Kaden is an intelligent and pragmatic young man. When he was committing crime successfully, he was also feared, respected and had money to spare. By the age of nine, he was already in a gang. A few years later, someone at school upset him, so ‘I bought a gun for several hundred pounds and tried to kill him’. A long prison sentence followed. His solicitor told his mother not to cry; that Kaden would get a good education. He was released with A-levels, ‘a very strong mind’ and links with young men all over the country. Now in his mid-twenties, Kaden has spent nearly a decade in various prisons.
Kaden was last released from prison over two years ago. His family didn’t want to know him and having gone in a teenager, and come out a man, he had grown.
“None of my clothes fitted me. It was quite embarrassing… I had no-one who could help me with that.”
A well-fitting shirt is not the only privation to affect Kaden’s quality of life. Mice infest his damp home, his rent’s overdue, and on £80 every two weeks, he can’t afford to buy a television.
“Little does anybody know, the project worker’s had to give me another form so I can go and get toilet roll from a food bank. People wouldn’t think that a little thing like toilet roll would be big news, but I’m living in poverty.”
Kaden finds it hard to live on hand-outs, especially as ‘a person that’s had money all the time’, but finds the alternative even harder to stomach.
“When you step away from [gang life], you… realise how animalistic it is. We’re a lot like vultures… we’re a lot of scavengers. Anything there… they’ll take, they’ll steal, they’ll rob, they’ll lie, they’ll cheat. It’s just not really for me anymore.”
Kaden’s current crime-free lifestyle contrasts sharply with that of his gang days. He moved himself out of his home area and avoids going back. He sometimes visits, but doesn’t ‘sit down with people’.
“People look at me like I’m crazy… I just tell ‘em, I say, ‘I’m not into that no more. I’m trying to get a job’. And they all laugh… I’ve had to swallow a lot of pride.”
What Kaden would like is to earn some money and have a house.
“I just wanna be like a normal fella… I just want a decent job, some decent pay. I wanna go to Spain, I wanna go on holiday. I wanna go where… everyone else goes… just to be able to earn £40,000 a year… live comfortably… you could save, you could be safe.”
Kaden was referred to the project by probation staff. Initially, he attended the project almost every day, but a year later, and under no legal obligation to attend, he ‘pops in once a week or so’. Initially, project staff secured him some counselling, and helped him sort out housing. They continue to help him to navigate his accommodation issues, organise work experience to enhance his CV, and attend meetings with him. His case worker coaches him in ‘life skills like anger management’. Most frequently, the project provides a safe space for him to express his frustrations. Kaden still finds that ‘some things are quite daunting to do by yourself’. He feels that, despite having a reputation that precedes him, he and his peers are:
“The little people in the dark shadows, and we’d love to have a job like you, but we haven’t got the confidence. Once a gang member gets confidence he can say, ‘you know, I am in a gang, but it’s not what I want’… I am confident enough to say in front of my peers, ‘I don’t want this life… If I could go and get a job, I would’… that’s when [I] can say I’ve settled, resettled, you know, when I’m going to work every day and I’m actually earning some legitimate money… Then you can feel good about yourself as well.”
Despite his quick mind and adaptability, Kaden is finding it hard to secure employment.
“There’s not many jobs for someone with my ‘skill set’… I wouldn’t say people can’t see past me being a criminal, but I’d say it’s not really their cup of tea… When you’ve got to disclose your convictions to people, it’s not really too great… It’s not great, but there are people who do employ people with convictions. There are some things out there that can help young people.”
Kaden’s strength of mind is such that, despite degradations of comfort and status, he’s determined to remain crime-free.
“Everyone laughs at me, but I find it funny, ‘you can laugh, it’s alright’. Once I actually get to where I wanna get to, the legit way… I’m not scared of hard work.”
The project which supports Kaden is one of the “good things” in his life. The other he cites is an unpaid mentor.
“She always tells me, ‘it’s because I believe in you’. That’s why I don’t do crime as well… I don’t want to let her down.”
Kaden is desperate to achieve something worthwhile. People think I’m rehabilitated somehow, but I’m not… I’m definitely not… slowly but surely things are coming along… if I went back to prison now it’d be a failure. What have I done for two years? I haven’t even had a holiday… it’s nothing to be proud of. Some people would deem not being back in as something of an achievement, but if you’re not out here achieving anything what’s the difference?”
Kaden in concerned about the lack of funding for resettlement support; the project is coming to an end next year. He could readily find a quick and easy way to ‘make ends meet’, but fights the temptation.
“I do sometimes sit there and think to myself, ‘what’s a two hundred pound TV? If I just go and get something and do this…’ but then that’s the start again, so, you know, you’ve gotta, kind of, continue to try and be as strong as possible… tussle with yourself… I’m always pulling against that kind of issue.”
Tagged with the theme: Gangs