I grew up in a very small, predominantly white market town called Todmorden, West Yorkshire. It wasn’t an area that was affected by crime or gang culture. My parents were first generation Pakistani and I was raised in a loving, traditional Pakistani Muslim family.
We didn’t have much, but my father would work every hour that God gave him. I remember swapping my free lunch vouchers for a cheese sandwich one day, just because it was made with Warburtons bread and I’d never tried it before. My mother didn’t speak English and was a dedicated housewife, caring for me and my 4 siblings.
Early on, at primary age, I started to display some behavioural issues at school. Looking back, the reasons for this were never really explored as they would be today. I had two close friends who were similarly disruptive in school and we would end up locked in the library – tellingly, one of these childhood friends was incarcerated and the other died of a drug overdose at an early age. I never truly applied myself or realised my full potential at school; in truth I always felt a bit lost.
I became fascinated by crime
As I grew up, in probably around year 8 or 9, I became fascinated by crime. I was in awe of organised gangs across the world – the Triads, Hells Angels, and Cartels. I wanted to be revered like a gang leader, a Lucky Luciano character.
My disruptive behaviour steadily escalated. At the age of 14, I was found in possession of 2 knives and expelled from school. I wasn’t from a big place like London, so school exclusions were very rare and I gained a reputation for myself. My response to the exclusion was “BUZZIN’!” – I didn’t like school, I was always excluded from things anyway. From then, I was essentially groomed into criminal activity by older males in the community and was selling heroin at 15. I was also introduced to cannabis and soon found myself getting into debt. It was only a couple hundred, but I came from a family with that didn’t have much; it may as well have been thousands.
My ego grew out of control and, as I and my ego grew, so did the severity of my crimes. At the same time, my respect towards authority and law enforcement rapidly deteriorated. I hated the police, yet I had no real understanding of why or where this hatred stemmed from. Then, at 16, I was picked up for my first assault.
I was living a parallel life to my family and the 9-5’ers
Interactions with the police and courts became frequent, cementing my hostility towards them. I quickly began to see the whole penal system as a joke, but in reality I’d never been stung by any kind of authority before, even with my parents, everything had always felt like an idle threat.
By the time I was 24, I’d had 10 years in the ‘street game’. By this point in my life, I had been excluded from school, put on electronic tag, given community service, but nothing fazed me. I was living a parallel life to my family and the 9-5’ers. I though it suited me well at the time. I had zero aspirations, zero ambitions, and I lacked self-belief. To help mask this, I adopted a persona of not caring, being ruthless and embraced being a criminal to the fullest.
On January 9th 2008, an incident took place that would change my life forever. An incident that would rob another young man of his life – Alex. Looking back now, I would say we were 2 sides of the same coin – both angry young men that fell through the cracks of the system. Since his arrival, a few years earlier, Alex had stirred up a lot trouble in my area. One of my school friends had been slashed across the face and numerous other people assaulted. He was known to carry a knife and I wasn’t prepared to take my fists into a potential knife fight, so I armed myself and confronted him. I thought I had a plan, but we fought, I lashed , and it was a single stab wound that proved to be fatal.
Because of me, someone was dead.
I’d never known what it was like to cause real harm to a human being. Because of me, someone was dead.
I was subsequently arrested and charged with murder. I was sent to HMP Marshgate and 8 months later found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison. I certainly changed in prison, but not for the reasons people expect. I enrolled on behavioural courses, but found these to be just a tick-box exercise and a poor reflection of an individual’s mind-set. Prison did show me where and what I didn’t want to be though.
The real turning point for me was a culmination of embracing religion and meeting a man called Brian Wreakes.
He was the first person that spoke to me like a human-being.
I read the Quran for the first time in prison and this passage gave me hope that there was an opportunity to tip the balance of my past: “If you kill one human unjustly it is as though you’ve killed all of man-kind. If you save one human, it is as though you have saved all of man-kind”. Around this time, I was chosen to speak on the radio show – Faith Behind Bars, where I made the prediction that I would go on to change lives for the better, a claim that probably sounded very clichéd at the time.
Brian was my Resettlement Manager in prison and unlike anyone I had ever met. He was the first person that spoke to me like a human-being. Brian set up a prisoner focus group, whereby schools would come into the prison and we would share our experiences to deter young people from crime. The feedback from the schools was very positive and I was happily surprised to find something I was good at. I remember getting a letter from a young boy thanking me for my visit. I later took on roles as a: Buddy (peer-led emotional support), Diversity Rep, Resettlement Orderly and Foreign National Rep.
I have aided the successful rehabilitation of over 50 serving offenders so they can move on from life after prison
I was then moved to another prison but Brian stayed in touch with me. He sent me a letter saying ‘do not despair’ – he said that when I get to open conditions (CAT D) that he wanted me to come and work for him at his charity he was setting up. Brian was more than true to his word and when I received my CAT D (HMP Hatfield), in February 2011, I started working at In2Change as a volunteer. I did this for 2 years, getting up at 5am to get to work on time and delivering hundreds of crime awareness talks in an effort to change hearts and minds towards offending behaviour.
In 2012, the Rotherham grooming scandal broke and I was brought in to schools to give talks and defuse racial tensions. I also applied to the Hardman Trust Award and was successful – this was all made possible because of the opportunity Brian had given me.
Today, I am Operations Manager and Safeguarding Lead at In2Change where I have applied my life experiences to work with over 25,000 young people across the UK, all from different backgrounds and often with very difficult behavioural issues. I have aided the successful rehabilitation of over 50 serving offenders so they can move on from life after prison and, since 2015, I have been a trustee of The Hardman Trust; it feels surreal to be standing back in prison helping to host the awards ceremonies!
My story has gone on to feature on ITV Ross Kemp’s ‘Living With’, Channel 5 Gangland and Victoria Derbyshire. I have attended the Supreme Courts, Ministry of Justice and shared a platform with the Justice Minister in London to deliver a speech – key moments that have brought my journey full cycle, except this time, I’m on the side I want to be.
I am humbled and I thank God because I was gone and I got a second life.
Throughout this work, I am particularly proud of supporting a young woman who faced intense challenges of deprivation and complex family issues. She had been expelled from 3 secondary schools, removed from the Pupil Referral Unit, and fallen pregnant at just 15. She didn’t have much optimism for her future, but we built up a good rapport and I was able to support her through her anger issues and empower her to know that, with hard work, she could achieve any goal. Incredibly, she went on not only to achieve the full qualification with In2Change; she was presented with an Outstanding Achievement Award – her mother was crying with pride. She’s now studying at university and, remarkably, we’ve just had an ex-police officer join as a volunteer at In2change after hearing of her story.
But I also have another important role: I am a father. Every evening, I read to my two children. My children are my life. My son is a force to reckon with, so bright and energetic. I am humbled and I thank God because I was gone and I got a second life.
I would like to say that, irrespective of any upbringing you have had, whatever your hand in life, don’t allow that to determine your future and become justification to self-destruct. Do yourself justice, you only get one shot!