Secondary school is when I came across gang culture. I kind of found myself being drawn towards it, just to see their way of living. The people that were bad were very popular. Like, his name’s known. “He’s known for this. He’s known for that.” And when I was in year seven, it was a lot about what your name holds.
I never had my brother with me in the UK, I grew up with my sister. So when I came into school, meeting the older ones, being treated as “a younger”, like a younger brother – that was another draw, like “I’ve got brothers now”. So that’s what sparked my interest to get to know these people and build respect amongst them, for them to like me.
Then obviously being amongst them, you adopt certain behaviours. They told you to always defend yourself; never let no-one disrespect or belittle you. At first I’m having fights in school. For just stupid things, just so that people wouldn’t think that I’m weak. But it ended up being a lot of fights.
Then I started doing things to become an entertainment to others, like: “Look how bad I am.” It escalated to the point where the school said that I was gonna get expelled for too much bad behaviour, that I was basically uncontrollable.
In my family we have this tradition that when there’s no other option then the parents will send a kid back home where discipline is more strict. So this was when I went to live in Uganda.
I was gone for 11 months. By the time I got back everyone in my age group had fallen into making money, and doing so many different things to get it. Some of my friends were deep in gangs. Some were involved in crime. One group just liked to have fun. I didn’t know where to stand, I was lost. I involved myself in each of them and it just didn’t balance.
I started getting arrested for just little minor offences, stupid incidents, but it was a lot of headache for my Mum and she asked me to move out. Crime looked like an easy route to make money. I got caught and got community service, and took a step back. But then I had a few issues with my relationship and I went back to [crime] almost out of rage, like I’ve got nothing to lose. I didn’t get bail and I ended up in jail. I got two years.
When I came out I tried working but due to my criminal record a lot of people were wary of employing me. Friends were making money like I’d never seen before, and Jobseeker’s Allowance didn’t feel like enough. Once again I fell into the path of crime. I got three and a half years for aggravated robbery, and served two.
After that I didn’t want to waste any more time in prison. But then I got arrested for possession of weed. It wasn’t intent to supply but my probation worker thought I was lying and I got recalled. The judge dismissed the case and said he would have given me a fine but because I was already on full recall I ended up serving 12 months in prison. The whole experience made me very bitter towards the judicial system and when I came out I didn’t have the drive to do anything legitimate. I was at my lowest point. And that’s when I got involved in drugs. I got into whatever I could get myself into. I was living a very high life, more money than I’d ever come across.
I got caught, and sentenced for three and a half years again. I had a daughter by this time, and having a child visit me in prison was a big reminder of the reality you have to face when you come out. She wasn’t even one. It felt like that was my wake up call. You gotta ask yourself: do I come back and live the same life or do I make a change?
”[Switchback] is not like anywhere else: everyone in the team has the same energy and the same drive. That positive energy keeps you drawn in.
I met Switchback in HMP Isis in May 2019 and that’s where it began. What sets Switchback apart is their consistency: they are there whenever you need them. It was almost like you couldn’t escape from them! And that, in itself, was what held me on.
And it’s not like anywhere else: everyone in the team has the same energy and the same drive. They show you they want to make a difference. Everybody wants to know your story, wants to see what they can do. And I believe that positive energy, it only keeps you drawn in: the team, their plan, everything literally.
And you come across other people that have worked with them, and everybody’s got something positive to say. So it only motivates you to do more.
It’s a very family oriented place, and it’s created a family amongst everyone that has worked with them, that doesn’t break with time. And it needs to be recognized for what it does. It has a special energy.
If I’d never encountered Switchback, if I’m fully honest, I would have come out, I would have went to probation, and I would have been left with bare minimal choices. I don’t think I would have been on a straight narrow path. But now, my daughter’s about to be the big five, and I’m as good as I’ve ever been.