A teenage boy appealed for help online and asked for advice on how to get out of a gang he has been involved with for four years.
A 16-year-old posted on Reddit that he does not know how to get out of a gang he was recruited into when he was only 12. He said his father died when he was young and his mother works seven days a week to support him and his younger brother.
He posted on the anonymous chat room that he had stabbed people, robbed people, sold drugs, been stabbed himself and spent time in a Young Offenders Institution.
He said: ‘I don’t want to live this life anymore but I don’t know what to do.
‘My best friend got stabbed to death last year and I have another friend in a wheelchair.
‘Three of my friends are going to trial over a murder an two others are doing over five years.’
Ex-gang-member and consultant at charity Gangsline, Sheldon Thomas, said that with no father figure and a struggling family, boys like the anonymous poster are easy prey for gangs looking for new recruits.
Sheldon told Metro.co.uk that boys like the one who posted online have already been failed ‘by everyone’ and that drastic measures are needed to turn their lives around.
Having spoken to over 7,000 gang members as an activist, he said the only way for a child to get out of a gang is to move to another area – either with their families or by declaring themselves homeless – or through a mediation.
A mediation is when trained consultants negotiate someone’s exit with a gang’s elders to avoid repercussions.
But Sheldon says the Government and local authorities do not prioritise paying for such a process, making it more likely for children to stay trapped in a world of violence.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘Rather than pay me they would rather use teachers or the police service, who most young people don’t like even if they are not in a gang.
‘Most school teachers are middle-class white teachers. What on earth could they tell a young person to avoid when they don’t even know what it’s like to be in a gang?
‘They don’t know what it’s like to live in an area where gangs control. They don’t know what it’s like to live in a house with no father figure.
‘This kid should be able to phone me and I should have the funding to get one of my workers down there but I don’t have the funding for that because the Government tells people lies.’
The Government’s anti-knife crime community fund, giving £30,000 to successful applicants looking to launch projects in their communities, is now in its third year.
But Sheldon says organisations like his do not have the money ‘to pay somebody to fill in an application form for funding that looks like a dissertation’.
The consultant said that without funding for mediation the only way for the boy who shared his heartbreaking story to start a new life would be to move to another area.
Sheldon added: ‘If he lives in North London he should move to South London because the gang is unlikely to look for him in South London. That’s the only way he can cut ties.
‘From postcode to profit’
Research at London South Bank University suggests gang culture has changed from ‘postcodes to profit’, with the priority shifting from ‘protecting territory from outsiders’ to making money by selling drugs.
Sheldon said current gangs recruit children as part of their ‘business model’, using them to do ‘the dirty work’ such as selling drugs and carrying weapons, because they will serve less time if the police catch them.
He said: ‘I was in gangs in the early 80s and in the early 80s you didn’t groom children because you weren’t allowed to.
‘If you were found grooming children or sexually exploiting girls the crime families who controlled the gangs back then would have you killed.
‘Grooming children is a new thing and over the last 15 years it’s gotten really bad.’
‘And when he moves he can’t have the same phone number and he can’t be on social media.’
Sheldon thinks the most important battle is preventing children from joining gangs in the first place, by getting organisations to children younger than 11 ‘so they know what to look out for when they get to secondary school’.
He added: ‘We’ve been telling the mayor and the home office that this problem is going to get worse.
‘I am a former gang member, I have engaged more gangs than every police force in this country and they told me I was exaggerating.’
The anonymous teenager confessed he was worried about his younger brother dabbling in gang culture. Sheldon encouraged both to contact organisations like Gangsline where ex-gang members can give them advice.
A report from the Office of National Statistics estimated that in 2018 there were 28,296 children between the ages of 10 and 16 who were part of a gang, with only 6,560 known to youth offending teams.
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