August 31, 2022

Another paper on my experience of working with a gang member.  Names and area changed to protect the guilty





It was 5 years ago that I first saw Jimmy.  He had been sentenced by the local Magistrates Court to a 6 month referral order.  A Referral Order is the lowest rung on the ladder of criminality.  You have to plead guilty, it has to be your first offence and you have to be under 18 years old.


Jimmy was sitting before me with his father and we were discussing the contract he would have to undertake for 6 months.  His father used the time to tell me how useless his son was, how he was supposed to be good at school but he didn’t care and didn’t work.  All the time I was listening to the father’s negative comments Jimmy was staring at the ceiling trying to look hard and uncaring. 


Jimmy was 16 years old and a member of the biggest gang in Dagenham.  He had beaten up another rival gang member and had been charged with common assault.   He didn’t want to talk much but he had to.  I had looked at his history.  This wasn’t the first time he had been in trouble with the police, there had been affrays and abusive behaviour and this time instead of being cautioned he had been charged.


His father had come to the Referral Panel but I noted he didn’t live with Jimmy’s mother.  He lived in South London now and part of what he was telling me was he had to leave work early to come to this meeting and it had cost him money.  Jimmy was a good for nothing and would amount to nothing and he was part of the reason he left Jimmy’s mother. In answer to my question, he said he rarely saw Jimmy, but added he had come along today because his wife couldn’t and a parent had to accompany Jimmy.  He added that he had enough of the troubles Jimmy brought into the house.  Jimmy continued to look hard and uncaring.


I looked at Jimmy and read his report.  He was a good looking, tall, and by all accounts an intelligent young man.  He had in the past done well at school and his teachers thought he was capable of good grades.  I read this out to Jimmy.  For a second I saw him sit taller and almost smile.  I realised then that this young man at 16 years old was not used to any praise at all.  We talked about how he was capable of doing so well and getting a good job and he seemed interested and almost pleased that someone was saying something positive to him.  He left and I hoped he would turn this Referral Order into something positive and move on in his life.


I have watched reports of Jimmy over the years.  He didn’t learn from his referral order.   He was in court on many occasions.  Up until he was 18 years old the sentencing was easy.  He was on probation; he was tagged but nothing that interfered with his life too much and he wore his sentencing as a badge of honour in the gang.  


He is now about to be sentenced to what will be a long jail sentence in an adult jail.   He had a gun and fired shots at a rival gang of youths in the Barking area.  One girl who was just chatting to a boy was hit in the neck and died two days later. 


Jimmy was encouraged by Youth Workers for years to leave the gang, he would not.  Why?  Because he belonged.  He had standing and respect in his gang.  Gang members always look after each other.  The girls loved him and other gangs feared him and his gang.   He had power.



 Guns are the latest and highest status symbol a gang can have and deserves respect.  Guns are hired from an armoury.  If you don’t use the gun then its quite cheap to hire.  If the gun gets fired the cost goes up because the gun has to be taken out of use for a long time.


The gang life sucks you in and promises you everything you think you want.  A gang gives you the  family you never had.  You are given respect, the girls, and money through dealing drugs and robbery.   It’s a way of life.


When I first saw Jimmy, a good looking boy of 16 years  with everything going for him.  He had the chance to change and make something of his life.  Instead he went on to ruin so many lives by taking his position as top dog in a gang and shooting and killing a young girl. 


Don’t join gangs.  You live longer, prosper, and are freer.  If the knives and guns don’t kill you, the drugs might; many die of an overdose or taking bad stuff.  A gang member cant visit another area.  Barking and Dagenham are a few miles apart but each gang must stay in their own territory or take the risk of being recognised and attacked. What sort of life is that?