Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

The internal life of urban underground and poor neighborhoods, where drug trade, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence are common, is both acute and relevant topic nowadays. Adrian LeBlanc’s “Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in Bronx” (2003) depicts epidemic of social pathology that prevails in Bronx environment. The paper is designed to review the book from the combined position that includes both health care and social work approaches. The plot of the book circles around the fates of two Puerto Rican girls – Jessica and Coco.

Jessica at the age of sixteen faces poverty and is therefore forced to have close relationships with numerous men, who, in turn, are expected to provide her: as LeBlanc writes, “You could be talking to her in the middle of the bustle of Tremont and feel as if lovers’ confidences were being exchanged beneath a tent of sheets” (Glimm, 2004, p. 1448). Later, the young woman engages into sex business, so that she becomes a common wife of the entire male population in the neighborhood.

At age 19, Jessica already has a child from a young man and twins – with his brother, but seems uninterested in childrearing, her 2-year-old daughter is sexually abused as a result. Jessica once establishes successful relationship with a local drug dealer, who obligates her to join his business and later recognizes the woman as his lover and supports her financially, so that Jessica has a lush car and apartments, in which, however, her boyfriend locks her and batters even for minor disobedience.

Later, her partner receives life sentence; and the woman is imprisoned later for her refusal to cooperate with the police (LeBlanc, 2003). Coco’s fate is to great extent similar: at the age of 14 she falls in love with Jessica’s brother, and the two teenagers have a child. As LeBlanc states, Coco “survived extreme hardships without becoming hard” (Glimm, 2004, p. 1448). Her lifestyle is similar to Jessica’s pace of changing lovers and partners, thus, the young woman enters her 20s with five children, one of whom is seriously disabled (LeBlanc, 2003).

In contrast to Jessica, Coco cares about her children and is generally devoted to them (for instance, when her daughter Pearl, born premature, falls ills and suffers from vomiting, she willingly leaves her work for childcare), but later she feels a need for pause in her motherhood: in LeBlanc’s words, “Just taking the bus was risky, because Nautica was prone to tantrums and Coco’s hands were full with Pearl and her portable oxygen tank. Sometimes Mercedes would fall asleep so deeply that she couldn’t be politely roused” (Glimm, 2004, p. 1448).

Thus, she sends her older daughters to the Learning Center for underprivileged children. The author herself had dealt a lot with two women before writing the report and continues to visit their families nowadays. The female characters in the book are presented as ‘inferior’ individuals, whose goal is serving men, and they seem to act in accordance with the goal imposed just in order to survive. Nevertheless, Jessica and Coco never rely completely upon their partners, as local men live in the neighborhood from sentence to sentence (LeBlanc, 2003).

The women are marginalized and excluded from material well-being, as they learn to earn their own living since early childhood. In this sense, Jessica and Coco occupy the position, based upon physical and economic survival through cohabitating with men or performing other activities of their competence: drug trade, sex services, and unqualified manual work. Family values seem secondary to Jessica, whereas Coco seeks to maintain the family as an entity, yet unsuccessfully, as she is once forced to separate her daughters.

The primary impact of such social position on the women’s health is promiscuous lifestyle that results in numerous underage non-marital pregnancies. The author avoids explaining the reasons for the women’s desire to become single mothers with many children, but the women seem to save and maintain their pregnancies rather then terminating them (LeBlanc, 2003). Nevertheless, underage pregnancy has a number of negative results, including the problems in reproductive system and postnatal depression (experienced by Jessica in particular).

Furthermore, due to the peculiarities of the local environment, the women are often attacked or sexually molested, so that had multiple traumas related to street fights. 14-year-old Coco even smears Vaseline on her face in attempt to avoid fight scars – this detail clearly suggest that even underage females try to protect themselves from street wars. Because of poverty, prevailing among the women, they often suffer from hunger and resulting dizziness and exhaustion.

Another prominent detail in the writing is domestic violence: intimate partners tend to batter their girlfriends (Jessica and Coco were assaulted several times), so their health problems also include regular traumas. The framework, provided by the author, can in fact be used in broader context of certain population group: those living under poverty line, as official statistics suggests that drug trade and addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse are common in the corresponding localities (Glimm, 2004).

The larger population therefore can be conceptualized as the group with low socioeconomic background, living in criminalized neighborhoods, so that social policy makers need to focus primarily on these areas, when seeking to eliminate poverty, underage pregnancy, drug abuse and trade, child abuse and neglect. In conclusion, it is important to describe the author’s perspective on helping the crisis group.

In her opinion, culture and background-oriented approach is necessary, which means, social worker or health care specialist should be aware of the social context within which the women have been living for many years and in which certain issues, viewed by broader society is immoral, are common ‘normality’. This means, the first strategy is understanding and acceptance. The second one is a continuous constructive dialogue with the women: they need to tell a person ‘from the outside world’ about their psychological traumas and hardships, and the relationship between the specialist and the woman should last for years (LeBlanc, 2003).

As one can conclude, the scholar holds humanistic view on the work with such individuals, so that the vital aspects of the help are attention, symmetric and non-judgmental communication as well as concrete aid like the establishment of learning centers for the single mothers’ children and the creation of job registry office (multiprofiled, i. e. providing additional training) specially for this population group.