Grant (28) grew up on the Ferrier Estate in Greater London. At 12, he became a criminal to feed his brother. By 16, he was in prison. Over time, he realised that the role model he had been searching for had been by his side all along: Church Army evangelist, Nick Russell. Grant now devotes his life to ensuring other young people don’t take the path of crime.
I’ve never met my father, I don’t even know his name. My mother was addicted to drugs. I have a brother, Harry, who is 18 months younger than me. We were extremely close, and I felt responsible for him. My brother and I just had each other.
We grew up on the Ferrier Estate (now Kidbrooke Village) in south east London. It was a tough estate, with a lot of crime and drug dealing going on. Our mum was too lost in her world of addiction to take care of us, and Harry and I were starving. We would steal food out of our friends’ fridges to get by.
I met Nick when I was 10. He was running a youth club on the estate, and I felt drawn to the Christian music he played. Nick’s been part of my life ever since.
I remember back then I used to throw stones at Nick’s window at one o’clock in the morning because we were so hungry. Either Nick or his wife, Helen, would always get up and make us sandwiches. Nick would give us money to buy food too.
It was around that time that I met the “godfather” of the estate, a drug dealer called Manuel*. He had so much money he didn’t know what to do with it. He took me under his wing and I started working for him. I looked up to this man and I was willing to do anything he asked me to.
Because I was 12, I could easily climb through small windows into people’s houses. I’d then open the door for Manuel so he could steal. He paid me well, which meant I had money to buy food, gas, electricity and clothes for Harry and me.
Nick was aware that something was going on and tried over and over again to get me to change my ways, but I wouldn’t listen. The first time I got arrested I was 13 years old, and I remember feeling scared. But once I got out, I went back to my old ways. Once you’re used to having some money in your pockets, it’s hard to give that up. Stealing had become a normal part of life for me; it’s what I did to survive.
When I was 16, I was placed in a children’s secure unit. Juvenile prison was the worst, much worse than adult prison. It’s full of youths who want to prove themselves and try to be at the top of the pecking order through aggression and violence.
I spent six years behind bars. Throughout that time, Nick never gave up on me. He came to visit me every month, come rain or shine. It finally dawned on me that he was the role model I’d been looking for all my life, not all the cool-looking gangsters I’d admired.
When I finally got out of prison, I kept clear of crime. I started spending a lot of time at the gym and I wanted to become a personal trainer. Nick suggested I train the teenagers at his Superkidz group on the Middle Park estate. A lot of them come from broken families and very difficult backgrounds. They come and hang out at Superkidz and punch the punching bag, it’s a healthy way for them to let out their frustrations. I realised I had a chance here to do something really positive and stop kids from following in my footsteps. And they listen to me because I grew up in this neighbourhood and I’ve learnt from experience.
I’m not proud of my past, but I am proud that I’ve been able to start a new life for myself. I’m now studying for my diploma in youth work. What I like best about my job is the one-to-one mentoring. I spend a lot of time talking to the kids, getting them to open up about their lives, and encouraging positive thoughts and behaviour. It’s not an easy job, but there’s nothing more rewarding.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from Nick is patience. Over the years, he’s been threatened by local drug lords, had his car stolen and his front door set alight. Yet he always remains calm, I’ve never seen him snap once. His whole life is devoted to helping the kids see the potential they have and build a brighter future. He believes in them, perseveres and walks beside them, no matter what. It’s God’s love inside him, it’s easy to see that.
* Not his real name
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Dawn is also part of Superkidz at our Greenwich Centre of Mission – read her story here.
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