Friday, 8 July 2011
Not Another Drop
This blog is long overdue. Shows I'm too busy. I have four jobs at the moment, so my life is a bit of a juggling act. But I really did want to talk a bit about Not Another Drop.
Two people from NAD came to the prison where I work. I can't remember when I last met such a dynamic force for change. They talked hard for two hours. Talked and questioned and listened. There's no smokescreen with this organisation, no dodging or hiding. The facts are the facts. Gun and knife crime leave a terrible legacy behind for everyone involved.
For those who don't know, NAD was set up in 2001 in response to a number of fatal shootings in Harlesden. Since then, they've worked across the community to reduce the number of incidents of violent crime. They work in schools, prisons, community centres - wherever they're needed. But, as one person said, it's a bit like throwing a cup of water into the sea. People get stabbed or shot at for simply crossing from one area into another. It's a weird sort of post-code apartheid. It seriously limits the freedom of young people to flourish and grow. Imagine not being able to walk out of the area where you live. Imagine not being able to cross the road to go and eat somewhere with friends. Imagine not being allowed to establish friendships with some people just because they're from the wrong area. It's not a question of joining a gang these days. You are deemed to be in one because you live where there is one.
Yes, there is grooming going on - and I use that word deliberately - the way paedophiles operate is not dissimilar to the way gangs work. Young people are sucked into the lifestyle. Once they're in, it's very difficult to get out. You may begin by only hanging around with them, but - and this is crucial - you're marked. The police know you and the other gangs know you. There's only one route - and it strikes me that prison is the key word here, because what is post-code apartheid if it's not a kind of prison? So, you go from one confinement to another. Either that, or you end up dead or injured. And there's another child lost, another brother or sister, another friend, another dream for the future.
But NAD have been making a difference. Go to their website and have a look at what they do. Read what people say. If you live in the area, join their peace march, and get involved with some of their actions and events.
The men I work with have been profoundly affected by NAD's work. They've already written a film script which examines the way a young person is groomed and ends up inside. Sentences of 20 - 30 years are not uncommon these days. Indeterminate sentences are another feature of our judicial system. And there is the indefensible (in my view) Joint Enterprise conviction. If you're with someone who kills another person, then you get a walloping great tariff, too. Guilty by association. Young people are heading down this road even as you read this. It's like pouring all the bright light of a young life into a cupboard and then locking it and shoving it over the edge of a precipice.
I'm White, but what hurts is that this is so often Black on Black. A friend of mine described it as finishing off what racists have begun. Who needs a lynch mob, he said, when some people are doing everything they can to get labelled and shot at? He was terrified his boys might end up involved in some way.
Young people have a right to their future. I see so much wasted talent inside. Yes, it's only throwing a cup of water into the sea, but someone has to make a start somewhere and Not Another Drop are doing it.
Check these sites:
Not Another Drop
The Stephen Lawrence Trust