Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lets Reinvent the Wheel

Regular readers will be aware I long ago ceased being grumpy and now regularly become just plain angry. It happened a couple of days ago when 'Netnipper' highlighted an article in the Telegraph about 'Band of Brothers', suddenly flavour of the frigging month for their 'innovative' work with offenders:-

So when do boys become men in the UK? In the popular imagination it might be the moment you lose your virginity, or when you turn 18 and are legally allowed to order a drink in a bar. While some might be glad to miss out on the more brutal aspects of these tribal rites of passage, for others, the lack of any kind of initiation traps our males in a perpetual adolescence.

“The purpose of initiation is to align the individual with the tribe, or their society, and the fact is that we have lost that,” says psychotherapist Michael Boyle, who first started working on a modern version of this rite of passage 20 years ago. “The male movement from childhood to adulthood was something that had to be acknowledged.

“Boys had to leave their mothers and defend the place. If they’re not initiated, everyone’s out for themselves and we just have what Freud called the primal horde.”

To combat this, Boyle devised what has become called the Quest weekend – a couple of days for young men to spend in nature with a group of older volunteers, with a strong ritualistic and story-telling aspect. It is a central part of A Band of Brothers, the community-based men’s group he set up in Brighton, which matches up young men from difficult backgrounds – many of whom have criminal convictions – with mentors who have been through the rite-of-passage weekend themselves.

And while some modern men might baulk at the idea of a therapeutic weekend in the forest, there is no denying the group gets results. Only 20 per cent of the young offenders A Band of Brothers works with go on to reoffend (compared to the 68 per cent of young people who are released from custody and go on to offend within a year nationally), while 75 per cent of those who are unemployed when they join the group go on to find a job.

The men who have gone through the Quest process, mainly in their late teens and early 20s, talk of a growth in confidence, of having been taken off a different, more damaging path, or of something “having clicked” when they went on the weekend. One I spoke to said, when he joined A Band of Brothers, he was unable to make eye contact with other men; now he is happy to speak in front of large groups.

Until now only available to young men from the Brighton area, this year A Band of Brothers is expanding and going mainstream. Three new groups – or circles, as they are known – are being set up in the London and Thames Valley areas, while the organisation is now part of a consortium of public, private and third-sector companies who which has been established to provide rehabilitation services in the South East. They will start working with young men who have been sent to them through official channels this autumn.

So how does it work? After joining the group for a Quest weekend, along with adults either looking to become mentors or with a professional interest in the programme, it seems like much of the benefit comes from just having a couple of days entirely out of your everyday life.

Despite there being around 20 participants, each man gets a lot of individual attention – which is made possible by the fact that there are an equal number of “brothers” who have already been through the process and who are now there as facilitators. In the weekends for younger men, there are more facilitators than participants, making the course uniquely resource intensive.

There are exercises for the men to express their anger, group discussions of subjects such as love, sex and violence, elements of theatre and a focus on what Boyle calls “restorying” – inviting men to consider the narrative that has been imposed on their lives and change the aspects they are not happy with. For the young offenders who go through the process, this narrative will often include things like “feeling like a failure” or “knowing I’ll never get a job”.

Boyle adds: “From the beginning, the men feel like they’re in the centre of something that’s intriguing and weird, but also safe. The first thing from a psychological point of view is that they feel safe. It’s like introducing them to a TV channel they’ve never seen before. They’ll always have the option of going back to the other channels, but now they know this one is there.”


So why am I angry about this? I'll Netnipper explain:-

"The Band of Brothers programme is helping some individuals to stop reoffending. There are all sorts of figures bandied about regarding its effectiveness in reducing reoffending, that it can reduce it by 50 percentage points. At one time probation would take clients on excursions and work on softer skills, but this type of work became toxic following the reactionary clampdown in probation. It's good to see that these activities are now being quoted approvingly in the Telegraph. The only thing we now need is a bit of rigorous research to underpin this innovation. It is good to see volunteers back in fashion in probation work as well.

BoB is the acceptable face of TR – a cheerleader. Time will tell if it can bring home the bacon. In the meantime, it has political value: what a clever guy Grayling has been in transforming probation! In opening up probation to innovation..."


"At one time probation would take clients on excursions and work on softer skills, but this type of work became toxic following the reactionary clampdown in probation."  

Yes, we did all this and shed-loads of other innovative stuff when I started as a Probation Officer. My Service had its own cottage in The Lakes, a purpose-built day centre with canoes, rock-climbing equipment, woodwork shop, canal narrowboats, crew bus etc etc. We had trained instructors and a small army of volunteers, but every last bit of this infrastructure and philosophy was disposed of by a compliant management wanting to curry favour with successive politicians like Michael Howard and Jack Straw. 

It had all been developed from the enlightened and innovative Home Office Intermediate Treatment projects with youngsters who were deemed to be at risk of becoming problematic by following an offending path, but was swept away when the right wing press dubbed it 'treats for naughty boys'. Politicians were of course only too happy to jump on the band waggon of popularity with an increasingly 'tough on crime and the causes of crime' message and probation managers duly obliged by 'following orders'. Look where it got us.

Ironically it's some of the very same senior managers that are prospering under TR and a supposed return to 'innovation' by reinventing the wheel and it makes me very angry indeed. In effect we've been destroyed as a public service because of political interference in our work and now have to suffer the humiliation and indignity of being told the future lies in what we were forced to give up.  

45 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. You mean HERE HERE !

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    2. Thank you Jim, yes I remember all the activities we used to do in Probation, we had activities officers, quasi-youth clubs, volunteers, CS going to abroad to help rebuild orphanages, lots of innovative stuff. Yes all killed by compliant management, right wing press and right wing home secretaries of what ever party.

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    3. When I came in to Probation in the mid 1990s I found that 'day centres' and activities were run because staff didn't know what to do with clients. To be honest, I thought they were a mess and now remind me of seeing young men sitting around pool tables on the wings of YOIs. Depressed and seemingly with little hope. I don't remember much directional work taking place. YOS now seem to have a more constructive ethic and some direction for what they do. The BoB model seems to be underpinned by a philosophy that combines reflection in a different setting, identity, peer mentoring and aim setting. I can provide a pro-social model to my clients of how to behave and treat people, but I'm just too old and uncool to be a mentor. I remember Probation volunteers of old being well meaning but with little sense of the reality of client's real lives.
      I don't see this as re-inventing a wheel because as you rightly say the wheel in this case stopped turning some time ago. But when you want to get that rusty old bike out of the garage, it is most likely that you will have to change the tyres, add some oil and even change some of the mechanisms to get it working to today's specifications.
      More grumpy than angry I'd say Jimbo. Unless I have now wound you up that much ;)

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    4. There was a brilliant philosophy behind the original DTCs (Day Training Centres) from the Powers of the Criminal Courts Act 1973.

      I was VERY familiar at different times with the excellent work done at 3 Derby Lane, Liverpool and 123 Grove Park, Camberwell, as a referrer and co worker and the intensive work at Camberwell continued until the mid 1990s.

      When I visited the newer Ilford Day centre in Ilford as a referrer in about 2002, it seemed more diffuse and not so intensive - something good was lost.

      I recall talking to folk about the Sheffield Centre which worked differently and I never had dealings with the Pontypridd one. In Probation terms they were resource intensive but very justified because they were so much cheaper than prison and certainly initially in Liverpool ONLY used for people who would alternatively have been sent to prison.

      I see there is a write up here - which I do not think I can access completely: -

      " A ‘Missed Opportunity’ Re-assessed: the Influence of the Day Training Centre Experiment on the Criminal Justice System and Probation Policy and Practice MAURICE VANSTONE - British Journal of Social Work Volume 23, Issue 3 Pp. 213-229 "

      As for the Outward Bound type stuff - I was involved in that in the 1970s, but it was always extra to the day job and the consequence of under-resourcing was that invariably it was special events - usually done in staff's own time and not properly recognised by employers - there were no award schemes back then and if you were lucky you would get a day off in lieu, having been a worker on a 5 day residential programme at an outward bound centre, where one was potentially on the go from about 6 AM to 2 AM for 4 days solid!

      Then all we got was political ridicule and little serious backing from senior managers or Probation Committee folk.

      http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/3/213.abstract

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    5. SUMMARY In 1973 four probation day training centres were set up in Liverpool, London, Sheffield and Pontypridd as part of an experimental project which focused on providing a community based training programme for offenders who would otherwise have been imprisoned. The experiment, which lasted from 1973 to 1981, has never been properly evaluated. This paper, whilst not purporting to fill that gap, is an attempt to critically review its significance within the context of the criminal justice system from both a policy and practice perspective. It further reflects on the reasons for the formulation of the training centre model as a community based semi-institution. It examines its original purposes of diverting offenders from custody and helping them, against the charge that they not only failed to achieve those purposes but had the unintended consequence of drawing inappropriate people into a burgeoning network of state control. Throughout the paper a distinction is drawn between the day training centres and the numerous day centres that were established in the probation service during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

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    6. Anon @ 09:11 - this from Wikipedia, but numerous other references are also available.

      "Hear, hear is an expression used as a short, repeated form of hear him. It represents a listener's agreement with the point being made by a speaker.

      It was originally an imperative for directing attention to speakers, and has since been used, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as "the regular form of cheering in the House of Commons", with many purposes, depending on the intonation of its user.[1] Its use in Parliament is linked to the fact that applause is normally (though not always) forbidden in the chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords.[2]

      The phrase hear him, hear him! was used in Parliament from late in the 17th century, and was reduced to hear! or hear, hear! by the late 18th century. The verb hear had earlier been used in the King James Bible as a command for others to listen.[1]

      Other phrases have been derived from hear, hear, such as a hear, hear (a cheer), to hear-hear (to shout the expression), and hear-hearer (a person who does the same).[1]

      The overuse of the phrase by an eager member of the House of Commons led Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in one speech, to deviate from his planned text and say "Where, oh where, shall we find a more foolish knave or a more knavish fool than this?". The lone Member of Parliament said "hear, hear."[3]

      The actual source is the Hebrew Bible, Samuel II 20:16. "Then cried a wise woman out of the city: 'Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab: Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.'"

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  2. I understand that JCP will be going into UPW to arrange work placements for offenders instead of going out on van. Sounds like a good idea but they can't find enough placements for current jobless without adding on UPW. Where will these employers come from? Still issues with 'van driving' in Wales.
    PO/PSOs being seconded to TTG for 6 mths. No mention of who will take their work load. Offenders being passed around to different officers to suit the scheme.

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  3. The 'treats for bad boys' label was justified in a lot of cases. I was on a middle managers course in the 90s and one PO told of a case whose brother had just put a load of shopwindows in, in order to go skating with his brother on a Probation outing. He'd asked but was told it was only for 'bad boys', so he became a bad boy. Also, my dad was a volunteer on a scheme that took young offenders (TWOCers) Banger racing. Its crucial that these schemes are targeted at the right cases and that the rationale and intended outcome is sellable and obvious to, not just sentencers but the public too. Oh, and there should be places for kids like the brother who put the windows in - before he put the windows in. The Prince's Trust is a brilliant example, anyone can have a go. Tony.

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    1. Yep - Banger Racing - the team I was with in Essex did that - started from scratch - a massive effort - support from local police and fire services - but an extra effort, largely in staff's own time, and if a case allocation went wrong criticism of the sort above - yet some clients had their horizons raised.

      We were ACTUALLY employed to work with 'bad boys' the so called 'UNclubables' - the fact that ordinary folk would not volunteer in sufficient numbers to provide youth activity provision - for the 'clubables' and that public youth service schemes were cut back from the early 1980s was not the responsibility of probation workers, but the "treats for bad boys" label was always available to slap down our efforts.

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  4. The evolutionary stuff about initiation and rites of passage stresses individual factors at the expense of social factors and forces that influence the emergence and maintenance – and labelling - of criminal behaviour.

    The breaking of rules is, after all, a social construct, as crime ultimately exists in the eye of the beholder and those with the power to make the rules. And the will to enforce is variable, as benefits fraudsters and tax fraudsters well know.

    Wherever you look in the world, the criminals are invariably less advantaged and in the case of ethnicity, often discriminated against – from the blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, to the Aboriginals in Sydney.

    It is good to see young men engaging in constructive activities – but we don't need bogus theorising to tell us that at the end of the day so much is about life chances, work that pays a living wage and the ability to afford a home.

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  5. Thursday, March 5
    World Book Day (UK) 2015

    I'd like to nominate "Chicken Licken"

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    1. This blog is not a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent, but if you think it is what are you doing here?

      I don't know about other areas but I have noticed a huge rise in murders and rapes in my area over the past nine months.

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    2. Everyone on our social work course (1990's) was given a Ladybird version of Chicken Licken.

      Maybe its time for a re-write, where "the sky is falling down" is replaced by "just £46 in their pocket"; and the Trusts are led in an overexcited state into the lair of the privateers, where they're gobbled up - never to be seen again. Just sayin'... (tongue firmly placed in cheek).

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  6. Fairbridge Drake was the provider we used when I used to go on outward bound type courses as part of a day centres programme. The events were about confidence, team building, problem solving, broadening horizons etc. And, waddaya know, sometimes they made a difference and sometimes they didn't, just like every other feckin' programme ever offered. Some of us still looking for the magic bullet?

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  7. CRCs processing own breaches here. NPS cannot cope.

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    1. Where? I didn't think CRCs were legally allowed?

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    2. do you mean prosecuting? I wonder if its court trained PSOs who've gone back to field teams? Its not easy prosecuting even when people go guilty you have to convince the bench we did all we could to get them to comply then have to get them to agree to a proposal. It can be really intimidating.

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    3. Yes. I thought there was something about having to be public sector to process breach and give sentencing options.

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  8. Attended a meeting in a Government building today with someone from the MOJ- a charity who's funding from Probation ends on 31st March said they had not been offered further contracts as yet and those around the table were aghast that no interim funding had been provided. The MOJ rep looked embarrassed and said all was in the hands of the private contractors now!

    I so had to bite my tongue in order to not get the sack!

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  9. Can I be bloody angry too? Off topic but the IT system is an absolute disgrace. Today...
    1. had to reboot NINE times
    2. was unable to run multiple systems at the same time - everything froze
    3. had to write a PSR with each narrative box reducing its size as I typed so had to press enter at end of each line of text to expand the box so I could read what I was typing ...honestly
    4. unable to use buttons in lotus notes so for example could open 'out of office' in tools but couldn't press the button to enable, it didn't work
    5. the final defining moment was trying to use the new case allocation system instructions for the first time - whoever wrote the new instructions should be shot, yes really....
    IT IS AN ABUSE OF EVERY SINGLE PRACTITIONER THAT WE HAVE TO USE SUCH A POOR SYSTEM and proves that the MOJ understand NOTHING about efficient business delivery.

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    1. Same problem doing an ISP in OASyS so frustrating and time consuming.

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    2. Hear Hear. VERY angry too and Yes Jim VERY angry too

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    3. yes, every time the line wraps around it goes out of view so you cant see what you're typing on the new line - annoying and it's the little things that piss you off. I've also noticed offenders with 'concurrent' orders which is wrong as they are only on one - the mysterious concurrent order I had yesterday had 942 months custody. Bizzarely the ghost concurrent order vanished by the time I decided I had built up the energy to ring our IT department over it.

      Delius was playing up yesterday with it being unavailable at certain hours of the day.

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    4. As ex IT (before I and the rest of the unit left or took VR) can I implore you not to take it out on the people on the helpdesks, please. Crams was described in the press as 'a crime against computing'. That we began to look back on it with longing, says all you need to know about the catastrophic procurement processes that all govt departments seem to employ. Aircraft carriers that can't carry our aircraft is the forces equivalent of NDelius and Eoasys. The help desk bod isn't responsible, and hates them as much as you, honestly!.

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    5. I am 17:38 and did not even mention 'help desk bods'. Because I am NPS and we have some remote contact centre ( for everything actually, not just IT) I really miss the great team we had on our old trust help desk. ....Based on the advice of numerous colleagues I do not even bother to contact the help desk as I was told it can take days to have issues resolved.
      I do though sometimes wish 'help desk bods' and others could understand the utter pressure practitioners are under delivering multiple tasks and owning the dead lines for all of this, oh and protecting the public too. Practitioner work is being obstructed by the IT not facilitated and I know the 'help desk bod' hates the system too.

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    6. Have been waiting months for an IT issue to be resolved. Our pre TR support team provided a superb service.

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  10. Does anyone know what happened to the VR money, rumor is the companies CRC that took over get to keep the cash as an "incentive".

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    1. No doubt its in a Swiss bank account or two.

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  11. BBC Look North, lengthy article about Sodexo run HMP Northumberland "a powder key waiting to go off". Drugs, alcohol and sex freely available says an ex inmate and an ex prison officer also confirmed this.

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    1. BBC news site has the story. Love this extract:

      "In an old RAF hangar that is now the jail's engineering workshop, Mr Spencer explained how prisoners were making machine parts for Nissan's Sunderland plant - apparently a fruit of Sodexo's contacts in the Chambers of Commerce."

      Slave labour to boost Sodexo profits because they schmooze with their chums at business-to-business dinners. Time to boycott Nissan?

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    2. A FOI asking how much Sodexo are paid would be interesting!

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    3. Commercially sensitive information - no go! Better get used to this in the new privatised world.

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    4. Wonder what the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) might have to say? In Jan 14 they were creaming their pants over Cameron's alleged support:

      "With the Prime Minister himself taking to the stage, FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry proudly proclaimed that the event had successfully put the voice of small business at the heart of government"

      Doncha just love the way neo-liberal uber-capitalism has absolutely NO sense of loyalty or morality?

      All together now... "Working on a chain-gang..."

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    5. Really? You believe it must be true because it's on the BBC? I know you're looking for small victories while you are getting shafted, but come on! When did practitioners begin taking things at face value? "Slave labour?". Bollocks, double bollocks and triple bollocks.......If you want to have a rant go to the BBC and complain about what's going on in your office now. Don't pontificate on the basis of an ex inmate's story (which is obviously true, full stop) and an ex staff member who has got his finger on the pulse (obviously). Oh, and a labour mp who has suddenly become concerned 3 months before an election (do you want to interview me on the tv?). Question everything, absolutely, but a majority of you are working for a dangerous shower of shit (apparently), I don't see you queing up to talk to the press or tv? Ask yourself, how would you fare if you had a 2 week unannounced inspection starting tommorow? Exactly.... Don't disrespect staff in prison who are doing a fucking good job in difficult circumstances. It's mob mentality and it's wrong.

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    6. I've raised many issues of (what I believed to be) media interest in probation stories/events, with limited (if any) response. The source of the HMP story was a Mr Spencer, a senior manager: "A very tough three years" was how outgoing director Matt Spencer describes his time at HMP Northumberland.

      I have previously worked as a self-employed person and as a heavily audited public sector employee. I am very supportive of colleagues within the prisons estate - my partner is one such employee.

      BUT... Lets see what an independent review reveals.

      This is about Sodexo's practice, NOT about HMP employees.

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  12. http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/mar/05/civil-claims-fee-increases-harm-uk-justice-system?CMP=share_btn_tw

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/05/smoking-ban-prison-enforced-judge-rules

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  13. CRC IN MANCHESTER in total fucking meltdown.

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    1. is it possible (and indeed safe) for you to expand on that?

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    2. I too would be interested in the Manchester CRC positives or negatives as I am considering applying to join them

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    3. 2 CRC admin walked out yesterday, one wrote her notice out before she left and the other just walked out. Told on Tues they were being re-deployed and their last day would be today - both offices much further away - no notice; no warning just totally out of the blue.

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  14. Our performance unit say they have noted a significant increase in the use of custody post 1/2/15. Magistrates love it. First breach of post-sentence licence also being processed as we speak.

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    1. Seems whoever has decided to prosecute a breach loves it too

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    2. Non-attendance. No brainer.

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  15. Re BoB you write:

    there is no denying the group gets results. Only 20 per cent of the young offenders A Band of Brothers works with go on to reoffend (compared to the 68 per cent of young people who are released from custody and go on to offend within a year nationally), while 75 per cent of those who are unemployed when they join the group go on to find a job.

    Without some proper evidence I would certainly deny it. These claims have all the hallmarks of complete TOSH - airy comparisons with national reconvictions stats for young offenders released from custody with no attempt to match the experimental group etc. It's all bollocks seized on by Tories to suit their current purpose. Also, am I alone in finding the resonance with the infamous Afrikaner Broederbond more than just unfortunate? I may have retired but I'm still angry.....The Aged Member

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