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June 12, 1996

All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence

JAMA. 1996;275(22):1770-1771. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530460074037

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Willie Bosket claimed that he had committed 2000 crimes, including 200 armed robberies, 25 stabbings, and two murders, by the age of 15. In prison, where he reached adulthood, Bosket directed his aggression toward the guards and the fixtures of his cell.

After he stabbed a guard with a homemade stiletto in 1988, Bosket was visited by Fox Butterfield, a reporter for The New York Times. Butterfield wondered whether Bosket's story might provide some insight into the wave of adolescent violence in the inner city. Bosket had been wondering the same thing and asked Butterfield to search his family background to find the origins of his violent behavior. With reservations about the difficulty of this task (Bosket did not even know his father's birthplace), Butterfield agreed to try. What emerged from this search, writes Butterfield in All God's Children, "was not just a portrait of the Boskets, but a new