Interview with Jay

If you are interested in becoming a mentor to at-risk youths then this interview is a must-read because it will help you to understand their mindset. In this informative interview, Jay discusses how he transformed his mind whilst in prison. He explains how he made the best out of a bad situation by reading, studying and gaining qualifications (which enabled him to gain employment after his release). Jay is eager for young people to realise that 'doing crime is not the best way to go down!'   

Going back to your experiences as a youth did you have someone older than you who you looked up to? 

We had olders' who would try to educate us – so to speak. That could be anything from trying to teach us about secondary school.... you know they might rough you a little bit up to make you a little bit tougher for secondary school. But with some of the older guys a lot of them were manipulative, in a sense they would lure you to do certain things. That could start off with going to shop for them, then you might hold a bit of food (drugs) for them, then before long, they say you can go and do your own thing, "I’m a give you food (drugs) you ain't got to pay for it, you do your thing and you just bring back the comeback and then you get your change." In a sense they breed you up to learn how to do your thing on the road such as selling drugs or doing robberies.

So the older guys are basically teaching the younger ones how to get into that lifestyle? 

I started doing my own thing from about the age of 13. It started off with little crimes then it slowly started progressing from little thefts and then moving on to street robbery and then before long I started doing different robberies you know, post offices and so forth. It’s just a little cycle. Then you got the drug game. You start at such a young age and you see so many different things and you find so many different ways of making money. That’s how so much people get caught up in a cycle where they are doing so many different things and they’re finding out which one makes the most money which game do I wanna get into. Street robberies are a bit hot and bait then you go into mainstream robberies. It might be banks and post offices and corner shops. Then that might get to a stage where that’s all bait. Then you go into shottin (selling) drugs. Then it’s a cycle. You might get put in jail and think, ‘you know what? This aint for me’. But I still need to make money. With me, I’ve dabbled in everything. Like I said it's always that constant cycle cos you’ve been opened to it from such a young age if you’re not taught anything else you are always just gonna know badness. 

Do you think that way of life becomes normal? 

Yeah it becomes norm. Do you understand? It literally becomes norm. Without qualifications what else do you know apart from the streets? So if you don’t go and get that education if you don’t go and smarten yourself and do what it is that you need to do your gonna resort to the only thing that you do know how to do, and that’s badness. Rob, steal and sell things.

How did you get your qualifications? 

You know when you make a bad situation good? I went jail because I got six (years) for armed robbery. I did three (years), during that time I gained certain qualifications. I was grateful to get parole, from there I had the opportunity to keep on studying. Because of those qualifications I am now working as a fitness instructor and a personal trainer and I’ve been doing that for the past five years.

So how important do you believe education to be? 

Education is key! Education is key. Without education you are not really gonna get far in life and having a bad criminal record is not gonna help you. So you’ve got a bad criminal record and you got no education….how the hell do you make money? You got nothing else to do apart from going back to your old ways and doing the same thing that put you in that same situation. Now you’re caught in the system. Its just a round and round merry go round. In and out and before long you just find yourself institutionalised. You cant get no job and you need to make money. Half of these guys have most probably got kids out there as well so they might find the need that they need to support their child and their partner but they ain't got no job to make that money. So, what else is left for them to do? Job Centre is only gonna give you £80 something pound every two weeks or whatever it is. You're not making nothing.

In your experience are many people worried about getting caught? 

I believe that some are and some aren't. Like I say to all the youth that I work with, if you don’t wanna change you will never change. If you wanna keep on doing badness and don’t want to better yourself, then suffer the consequences of whatever they may be. You can only do this ‘road thing’ for so long . No one ever survives for a long time on the road. It can be anything... you can go back to jail you can get killed. It can be anything. Doing crime is not the best way to go down. If you think to yourself, I’ve had enough of going in and out of jail. I’ve had enough of all this bang up, you know? I’m locked up for 23 hours of the day in my cell, on my own doing nothing – STOP DOING CRIME. Stop doing crime you understand? Go and find something that you enjoy doing. If you find a passion that you enjoy doing, try and find a career in that. From there you will be committed to making sure that it works for you for the simple reason that you’ve had enough and you’ve told yourself you’ve had enough. But at the same time you’re now doing something that you enjoy, that could be anything - you might like riding motor bikes and you might always steal motor bikes, go into motor mechanics if that’s the case. Study motor mechanics and from there you can go and ride as much bikes as you like. Get a licence to ride bikes, the police cant bother you no more. Because you’re in a profession where this is what you do and you enjoy it so you’re already gonna be good at it because you’re enjoying what you do. Its not just a job that you’re going to work get paid and go home. You’re enjoying what you’re doing. 

Do you feel that some of the youth out there do not have people to teach them these things?

I believe that a lot of them just don’t have no guidance in a sense where no one has helped to give them a structure. No one has taken time out and spoken to them. But on the flip side to that, people can only do so much for you. That’s another thing that a lot of these guys don’t understand. It’s like OK you want people to help you, the right people could be helping you but they might not be so quick to do things for you if you are not proving to them that you actually want to change. If you don’t want to change you’re never gonna change. You can apply for as many jobs as you like, but if you know deep down that you’re not gonna turn up for the interview, your still gonna be keeping up this that and the other badness, its never gonna change.

Do you think that prison is a deterrent? 

It's down to the individual. But you got to remember that you’ve done one bad thing gone to prison, they’ve now locked you up in a sense in a jungle with so much other people who are in the same field as you. You’ve just allowed them to increase their contacts in terms of a criminal career. One guy could have been in jail for distribution of class A (drugs) another guy could have been in there for possession of class A. Now the guy who is in there for possession might have been in there for something small but now he’s met up with someone who’s doing distribution on a big scale. He’s now found himself a link. The likelihood of him coming out and them two linking up and doing business together is very high. So in a sense it cant be a deterrent. But at the same time now you can go in there and you can sit back and have time to re-evaluate your life and think you know what? They’ve just given me 10 years, I’ve gotta be in here for at least a minimum of 5 with the possibility of parole – and that’s not guaranteed, so I might end up still doing 7 and a bit. That’s a long time to sit around and think do I really wanna come out and do the same thing again, and do another 7 year sentence again. At the end of the day it boils down to the individual. Prison can work two ways. I know people who went jail with me and have gone back, so prison clearly wasn’t a deterrent for them. We both initially went jail together but I done a longer time. I haven’t gone back since for the simple reason that I understand life. I understand what I want to do with my life and I wont keep going back in and out of jail. That aint making no sense. That aint helping to progress me as a person, as an individual as an adult. Spending my whole life and time in solitary confinement.

How do your feel that you were perceived by your peers after having been to jail? 

A lot people I see now say "You know what I respect you cos you done your thing init. You was bad before you went in, you went in and you rectified yourself cos you realised it was all long. You made money but whats the point of making money and being in jail?" I always say to people I would rather be poor and have freedom than be rich and be in confinement. You cant spend all your riches in jail. You cant buy a car and buy nice clothes --- you’re in prison. The canteen only ever allows you to spend £25.00 in one week so you can have 10 grand in your bank account but it doesn’t mean anything. Its pointless man! Its pointless.

How much do you think not having a male role model in your life affected you? 

A lot. Cos at the end of the day if you do have someone to keep you on the straight and narrow in terms of a male figure that makes a big difference. I didn't get that opportunity. So where I could in a sense take the piss and not behave accordingly I would cos it was only mum. So in a sense I could get away with it. If dad was here it might’ve been a different ball game. He might have been able to keep me straight and if I was doing bad put me in my right place. Females are not always strong enough to do that. I wasn't a small child either, I was quite big so that didn’t make it any easier for her. It makes a big difference. That’s why now we have to be a role model for our children. Set an example and do right so they can do right.

Some people who grew up with both parents still go out and commit crimes, so what do you think about the influence of friends? 

Friends can lead you astray but then that’s why I always say to people, life is full of choices, you choose whether to be a good person or a bad person. You might be bad and realise that this ain't for you and change. That’s a choice. If someone’s holding a gun to your head and saying that you must go steal this you are in a situation where you don't have a choice because of the circumstances. But then if your friends say to you come lets go rob this, you have a choice whether to go or stay. Its down to you as an individual to make those choices. Life is about making choices and making the right choices. Sometimes you make the wrong ones. I made some wrong choices. But it only makes you more wiser as you grow older and now you know how to make the right choices.

What are your plans for the future? 

Still trying to get into youth work as a career. I’m not allowing my past to hold me back. Its proven a bit problematic. I wont become a PE teacher because of my past background. They are quite strict about your background when it comes to working with youths in schools. But that has’nt deterred me from following another route in terms of working with youth. Youth work is still a possibility. At the moment I’m into property development and I’m still working in fitness.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I just hope a young guy reads this testimony and realises that there are so many opportunities out there where even if he has been kicked out of school and he wants to do something, the opportunities are there. There are centres there are training courses that pay you and give you qualifications at the same time. There are so many things that you can do but it is all down to you and whether you make the choice to change without change it will never happen. They’ve got to try and find inspiration somewhere and use that as guidance to help you. Find your goal. Follow your dream of what you want to do. All of these youths can truly shine in the dark, they’ve all got that potential. They just have to apply it.