Case Vignette Mark

Mark – whose attachment history is summarised here – was fairly typical of an individual with antisocial personality disorder. He was not very forthcoming about his personal history, taking the dismissive stance that he could not see its relevance to his offending. This seemed to mirror a more general trait of detachment from others, emphasising his ability to manage his relationships with others, although viewing his problems as resulting largely from the unreasonable or poorly considered actions of others. This in turn appeared to mask an underlying anxiety that allowing his probation officer to probe him about difficult experiences when he was young, would render him vulnerable and exposed – something he wished at all costs to avoid.

A summarised version of the assessment interview with Mark is transcribed below. This clearly was not the first interview, but took place after the interviewer had established a reasonable rapport and had taken the opportunity to praise Mark for successfully completing the Thinking Skills course in prison. Note the techniques used by the interviewer to try and obtain quality information about his parents and his role within the family. Although it requires persistence, Mark does start to reveal more complex feelings about the quality of his primary relationships, often in relation to what he does not say as much as what he does say.

OM So tell me a bit about your mother.  
Mark She was a good mum.  
OM OK, when you say ‘good’, can you say a bit more  
Mark What d’you mean?  
OM Well, maybe give me a few more words to describe her, what comes to mind when you think about her and your relationship with her as a child. Using ‘elaboration’ for more detail
Mark ….loving, caring, strict though…I suppose, exhausted  
OM Exhausted?  
Mark Well she had two cleaning jobs to make ends meet, she worked all hours, we never went without.  
OM Yes, that must have been tough for her, keeping the family going. How did she manage things like tea and bedtime? Don’t challenge, go for detail
Mark What d’you mean?  
OM I suppose I mean routines, like the bedtime routine…bathtime, story time  
Mark There was none of that, I sorted myself out…or my older brother was supposed to. I think I was out having fun, playing with my mates.  
OM You also said ‘strict’. How was she strict?  
Mark You know, the usual……she expected us to help out, behave, go to school, that sort of stuff  
OM So were you naughty? Use acceptable words, non judgemental
Mark (laughs) I suppose so, I was always in trouble, bunking off, letters from the school, hopping out the bedroom window as a kid, I was a rascal.  
OM So how did she discipline you?  
Mark I got a good hiding from time to time  
OM A whack with her hand, or sometimes a bit more?  
Mark And the stick, but it was deserved.  
OM Always?  
Mark Usually, sometimes I got the blame for my brothers  
OM So it was unfair sometimes. Were they naughty? Notice the unfairness in the family
Mark Not often, they did all the right things.  
OM So why didn’t you?  
Mark I was the black sheep…I dunno, always in trouble for some reason. I think I just didn’t care when I got told off  
OM What about your dad?  
Mark Don’t know and don’t care.  
OM He was never around?  
Mark No  
OM Did you ask your mother about him?  
Mark No  
OM Why not?  
Mark Why should I? We didn’t talk about that sort of thing.  
OM Did you ever try and see him as a teenager?  
Mark Only once. I bunked off school and on an impulse went to visit him. I knew where he lived. I was 15 I think
OM | What happened
 
Mark Nothing much, he wasn’t interested, had his own family. He gave me a tenner and said he’d call. Never did of course. But I was alright without him. I had my own life to live by then, my own mates. Notice how avoidant of feelings, identifies with peers instead

Contrast this interview with that of Billy. Billy experienced a very disturbed childhood. His mother worked as a prostitute and he was told by her that he was the product of a rape. He never knew his biological father, but did have a relationship with his stepfather who came to live with them when he was aged five. Tragically, Billy’s stepfather died unexpectedly of a heart attack when he was aged nine; his mother could not cope and turned increasingly to drink, neglecting Billy. He was placed in a children’s home from the age of 10 to 16, where he was sexually assaulted by a male staff member. He ran away and worked as a rent boy on the streets for a year or two, taking drugs and living in a squat.

The assessment interview with Billy was initially much easier, as he wanted to talk and had a lot to say. However, he quickly became emotional and found it difficult to keep to the questions, muddling up information from the past with the present, in a rather chaotic fashion.

OM I know your childhood was difficult. Can I ask you a bit about your mother, can you perhaps describe her to me?  
Billy My mum was a lovely woman, beautiful, dark hair, rather like you, long and curly. We had a really special relationship, she was loving and caring, she had had a hard life, all the women in her family had had a difficult time, I think my auntie had been abused by her husband and her dad… Starts to relive and merge relationships
OM Sorry to interrupt you, but can we go back to your mother, and your relationship with her. You clearly were close, can you think of a specific memory of you and her?  
Billy What sort of memory?  
OM Good or bad, what comes to mind? “Good/bad memory technique”  
Billy She would come home really late at night, and creep into my bedroom and kiss me. She thought I was asleep, but I used to wait for her to come in, and pretend not to notice.  
OM Why was she coming home so late?  
Billy Well she was a sex worker, she kept it really separate from our family life though, I never knew at the time.  
OM When did you find out?  
Billy When I was last in prison, another inmate knew my mum’s sister, and told me. My mum doesn’t know I know, it doesn’t make any difference. She’s not like that now, hasn’t been for years. Idealises mum, so separates out this fact
OM What did you know about your father?  
Billy Mum said that she was raped, it wasn’t her fault, and she always says it was a blessing to have me.  
OM How do you feel about it, your father I mean?  
Billy (clenches fists and raises voice) I feel dirty about it I think, the bastard…I sometimes wonder if I’m meant to be like him…I mean I’m not, but I am in a way. I wonder if he thinks about me sometimes. High emotion, can’t separate self from dad
OM Can I ask you something about your stepfather?  
Billy He was good to me, brought me up as his own. I remember Xmas particularly, a real family time, for the first time.  
OM Is he still around?  
Billy No (starts to sob), he died when I was 10, a heart attack. I was the one to find him…I had to be brave for my mum, she was heart broken. Have you ever lost someone, you know, so that life isn’t ever the same again? I don’t suppose you have, I expect life has been ok for you. The past is merging with the present, good parents – bad carers
OM It was such a difficult time for you, it clearly still hurts to talk about it.  
Billy I was the end of the happy time. After that, I was taken into care. Abused, thrown out on the streets. Institutions are like that, they pretend to care, it’s all front, in reality…I could tell you what goes on in care, it’s the same in prison, the officers pretend, but really they’re all the same. My last probation officer was all sweetness and light, but then she shafted me, said I was high risk… (starts shouting) Care=authority in order to preserve link with mum
OM Can I just bring you back to your time in care. It was a really bad experience, I can see. Did your mum keep visiting you.  
Billy Not really, I think she tried, but she was poorly, a nervous breakdown, she couldn’t get to visit much. I lost contact with her after that.  
OM Were you angry with her?  
Billy Not really, it was just one of those things….maybe a little. I didn’t understand then, but now she’s there for me. We’re close. She understands, you too, I feel you understand me. But I can’t talk to my keyworker, she’s always on my case. Mum and probation have merged in his mind

Although much more forthcoming than Mark, Billy still has some difficulty in acknowledging mixed feelings about his mother’s difficulty in maintaining consistent care of him. One of the effects of questioning him so closely about deeply personal issues is that his emotions are quickly aroused and it becomes clear that he forms intense – but not always realistic – attachments to those around him, including the offender manager.