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About Seize Your Life

Invisible Subjects is a series of anonymous interviews, conducted by me, with a member of the public. The purpose of this series was to find the extraordinary in strangers’ lives, to pull out the truth that we can learn from absolutely anyone. I believe the things that will drive us forward as a society are empathy and togetherness; people are all we’ve got, and I wanted to showcase people here. It’s important we do not take for granted the wealth of knowledge and experience that surrounds us each day – for in every face we pass on the street, there is an unbelievable story, something absolutely unique, that we can learn from them. To gain the riches of knowledge from others is fundamental to succeeding together. I have loved these conversations, the subjects and their subjects. I hope you do too. – Madeleine

Content warning: this interview discusses gang activity, knife and gun violence and racially motivated police brutality.

We met at a panel talk about knife crime just the week before, and I sat in the audience listening to his testimonial, in awe of the bravery and candour of his storytelling. Afterwards, I approached him while he’s speaking to his pastor. ‘Hi,’ I said awkwardly, ‘I’m an upcoming journalist. I am doing a series – could I interview you?’ We exchanged numbers. I stood at the bus stop afterwards, sending five minute long voice notes to my sister, full of ideas and feeling blessed to have attended this talk in the first place.

He knocks at my door. I have been sitting in my living room, fidgeting, for about thirty minutes – should I light candles? Should I put on some music? Should I make tea, or coffee and should I put out biscuits? WHICH BISCUITS? I am nervous. Nervous because, well, I can’t believe he’s agreed to meet with me. I don’t know how far to push him, what questions to ask. I know nothing about this life he’s lived. After faffing around with the parking meter for a few minutes, we sit down on my sofa. I show him some details about where the interview will be published, and for what. He is hesitant, hands in pockets, looking at me. Shall we start now?

Hi, Anonymous Person number four! The purpose of this is just for you to tell me about your life, whichever parts you want to tell me, I just want to hear your story. Tell me about your life.

Hi. Basically, um, I grew up on the streets of Hackney in a single parent home. Just me and my brother, and from a young age I was always trying to find my identity. I had a father but he wasn’t predominantly active in my life. I had my older cousins teaching me how to be a man, but they was doing street stuff – robbing, theft, whatever to get by. They couldn’t get jobs, for whatever reason, at that time. So, growing up as a young person around the neighbourhood, you become friends with other young boys in a similar situation, who grew up with no fathers. So you sort of click up together and find things to do.

The majority of the time we played football together, out in the field. Just normal kids – knock down ginger, acting out power rangers, silly little boy stuff. It was a good experience growing up. Going to school is where things became a bit challenging. I got moved from Leyton to Hackney, and I was achieving in Leyton because I had teachers who supported me through being dyslexic. They identified it and supported me. But when my mum moved us to Hackney, it was totally different, I was kind of left on my own. I was trying to be a good kid in school, but I just couldn’t, because of my dyslexia I couldn’t keep up with the criteria of work. So I was just bored in class, getting told off for not doing the work because I couldn’t complete it. But I was so shy, I couldn’t say that, because I was fearful of certain teachers. That made me angry. I couldn’t tell my mum because she kept wondering why I was getting in trouble, so that made me angry as well. Anyway, I continued to go to school – I remember one thing, I was good at maths. Always good at maths. But when I hit secondary school, the same things happened, I’d daydream in class and not pay attention, and I was always in detention. Whenever I put my hand up in class, the teacher would just overlook me, because they didn’t like me, and I was angry about that. 

All the time I’m in detention, I’m in a class full of boys that get put in detention. So now I’m in detention more than I’m in lessons, becoming friends with the so-called ‘bad kids’. We decided school just wasn’t for us, so we started bunking here and there. Aged twelve I started smoking weed, so I’m bunking and smoking weed. We were just young kids, and gangs was in our area, but they wasn’t really affecting us. Then a gang of Chinese boys started targeting people from our secondary school. Robbing, beating them up. We just thought, oh yeah, we’ve seen kung-fu movies, these guys must have nunchucks and knives! So one of my friends decided, y’know what, they keep beating us up, I’m gonna bring my mum’s kitchen knives to school to defend us. So we all start bringing our mum’s knives, arming ourselves. We got our knives and went to look for these so-called bullies, but we never found them. We still carried the knives to school for about a week, but then that was it. So we got a little taste of going as a group with weapons, to go and do some damage. That was my first experience of gang activity, but we never really called it a gang, just a group of friends trying to protect one other. 

Then, y’know, going to my school – it’s always a competitive thing. Being from the school I went to, we had rivals through sports – we’d beat them, but certain people would take it further and want to fight, and that became conflict between schools. So if you’re from one school and the other school sees you, they’re gonna rob you and beat you up, and it just became that every day… Sometimes you’re scared, you try and hide your uniform, but they know where you’re from anyway. There’s a lot of violence happening. After you leave school, you’ve got problems with this and that person, but now it’s a different thing, because we’re also from this area. Now we’ve left school, it continues.It’s like, ‘I don’t like you because in school, you did this to me.’ It just got out of hand from there. It’s all dumb at the end of the day, but once you’re in it, it’s either you become a victim or you stand up for yourself. And I wasn’t on becoming a victim, I had to be involved in something I didn’t wanna be involved in. 

Once, me and my friends decided to go to an area that was only down the road from us, and play basketball. We didn’t have basketball facilities where we grew up, so we thought, let’s go down there and play basketball. Cut a long story short, one of my guys had a fight with their guys, because we were winning. The guy pushed my friend, my friend punched the guy, and it became an all-out rumble, everyone fighting. We ended up going back to our area, and they went back and got all the boys from their area to follow us, taunting us, telling us what they wanna do, they had bats and everything. We’re outnumbered. 

How old were you, then?

I was eleven or twelve. At those ages, if you say you know someone older, people will automatically respect that. So I had to lie, for us to get away. I said, ‘Yo, do you know my older brother?’ ‘Who’s that?’ ‘Oh he’s the king of the area, he’s got a gun, he’ll shoot you all if you touch us.’ So they thought about it, I pretended to go and get my brother, and called their bluff, and it worked. One by one, they were like, ‘Nah, I’m not getting shot’, and they went back to their area. So I said to my friends, we can’t allow this to happen to us. So we were called the —Street Boys [street name redacted]. It wasn’t really a gang gang, not to the level they’re doing now, but we were beating up the guys who weren’t from the area, robbing them, doing the same thing they were doing to us. At that time, the government started putting cameras in the area, but we didn’t know this, we’re just young boys. We used to break into people’s houses, steal their stuff, for fun – we thought it was all fun. But it was all boredom because there wasn’t really youth clubs – we were consistently going to these youth clubs, then they’d cancel for a week, and it wasn’t consistent, so we were like, what’s the point? So we just went back to the streets. 

What year was this?

That was like the year 2000. I’m 32 now, so yeah, around 2000. 

Then parents started moving their kids out of the area. One by one, our so-called gang was breaking up, until there were about three of us left. I’m still in school, but now I got kicked out of my class and put into a different class, and I’ve got all new friends. My new friends lived two minutes away from me on this estate, and they said, ‘Come hang with us.’ Now, on that estate, those guys were gang members. In their thirties, like, they were doing shootings, robberies, it was a notorious estate for crime. It all just got passed down to my generation. It wasn’t like, ‘come and join my gang,’ it was like, ‘come and chill with us.’ I think the generation now, they are recruiting into gangs, but back then, if you knew someone, you chilled with them, you automatically become one of them, especially if you know how to fight. It’s like, you’re just with us now. You’re from the area, we know you, we’ve heard about how you can fight, now you’re just a part of us. If you hang around them every day, you’re gonna be a part of them. And they’ve got enemies, so if they see you’re affiliated with any gang, you’re getting the consequences of being a gang member.

So I’m with these guys, on the inside, because they had the same enemies I had. I’m like fifteen, and I got rushed after school – a girl set me up. I was going out with a girl, and she said, ‘Oh, you know that guy? Do you think you could beat him up?’ And me, as a fifteen year old guy trying to impress a girl, I’m like, ‘Yeah, of course I can beat him up!’ Not knowing that she’s going back and telling the guy I said that. I went with her to pick up her sister after school, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to impress her, we’re gonna walk home together, maybe get a little kiss or something…’ and I see the boy come over. He’s like, ‘Come outside.’ She’s pretending nothing’s happening, but I know she told them. I go outside, he had his friends with him from the rival school. I got in a one on one fight, but then they all beat me up. They beat me up until the ambulance came. The main people from my school heard about it, and they thought, ‘We can’t let something like that happen to our guy.’ We end up going back there the next day and beating that guy up. It just projects out onto the streets, y’know. Now I’m part of this gang in this area, beefing against another area, shootings and stabbings on both sides. 

Were you ever stabbed?

Me? No, I never got stabbed. They’ve attempted, but by God’s grace, they never punctured me. It’d go through my coat, but I’d just about get away. Same thing with getting shot at. A bullet would never hit me, it’d just whizz past, ricochet off something… 

I’ve been involved in that for years, up until I’m twenty one. Then I started being not so active. Before that, we’d do shootings ourselves, stabbings ourselves. It’d just become the norm, to a point where you’re always paranoid, every time you leave your house it could be your last. You’ve done so much stuff, you’re thinking, ‘One day, someone’s gonna catch me.’ Gang culture is different now, nowadays the gang members wear ballies –  balaclavas – they cover their faces. Us, we never covered our faces. Because I was such an active person, if a gang member spots me, they’re not asking me if I’m from that area, they know, and straight away they’re attacking me, trying to stab me, just to score that point for their gang, for their team. So there’s no way out of it. I just thought I’m probably gonna die in this or end up in prison. That’s until my brother started going to this church. He was always inviting me to go to church, but I was always like, nah, I don’t want to go to church. Long story short, I end up at church, ended up giving my life to God. 

But things didn’t go the way I thought they were going to go. That’s when I started understanding God is real – I always thought things were just a coincidence. But through learning and reading The Bible, that there is a God out there who is actually keeping me alive. You know what I’m saying? People around me are getting stabbed and shot and dying, but I happen to remain alive. And I’m doing that back to people… But where I was learning about God, there was weird stuff happening there. I didn’t understand the pastor, he was preaching, but he was also doing things behind closed doors. When I found out about certain things he was doing, and tried to pull him up, that he wasn’t doing Godly things, I ended up getting kicked out of church, because he said I was trying to turn everyone against him. 

What was he doing?

He was… I thought he was a bit too close with the young girls. The whole church was all young people, no adults, which isn’t a problem, but I started seeing things. I started pulling him up on stuff, like, ‘Why do you have this girl’s picture up in your house?’, and I was telling the rest of them, there’s something a bit weird about this. He tried to put it on me, that I’m sleeping with all the girls, that’s the rumour that came around. But everyone was so brainwashed in that church, everything he says goes – he was like God in that church. I was trying to say to people, ‘This is not the way that I’m reading the Bible – this is cultish.’ Anyway, I get kicked out. Now I’m even angrier than before. I’m angry at God, thinking, ‘How are you going to bring me to a place like this, and I’m getting kicked out of church?’ 

I’m back on the street, involved in shootings, everything possible – I’m just angry. I’m twenty two, twenty three at this point, doing madness. Having fights with people from church. Only to find out my allegations about him were right. He was molesting girls in the church, doing all sorts of crazy stuff, they took him to court and he went to prison. The church got shut down. All my friends that I lost, in the end, realised, ‘He’s right! And we pushed him to the corner!’ I’m not an unforgiving person, I did forgive them, because they were lost at the end of the day. I’m back on the street, lost, not wanting to go to church. Someone from that church was telling me that his cousin goes to another place, and told me to attend there. He brought me there first, I went there, experienced the service, he introduced me to the pastor. But I’m still thinking, I’m not going back into this, I’m still doing road. There’s a girl bringing me there every Sunday, but I’m 50/50, I don’t trust anyone, I can’t trust the person saying he’s a man of God because of what I’ve experienced. So I kind of gave him a hard time, getting in trouble in and out of the church, to a point where I got into some new beef with some new guys. They owed me money, I caught one of them, beat them up, and there’s always retaliations. It’s a back and forth thing. But while I was going through that, people in the church were trying to take me out of that life, but I was stubborn. Soon as they finished talking, I was back on the road. 

I ended up in prison. They was going to give me a four year sentence. In the cell, on the court date waiting to get sentenced, I remember God speaking to me in my heart, saying He can take me out of this situation. I just thought I was talking to myself. I remember the voice saying, ‘Just tell the truth when you get on the stand.’ And there were people praying for me. I had previous; before that I got caught twice with a knife within three days. 

Is this just for carrying a knife?

No, they caught me in the act trying to stab someone. That’s the first time, the second time I had a knife in my car. They took me to court, and the judge was like, ‘You were just here three days ago, are you crazy?’ Plus, I had previous for other violent crimes. So it was straight to prison, four years, but they didn’t have the evidence so it was a suspended thing, but they kept me remanded. They didn’t want to release me on bail, so I’m in remand, waiting to get sentenced. Like I say, I’m in the cell, that encounter happened [with God]. I’m up on the stand, and I hear God again, saying, ‘Just tell the truth.’ So I thought, okay. I said, ‘They got me with a knife, I was trying to stab the guy. The reason why I was trying to stab the guy was because he threatened my mum. He was coming around my area. I’m not saying names, but this is the situation, they’re trying to take my life, I’m just trying to protect myself. The police aren’t trying to resolve anything, they’re just trying to get us and put us in prison.’ The judge is just staring at my face. She said, ‘Look, you’ve got all these people here trying to support you. I’m not sentencing you, you’re going to be released. But it’s another suspended sentence.’ If they give you a suspended sentence, and they catch you again, you’re going away.

So that happened. I came to church, everyone gave me a warm welcome. I started trying to do it properly, live properly, be a good citizen and not be involved in crime. But there’s a little stubborn devil in me that just likes to sometimes go against that. I was going back and forth. I was only going back and forth because the streets provide something that society doesn’t, and that’s opportunities. On the street, if I don’t have money, people aren’t asking me what GCSEs I’ve got, or what degree I’ve got, or what’s on my CV. All that stuff, you have to go through in society to get any job. On the street they just say look, go to this house, it’s all set up, sell these drugs, you’ve got an income at the end of the day. I’m trying to become a work citizen, and it’s not working, because I come from a street mentality. When some authority is telling me to do this or that, I’m like, ‘F you, I’m not doing that!’

I’m going through jobs, getting fired constantly, but still getting mentored by people at church. Every time I feel like I can’t do it any more in a job, I just go back on the streets, and it became a repeated thing. My friend finally decided to form this ministry called Goons 4 God. What this ministry does is, we go out into areas where we grew up, gang areas, trying to give them an opportunity not to do this. Instead of spreading anger and hate, spread love. By being part of this I’ve made peace with the majority of my enemies, which is… Amazing. Seeing people you’ve shot at and who’ve shot at you, and you’re no longer trying to kill each other, and they wanna listen to you…

Even with that, people will listen, but at the end of the day, their situation remains the same. There’s no opportunities, no apprenticeships, they’re cutting down on everything. Certain people have skills, but they’re not having the opportunity to exercise them, they’re not exposed. They’re just in their environment – all they know is all they know. They don’t know where to go to, they don’t know anything. If you’re on the streets, you already feel rejected from society, like, ‘I’m just over here and nobody wants to listen to me.’ It’s a cry out for help. All these stabbings, everyone’s just crying out for help, nobody really wants to be doing this. When I was little, everyone wanted to be something – when I was little, I wanted to be a fireman. I still want to be a fireman. People say, ‘I want to be a doctor! I want to be police officer!’ but growing up in this place, where there’s violence every day, it changes it. Your dream goes out of the window, and it’s all about surviving. If I go for a job, and they say no for whatever reason – the colour of my skin, or I’m from this area and they don’t like it, what am I going to do? Some people don’t have the strength to keep going and getting rejected, they feel rejected anyway. You’re just in a state of rejection, and you only feel accepted amongst the people who are like you, who are providing opportunities for you. Which aren’t right, but at the end of the day, you see the rights in it – if I don’t do this, how am I going to eat? You walk past people begging, you don’t want that to be you, so you do things that aren’t right, looking for a better life. 

You spoke about the police, and about how you feel like they don’t want to solve anything, they just want to get you. What is your opinion on the police force and how they operate?

My opinion on police only can come from my experiences and what I’ve known. From my experience, police just automatically hate you. I’ve been beat up by police so many times. There have been so many scenarios. I remember one time riding my bike with my friend, police pull up in a bully van – we call them bully vans, ‘cause they like to bully us – hopped out, instantly pulled me off the bike, grabbed me and threw me into the wall. You’re gonna get angry then, and they always say ‘Stop resisting.’ What do you mean, stop resisting? You just threw me into the wall, I just hit my head on the wall. Obviously I’m going to be aggressive then. They’ll handcuff you, knee you in the head – I’ve been kneed in my head, punched in my ribs, all sorts of stuff. Some of them are smart, they hit you in places you don’t easily bruise. But some of them aren’t – I’ve been hit in my face, bruised, marks, but nothing happens. You complain to the sergeant or whatever, but nothing happens. I’ve been hit with stuff, gassed in my face, all being non violent. There’s times I’ve been violent, and I understand that. In the beginning I was non violent, but after a while, you see the police and you know what’re they’re gonna be on. I know they’re gonna attack me straight away, arrest me, handcuff me, and when they put you in the van they beat you in there as well. It’s just crazy. Sometimes I’ve thought, I wish this was caught on camera.

The majority of the times I’ve been beaten up by them is at night time. We hate night police. I don’t know whether they’re just upset they don’t see their wives or something, but they’re just angry at night time and stuff happens. They make up stuff, they’ve planted things on people, drugs, and they’ll say it’s theirs. They’ll make up things like, this person assaulted me, hit me, when I didn’t do nothing. It’s crazy. Anything to get that arrest and get you off the street.They talk to you in a way where you’re easy to provoke, and they wind you up. Certain people, y’know, they’ve got issues, mental health issues, and police are talking to them in a certain way, they’ll want to attack them. Then once the police get attacked, they arrest you, because you’re violent. 

They’re always setting you up, they’re so smart. I’ve got wiser with them now, I just stay calm. But they’re still trying to wind you up. They pull up on your past, they even get people shot and stabbed. The reason I say that is because I remember one time I was outside the police station and this police officer decided to tell me about a rival gang, and how that gang views us. Like, ‘Them guys over there, they think you’re pussies, that you’re not about this gang life.’ We’re dumb, too, ‘cause we fell into the bait, and went and did some damage to them. But when I look back at it, a police officer actually said that to me. Telling me about a rival gang, winding it up. Like they actually want us to continue doing this. 

I’ve met some lovely police. I have met some lovely police, I wish there was more of them. Like when I was in the cell, before I went to court, these two white officers, women, they was coming to my cell to check up on me all the time. It was caring, like mothering, like I’m someone’s son. They spoke to me like I’m a human being. It felt nice. I’ve been on the street and met officers who talk to you nice. I was in a fight once and I didn’t get arrested. The officer spoke to me, asked me the situation and I told the truth. When a person is wanting to resolve instead of wanting to arrest you, it’s easy for us, for anyone, to communicate. So this officer came to us and said, ‘I want to resolve the issue, I’m not trying to label you as anything, I’m not trying to say because you’re from this area and you’re black and wearing a hoodie, that you’re a criminal. I just want to know what happened.’ So we explained, ‘This happened, this is the situation, we got in a fight.’ ‘Fair enough, don’t let it happen again, you go your way, and you go your way.’ Basically how they are supposed to police, instead of being like, ‘F you,’ handcuff both of us, throw us in a cell, and I’m sitting there for two days, for something that’s going to get no further action, and it’s just wasting everyone’s time. 

I know there’s some difficult people out there, but you have to have skills to identify who’s trying to be difficult and who’s not. If you’re police it can’t be just, ‘F you, you lot are gang members.’ And some of them are not even from our areas. They’re from somewhere far outside of London, trying to deal with London issues. They never grew up around here, they don’t know nothing about round here, but they’re trying to police here. If they had more people who grew up in these situations, who can relate to what’s going on, instead of slapping handcuffs on and giving people criminal records for nothing…

All black youth feel like police are racist. I’m not gonna lie, my mum never raised me to be racist, but coming across white police officers that you feel hate you, because they’re racist, it makes you racist. I remember when I was young, any time police officers would trouble us for no reason, and some of them back then, they’d call you a black cunt or whatever. And what can I do, if they do that? Who can I tell? Now they’ve got cameras, so they don’t do it, but back then, they’d say that to you. Therefore, cool, you did this to me as a young person, so any white kids we saw, we robbed and beat them up, because of what they did to us. 

I’ve experienced lovely white people. But because of police, only police, it made me and a lot of my friends hate white people. A lot of young people in the black community will hate white people because of police. Without that, why would I hate you? But if this is what we see your race does, we just think ;F it, this is what it is.’ But deep down, you don’t want to hate people, you want to get on with everyone.

Police have a lot of part in not caring, not giving a damn. We don’t feel protected. On the street it’s no snitching, and a lot of time, when somebody has snitched, a police officer will say, ‘Yeah that person snitched.’ Okay, so now this person gets the consequences for snitching, because police told us. 

What are the consequences?

Depends on the level. You can get banned from coming to the ends, if it’s a minor thing, you just get banned and get beaten up. If it’s a high level, mandem will want to kill you, and they’ll take you out, if people are going down for years because of you. 

I want to ask you a bit about the factors in someone’s life that you think make them get into this life. You said you were so young, still a child, when you started this.

There’s a lot of things, I’ll state a few. It starts at home, parenting. If you’re in a broken household, and there’s nothing you can do, you’re upset, you’re thinking, ‘How did I get this life where I only have one parent? One parent isn’t dead, but he doesn’t care about me.’ Instantly you feel only half love. It takes two to make a child, and two to raise a child. I can’t look up to my mother – there’s only certain things, as a young boy, you want to be a man. I need a role model which is a man. So it starts there, dad’s not there and it makes you angry. 

Another thing is poverty. Your mum might be on benefits, or struggling at work. My mum was on benefits, so I wasn’t getting three meals a day. At school they used to say, ‘You must have three meals a day!’ and I’m thinking, three meals a day? I barely get one. I’m always hungry. Hunger makes you do crime.

Another thing – a bunch of youth in one area with nothing to do. You go to school, they give you activities, lessons for eight hours. Maths, English, P.E, you’re doing something every day. On a Saturday and Sunday, what is there to do? You want to come outside and play, and do children stuff, but there’s signs saying ‘No ball games’. I’m just a kid thinking, but we could play football here! So there’s nothing to do, no community activities, nothing to keep children focused. More times than not, boredom just leads to doing nonsense, making up stupid things just for fun. If you’re in a youth club, learning something to be better in life, that’s got to be beneficial. In school, they just teach you how to how to count, how to read… But life skills like how to pay rent, what happens if you don’t pay rent, you just learn from people around you if they know about it. But if everyone just wants to get money around you, you do too. 

If you haven’t got a family, and there’s a bunch of kids similar to you, laughing and joking – gangs aren’t always bad in life. They don’t wake up and think, what bad shall we do today? They want to have fun too. A gang is mainly like a family, a bunch of youth just trying to protect one another. Some of these gangs are formed purely off trying to protect one another. Being from an area, you have no power over being there – if you can’t afford a house, you’re put in an area with a bunch of people on low income on the poverty line. Gangs are formed from that. Look at rich areas, kids from rich areas, they don’t end up in gangs, do they? It’s only people who don’t have anything. So, what society should say is, ‘How can we make something where people can have stuff for themselves?’ Opportunities. That’s what we need, opportunities. A poverty area is an area that doesn’t have anything. I’m trying to live like you as well, I don’t want to live like this. 

Since I got moved out of the area, I started living in Middlesex area, that’s where I started getting jobs, because there was opportunities. But when I was living in Hackney, it was all, ‘No, no, no.’ Soon as I came out of there, it’s a yes thing. I’m thinking, ‘Woah, not all white people are racist!’ ‘Cause I’m in an area where there’s no black people around, and I’m getting jobs! But here, there’s no jobs.

And the lifestyle. People want nice cars, want to be respected… 

Is it an image thing?

To some gang members it’s an image thing, to some gang members it’s an ‘I ain’t got no choice’ thing. Those guys are the most dangerous. If you don’t have a choice, that means you’re hungry, you’re going to by all means do anything you can. They’re not waiting for money to fall out of the sky. For some, the lifestyle is attractive, you get the girls – they like the bad boys, I don’t know why. If girls is what you want, let me be that gangster guy.

I wanted to ask you about girls. The gangs you’ve been involved with, were there girls on the scene? What’s the role they play?

There’s a lot of roles they’ll play, but girls are savages. They’ll set people up, like honey traps. If you’re a pretty girl, a guy will approach her, she’ll lie and say she’s from one area but actually she’s from our area, and sweeten him up, while feeding us the information. A lot of deaths happen through girls. Sending a decoy, a girl, she’ll feed us the information. They also hold the drugs as well. Police ain’t stopping women, and if they come, they don’t have women officers with them, so they’re not going to bother, because we tell the girl, ‘If he touches you, it’s harassment.’ Women win everything in court, so if they said that, then bam. So a lot of girls, they have all the knives and the drugs on them. So they’re valuable in that world, very valuable. 

Do they date often within the gang?

More likely they’ll be dating the top guys. A few of them will sleep around with different members, they can play that part, satisfying the lot of them. But mainly they like to stick to that one person. They’re in it for the same reasons as us, for protection. They can walk on the streets – out here it’s scary, girls are fearful of rape and things like that, they’re walking on the street and guys can hold them forcefully. But if you’re with someone who’s a serious person, nobody is gonna trouble you, because they don’t wanna get shot or stabbed by that person. So you’re free to walk around this dangerous area your mum put you in, because you date this guy – you’re untouchable. If you weren’t dating him, guys would be harassing you, trying to talk to you, following you, and certain women don’t want that. So I can understand why they do that. 

All my girlfriends were calm, but they used to tell me all this stuff.

Have you ever seen girls get beaten up in these situations?

There was one time I brought this girl to the block. In that gang life, you haven’t got your own house unless you have a trap house, but otherwise you’re having sex in the block. So I brought her to the block, did that, and was trying to test her loyalty, so I sent my friend to try and get sex from her. He got through, so he had sex with her, but after, when I came down, she was crying, saying he tried to rape her, and that she only did it to prove herself to me. So basically, she was so scared and fearful of them lot, because there was more of them now, waiting. So I snuck her out of the area, and got her home, and she was happy, because she thought she was gonna die and she was scared. So I thought, this isn’t for you, I’m sorry for what happened. She stayed in contact, but she didn’t come around any more. 

You used to see stuff, with certain guys. Me, I’m not a guy to lay my hands on a woman, that’s not how I was raised. But I’ve seen it, and I’d step in and stop it, but it does happen. Certain guys are uncontrollable like that, punching girls, stabbing girls. 

The last thing I want to ask you about is your relationship with the church now. How did the church really save you, if that’s the right word to use?

First thing I want to say is, God is real. Some people out there have their theories about what God is, but I know that God is there for me, God loves everyone, he will reach out to you in a way of love. Sometimes it comes in the form of people. I came from a church that was cultish, using the Bible to do wrong. The Bible itself isn’t wrong – if I use a Bible to smack you in the head, it doesn’t make the Bible wrong, it makes what I did wrong. Basically, it was the love I was getting form people I don’t know, in the name of Jesus. Some of them came from the same place as I came from – my pastor came from the streets and did two years in prison. Seeing him and his life, as an example of living as a godly man, a true Christian, just gave me hope. He came from the streets and now he’s married, he’s living a peaceful life. He hasn’t got to worry about police, he’s making a difference. That was inspiring to people like me, who thought there was no way out. 

Other people were just loving. I’m not just talking about my race, every race, wanting to show love in the name of Jesus. I was in the Isle of Man, and it’s the first time I’ve ever, ever slept in a white person’s house. I had the best time, they took me everywhere! They fed me, they were so lovely. I’m thinking ‘Woah, this is a lovely experience.’ God had to show me that, because of what police showed me. I hated that race, but God showed me, ‘No, there’s people who aren’t like that.’ So, definitely the church played a big part of me in transitioning and changing even up until now. People want me to do better, people want me to excel, and they’re showing it to me in action. My first visitor in prison was my pastor. That really shocked me. That made it more real – it’s not just preaching, there’s action to it. It just shows you, this is the real deal, they’re really trying to change the community, and through the community, the world. It’s a wonderful thing. I’m not angry like I used to be. I can look at people, and I’m not thinking, ‘This person doesn’t like me because of this or that.’ I just have love in my heart and I want to share it, because of God, you know. 

I was out there just last night talking to guys who look just like me where I came from, sharing my story with them. I can see the effects that it has on people, because it’s answers that they want. 

So they want people to approach them?

Yes! I’m not talking about religion, religion is a whole different thing. The whole aspect of God, Jesus Christ dying for humanity, is not religion, it’s relationship. That’s what I’m here to share too, you know, the Bible says God is our father. So I’m here to share that relationship, it’s not a dictatorship. It’s like, I’m going to take you through this walk of life, and show you what I created you for. So if people just grasped that, their life would be different. 

So you’re saying that following God shouldn’t be all about rules, it should be about communication?

There’s guidelines, but it’s not all about rules. I’ll give you an example. There’s a situation in the Bible in which you have religious people, who are following the law of Moses. On the Sabbath day, you’re not allowed to work. There was a person that was unwell on the Sabbath day, close to death. Jesus came along and he healed that person on that day. The religious people are angry at him for healing and working on that day. Jesus says, ‘What do you mean? I did a good thing. Am I supposed to leave this person to suffer?’ Some people just look at what he did as bad because of the day, but actually, that person is now not suffering. People put the rules before the love. God’s not saying ‘Forget the rules,’ the rules are there to show you that you need the love. 

So it’s less about punishing people, it’s more about loving and reaching out?

God doesn’t hate anybody. Go to him with problems that you have in your life, and he will reveal the answers to you. You can’t look at someone else’s manual and try to follow that, that’s not what you were created for. God loves all of us, everyone. That’s what I found out. That’s what I’m going to run with for the rest of my life. It’s a hard walk, I’m not perfect, I do wrong things every day. But God is there to help me and forgive me through this walk. 

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