanley enjoyed the life of criminality, and how he enjoyed being put into detention centers. Shaw emphasizes that Stanley felt more at home in the detention centers than he did at his own home with his stepmother and father. However, after time in various detention centers, Stanley realized that his love for detention centers slowly lost its luster as the punishments he received at the detention centers grew worse over time. In the end, Stanley overcame his deviant lifestyle, and became a traditional man, who spent most of his time providing for his family to insure they had the best possible future.

With the aforementioned summary, Stanley’s behavior can be explained with two criminological theories: differential association theory and life course theory. First, life course (developmental) theory focuses on an individuals’ criminality over time. In the life course theory, as discussed in lecture, an individual’s life trajectories are examined; these trajectories are developments throughout an individuals’ life that are interdependent. However, regarding The Jack-Roller, one of Moffitt’s developmental taxonomy types of individuals, adolescence-limited offenders, can be used to explain Stanley’s behavior. Adolescence-limited offenders tend to only engage in criminal behavior during their teen and young adult years (Chapter 13 PPT). To explain, Stanley had early onset delinquent behavior; Stanley started running away from home at the age of six. By fifteen Stanley was jack rolling and burglarizing, however, after years of delinquent behavior and being placed in detention centers, Stanley changed his life after meeting and marrying a woman. As Stanley shares with Shaw, “she didn’t care what I had done, she was concerned about what I was going to become” (page 181). This was Stanley’s desistance; he stopped his life of delinquent behavior due to the woman he married. This transition in Stanley’s life was one of the most influential moments in his transition from delinquent child offender to an adult.

Lastly, as discussed in lecture, differential association theory states that “criminal and conforming behavior is learned through cultural values people internalize and acquire through social interactions with close personal groups.” Through this definition, the main assumption for differential association theory can be stated: “individuals are inherently social— they interact in groups and abide by the norms and values of those groups” (Chapter 10-1 PPT). Regarding Stanley’s behavior in The Jack-Roller, Stanley friendships had a great influence on his delinquent behavior. As Shaw explains, Stanley idolized gang members, and inmates became his role models. At a young age, Stanley had a glorified view of the life of a criminal, and this life was easily supported by his stepbrother William who taught him how to steal, taught him bad sex habits, and introduced him to the delinquent behavior he possessed. Also, William’s friend Tony was highly respected by Stanley; as a gang member, Stanley viewed Tony as a leader and learned a great deal about the streets from him (page 53). Thus, Stanley learned to commit crime to not only to fend for himself, but to find social connections with people outside his home. Stanley grew up in a low socioeconomic status neighborhood, where crime was prevalent, therefore he learned through observation, and practice that to survive, committing delinquent acts such as stealing food and cars, and running away from home would be his best option to success, thus providing a more effective explanation for Stanley’s behavior.

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