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19 September 2008updated 24 Sep 2015 11:01am

My fight against street life

I spent most of my teens in street gangs and I suffered serious consequences. That experience shaped

By Shakir Kamali

When I was younger and in street gangs, street life used to be territorial – for example we’d fight over this side of the street/the other side of the street or on what your postcode was. I used to be quite an active member of the whole group, the one that hyped the others up and got them going. There were a few of us and where we went people followed. I had quite a reputation. I started in Tower Hamlets but when I started to lead the proper street life I was all over – other London boroughs like Newham and out of London. I started the street life from 11 and properly got out when I was 17.

I came from a well educated family and they had high expectations of me. That led to problems. Young people grow up at their own speed. Two incidents led me towards street life. When I was 13 I used to bunk school, do dodgy stuff and my brother found out – he went mad. He took all the nice stuff out of my room – my computer, TV etc and I ran away, staying for 2/3 nights driving around up north. The second time I was going into year 10, my first GCSE year, and my family wanted me to get my act together. They got physical and didn’t listen to me.

I was kicked out of the family home at 15. I started working and juggling on the street, making dodgy money. My life wasn’t going anywhere. There came a point at 17 when I was struggling with life, that I thought I have two choices, this path or the other. I realised I had to stand on my own two feet and rely on myself. When I had no money, wearing the same clothes with no roof over my head, I thought where are my friends now?

It was my youth worker that really helped me get out of street life. I told him everything. He’d never judge and was neutral. He’d been there himself so he understood how I felt. People come out of that life only when they are ready. But when they do, I think they can be the best people to help others still in that world. Someone who has gone through street life can properly understand, they have experience of reality. A person who hasn’t been there only has theory.

When things get tough now I know I have to keep going. I don’t have a role model. I go to different people for different stuff. Music helps keep me calm and I enjoy working with young people as a youth worker – it helps me focus on their issues rather than mine. I know how important a non judgemental support is. My hope is to continue to inspire and support young people as they make difficult choices in their life.

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