'Kids don't realise they can do anything' Ex con tells audience how he turned his life around

Daniel Wallace is now advising people on how to avoid a prison sentence.

Daniel Wallace is now advising people on how to avoid a prison sentence. - Credit: Clementine Scott

“I didn’t help the community, and now I want to give back,” began Daniel Wallace, a formerly incarcerated motivational speaker giving a talk at Stoke Newington Youth Hub.

Having served ten years for firearms and drug-related crime, Wallace was released in 2019 just prior to the pandemic (“I went from one sentence to another,” he observes humorously). He now aims to share his perspective on the prevention of crime with young people. Also a boxer and personal trainer, Wallace remarks that “kids see me and want muscles like me, but I can pass down core beliefs” — these core beliefs go beyond crime prevention, and include “respect and manners which my mum taught me”.

Throughout the talk, Wallace — once a footballer for Arsenal Juniors with a mother who was successful in the civil service — emphasises that “it’s not like I wasn’t looked after.”

He cites his mother’s passing when he was 17 as a key point in the beginning of his involvement in petty crime, and encourages parents to be more active in investigating and preventing crime (“if you suspect certain things, ask certain questions”). 

“When you’re young, and you have no drama, you just have the world in your hands. You can do anything you want to do, but when you want to sell some drugs, you don’t know that,” says Wallace, in a statement typical of his youth self-empowerment approach. He describes his own turning point six years into his prison sentence as “flipping from hate to love, as I knew my mum wouldn’t be happy”, and advised his young audience that “people make a lot of money from drugs, but their head isn’t right…you have to know your worth, and ask what people will say about you as their ancestor.” 

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Beyond conversations about crime with young people, what other steps does Wallace think can be taken? “The government should have a blanket programme for primary schools, where ex-cons can enlighten them about certain things…[we have to start young] because these days they learn everything on their phones.”

Wallace also floats his idea for a “thinktank of ex-cons”, so those in power can “listen to actual facts, and not just read out statistics on the news in their kitchens.”

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Other speakers at the event introduced different perspectives on crime and justice in the area. Tanya Hughes OBE described her struggles breaking into the white, middle class world of prison and probation services, while the charity Street Doctors spoke of its work teaching young people how to deal with stab wounds and “empowering them to become lifesavers.”

East Ham lawyer Michael Herford promoted his app Legal Lifelines, a hub for BAME people to know their legal rights, in light of the fact that Black men are nine times more likely than other ethnicities to be stopped and searched, and his own experience with stop and search as a biracial young man (“it was like being stopped in the Wild West, with people screaming in our faces”). 

He advised the audience to “comply and complain”, to be polite to officers but to report the situation within a legal framework — this sentiment was echoed by community police officers in attendance but met with a mixed response from the audience, with one member saying in a Q&A that “the system is deeply flawed, we shouldn’t go home thinking everything’s alright.” 

The prevailing mood, however, was optimistic, in the Youth Hub’s first post-pandemic event. As Daniel Wallace put it, “the pandemic forced people to deal with underlying issues, the energy’s calmer now and the community’s more whole. The life of the earth is coming back, and people are coming together.” 

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