Being labeled and institutionalized as a social deviant proves to be stigmatizing in life. In Dina Temple-Ras tons A Death in Texas, she chronicles the murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas during the summer of 1998. The author suggests in Chapters 1-4 that suspected murder Billy King is more than a case study of abnormal psychology and that his actions may be explained as a career criminal who has been marginalized by society. While most authors fixate on the psychology within killers, she also includes the town's historical background and the social context in which the murder took place.
Sociologist, Kai Erikson would applaud his style as he postulates that deviant behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Erikson states that once a person commits an act, they are labeled and treated as deviant and they have little opportunity to act any differently. Billy King was labeled and treated as a deviant this maltreatment had the greatest influence on King. On page 44 of the text, Kylie's mother refers to King as "an ex-con" and does not want her daughter to hang around with someone "like that." When labeled as a deviant, people are suspicious of you and begin treating you with a lack of respect and see you as different. Even though "he had kept his nose clear, Sheriff Roles made a mental note when he saw the picture of Bill King" (Pg. 45).
The prison where Bill King was remanded was at the end of a wooded road and hidden behind shabby homes and a trailer park. Billy was a man of small stature and had to act with bravado to not be injured while in prison. He was jammed into a facility with "3, 00 young toughs" (pg 70) who "wielded a lethal combination of intimidation and one." The men were segregated and survived by making (like) racial alliances. King was called a pecker woods - he would fight but he was not tough enough to fit into the prisons many gangs for protection" (pg 71). The author suggests that Kings nose was broken and that he may have been sodomized. On page 77, the author states that Billy was the adored center of a dysfunctional family and that his step-mother may not of held him accountable for his actions.
It may be that Billy felt traumatized by his real mother abandoning him and it put him "off stride for life" (pg 77). At sixteen his stepmother died of cancer, he dropped out of school, experienced increased social problems at school and began a life of petty crime. "He drifted unnoticed in Jasper... was a day laborer and was suspected of crimes against young girls (pg 78).
With the low level jobs came low-level status and it was really only a matter of time until Billy would get himself in real trouble. Billy emerged from prison with tattoos, increased angry responses towards others and began using the hate language of the aryan movement His hate was not just a product of the prison but a troubling life long resentment towards his life's disappointment at being an outsider. Because of the inequality in his life, I concur that Billy was exploited. I do not think we should blame just the victim for his fate. Alexander Liazos on page 15 of boundaries, agrees by saying that studies of prisoner's focuses on prison subculture and prisoner rehabilitation, "there is little or no consideration of the social, political, economic and power conditions which consign people to prisons." I would argue that deviance is a political and social condition rather than just an inter-psychic problem.
The writings of former prisoners like Malc on X and Eldridge Clever would certainly support my premise (pg 15, Boundaries). Deviance is "created by society... Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitute deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders" (Becker, 1963 in Boundaries). In our society people are rewarded for conformity and punished for deviance.
One quickly learns which behaviors are okay and which are not. Society reduced the chances that Billy could ever be a productive citizen. "Billy King and boys like him in the Deep South were restless and unable to break free of the miseries that had become part and parcel of their lives. There were no jobs.
There were no prospects. There was little to do. Poverty sapped the vitality out of growing up " (pg 78). While reading A Death in Texas and our text, Boundaries, I have begun to wonder about the wisdom of our juvenile justice system, our segregated schools for expelled students and even self contained special education labs in public schools. My brother works in a lab for emotionally disturbed middle school boys. Perhaps the stages of the deviant self-fulfilling prophecy also work for these young students.
Because of their acts, they are labeled and treated as deviant. All the other kids in the school see them as different and as outsiders. Because they do not have typical role models, they continue to operate with persistent interpersonal and social difficulties. They do not develop meaningful social relationships, lack insight and are then formally retarded in their emotional development.
They system stigmatizes them just like a prisoner. Are these labs that are designed to offer them special help actually relegating them to a life of deviance? Being labeled as a deviant and then being treated as a deviant impacted Billy King's life. Billy became marginalized as a citizen and was not provided any opportunity to act differently. He became stigmatized as a deviant and was unable to see himself in any other role. This is certainly not an excuse to brutally kill another person, only a partial explanation.
Deviance became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Billy King.