“IT’S prison or death out there. I’ve seen people get stabbed and my friend was shot dead last year... I was lucky it didn’t happen to me.”
These are the chilling words of a 19-year-old Birmingham gang member who once roamed the streets of Lozells, selling drugs and fighting with rivals over territory.
He has since left that dark and dangerous life behind him and is on course to become a PE teacher.
Now he has helped make an award-winning film aimed at warning the next generation of the dangers of gangs.
It is being shown in schools across Birmingham to children the same age he was when he became involved.
Today, the teenager lifts the lid on the closed world of gang culture in our second city.
But even now he cannot be named for fear of retribution from the people he once saw as ‘family’.
“It started when we were at high school,” he told the Sunday Mercury.
“I was part of a group of friends who came together and decided no-one would trouble us if we had any problems. There were probably about 20 of us in Lozells and Aston.
“Back then, it felt more like a family than a gang.
‘‘You do everything with your gang.
“If you go to the city centre or something like the bonfire at Pype Hayes, you wouldn’t go on your own, you’d go with 20 or 30 people so you were safe.
“If we saw other gangs there would be a fight. And that could escalate really easily.
“Luckily, I was never a person to get stabbed but I’ve seen things like that and it’s not nice.
‘‘My friend was also shot and killed last year. He was just in a car; it was a long-term rivalry; they pulled up next to him and shot him.
“In the back of your mind you know you don’t want to be in that environment, but you’re probably safer with your friends than without them.
“If you get caught slipping by going somewhere and another gang sees you, you’re liable, They don’t care whether you’re still in the gang or not.”
Yet what started out as friends sticking up for each other quickly changed into criminal behaviour as the teen’s gang began selling drugs to make money.
The wannabe teacher, who was once cautioned for possession of cannabis, added: “The aim was just to survive and to make money to live life.
“Everyone was selling it for someone else and just trying to make a bit for themselves.
“We would sell whatever drugs the buyer wanted really, if people want something you’ll end up trying to sell it.”
And he claimed his young gang members were led further astray by older kids who thrive on street violence.
“Peer pressure plays a big part,” he added.
“There were older figures but we never saw them as leaders. We saw them as older brothers. That’s the influence they had on us.
“There was loads of people our age with nothing to do. We were all young and easily influenced by the older generation.
“They used to say it was ‘robbery season’ where everything you want, you get. If you want a phone, you go and rob a phone.
‘‘It was callous and evil.”
And as the gang got older, the trouble they got into became more serious.
“I think half of our gang ended up in jail,” added the 19-year-old.
“That’s for everything from drugs to violence to robbery.
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