Hackney ex-gangster on moving from gangs to book awards
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:14 10 March 2015
From a life of crime in some of neighbouring Hackney's most notorious gangs, to BAFTA nominations, book awards and supporting the fight against gang violence - Gwenton Sloley's story is a testament to the power of the individual.
By the time he was 11, stealing meal tickets as a pupil at Homerton Boys’ School, he was one of the youngest gang members with links to Holly Street Boys and Love Of Money – becoming known all over London in his teens.
But after spending time in nine different prisons for armed robbery – including Pentonville and Belmarsh – Gwenton was taken on by the Makeda Weaver Project, which works with young offenders in London.
With their support, and inspired by his friendship with policeman Leroy Logan, Gwenton decided to change his life, but speaks about the difficulties involved.
He said: “I would like to be seen as setting an example for young people. I went to prison and came out in 2005. I set up free witness protection programmes and services to get youth out of gangs. I am also a survivor of male sexual abuse.
“That whole transition stage from committing crime to being legal was very difficult. They returned me back to the same area, they thought it would be a stable environment but it was worse because it was an area in which I had committed crime.”
Gwenton started work with the Scotland Yard’s lower end witness protection project and also had a key role in Islington Council’s Gang Prevention Team for two years, in the Britannia Row office, among other projects.
In 2010 he wrote a book, From the Streets to Scotland Yard, an autobiography about his time in gangs and later reformation, which gained both praise and criticism for its brutally honest portrayal of gang culture.
He said: “When I was in prison I tried to be different – I saw other inmates playing table tennis, enjoying it and I thought if I engage in those activities I would come back to prison because I wasn’t feeling any sense of being punished. I started writing down my feelings.
“A lot of people write autobiographies but try and write them from the outside. I don’t think you can write your life story from the outside but by putting the truth you have to deal with the consequences.
“I got a lot of negativity as people felt I shouldn’t have spoken out about male sexual abuse – they thought it would emasculate the male public image.”
The book addressed issues such as isolation, mental health and domestic and sexual abuse, citing reasons youngsters find themselves getting into a gangs.
He said: “If a young person is making £4,000 a week selling drugs, there is hardly anything you can tell him to make him give up that lifestyle, except maybe go to college one day and see if you get that feeling of being free.”
The 31-year-old author and mentor now runs projects all over the country, like the Crying Suns Trust, to help drug dealers, armed robbers and gang members turn their backs on violence and reoffending.
Just last week he sent out a stark warning in the Gazette about the surge in sex violence and human trafficking in gangs due to social media.
He works with the police and community leaders, including outreach consultancy Coreplan, and hopes to soon run as an MP.
Gwenton has also set up a Saturday workshop, tutoring young people for GCSEs at his office in Old Street and encourages them to be interested in politics.
Gwenton said: “A lot of them need to know there is hope for them. I’ve been to jail, been abused, been shot and look at me now, I have turned my back on crime, and I have a criminal record. Nobody should use that an excuse. As long as you want something there are ways around it.
“What I would say to people is: surround yourself with positive people and you will find it easy to confide in them.”
He added: “In the future, I hope to be travelling the world giving lectures and have an army of young people around me passing their baton on to other young people to empower them.”
For more information on Gwenton’s services, visit gwentonsloley.org