‘I’m not the person I used to be’: Violent young offender Pembe Tokluhan on how she turned her life around thanks to The Crib

Pembe with Frank Sweeney.

Pembe with Frank Sweeney. - Credit: Pembe Tokluhan

Pembe Tokluhan, who sold cocaine and heroin by the time she was 11 and was later put in a youth detention centre for GBH, speaks to Emma Bartholomew about receiving recognition for turning her life around.

Growing up in Shakspeare Walk, Stoke Newington, Pembe Tokluhan was selling crack cocaine and heroin by the time she was 11 and soon became a persistent offender.

“I got pimped up into a gang,” she told the Gazette. “It was more of a sense of feeling part of a family. Everyone protected you and when your parents are going out trying to make money all day and can only afford to feed you, you feel ‘I’ve got to go out and make my money to get the nicest Nikes’.”

From 12 she was at the “top end of the police’s gangs matrix”, getting into fights every day and carrying weapons. Then a year later she set up her own gang called Pink Balley – in reference to balaclavas and because her name means ‘pink’ in Turkish.

“I had 100 girls recruited within 24 hours, and Sky News was on us,” she said. “There was a big police raid to try to find out what we were doing. We were in Mare Street and had helicopters all over our heads. There was a big fight and the rival gangs from London Fields were beaten up and put in bins.”

A year later she was permanently excluded from school for breaking someone’s eye socket, and charged with GBH.

“I’m not who I used to be,” reflects Pembe, now 21, who was given the individual turnaround award at last month’s London Peace Awards for displaying outstanding rehabilitation from prison or addiction.

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“I was a troubled kid, resentful for everything that ever happened in my life and I took it out on anyone who came in front of me,” she said. “The area was my guidance and that wasn’t the best guidance to have.”

She credits Frank Sweeney, trustee at The Crib youth club, for getting her to where she is right now, and training her up to be the youngest female live sound engineer in the UK.

“He is really a special guy, and he believed in me forever,” she said.

“He does do it from the heart and that makes a massive difference to people’s lives

“I have gone from taking the leads down at gigs and getting the teas and coffees to being a production and technical engineer now. I ended up being Jeremy Corbyn’s stage manager for a year, worked for Stop the War, and did a big gig in the park for 30,000 people.”

Witnessing a lot of her mates pass away because of gang violence, including Isaiah Ekpaloba, Rashan Charles, Shereka Fab-Ann Marsh, Marcel Addai and Moses Fadairo has also affected her in a “crazy way”.

“I ended up turning into this social activist and raised money for their funerals,” she said.

“I kind of just thought I’m so lucky to actually just be here. I really am changed. It feels weird even speaking sometimes - the people I meet and the places I’m going.

“To be on the other side of the matrix and be working with Scotland Yard.”