Breaking the cycle of youth crime

Keep the Faith speaks to Gwenton Sloley, who demonstrates how a prayer request, mentors and a determination to achieve can lead to a 360-degree life transformation 

Anyone wanting to understand what causes a young man to descend into a life of crime and violence; serve a prison sentence, and turn their life around with the help of God and a supportive community, then the recently re-released book, ‘From the Streets to Scotland Yard: A Broken Street Cycle’, by Gwenton Sloley is a must-read.

Family and friends were present at the book launch, held in Brixton, south London, to hear Gwenton, aged 31, give a brief insight into its contents.  The book charts Gwenton’s life as a young boy growing up in Jamaica with his parents; his coming to England aged eight to join his father and step-mum in Hackney, north London; how his unhappy family life caused him to get involved in gangs and crime, and how his criminal lifestyle culminated in him receiving a six-year prison sentence for armed robbery when he was just 17.  Thankfully, whilst in prison, he asked God to help him live a lawful and productive life upon his release, and it’s a request that has been answered.

When he came out of prison, former Police Superintendent Leroy Logan offered Gwenton his first legitimate job, working with the Youth Offending team, helping young men who wanted to exit gang life.  Gwenton moved on to the Hackney-based Makeda Weaver Project, where he worked with young offenders.  He now serves as Executive Director of Crying Sun’s Trust, which seeks to eliminate gangs and gun and knife crime by working with young people and providing youth work training, and as Director of RAW Services, a consultancy that supports community initiatives. And yes, he worked with the police, to help re-locate young men who wanted to leave their lives of crime behind.

What’s great about Gwenton’s book is that he leaves no stone unturned.  He not only writes about his life of crime and how, with the help of others, he turned his life around, he also writes about a taboo subject Black men don’t normally talk about: incest.  The book shares that his sister was the product of an incestuous relationship between his mother and grandfather – a fact his mum did not talk about because of the sense of shame.

He explained, “That was the whole standpoint of why I wrote that book.  Because my mother died in silence, my sister was born as a result of incest, and then the cycle comes to me and family members think they can try that nastiness with me, and I’m the one who has to say this is where it stops.  I’ve had my aunt trying to sexually abuse me.”

Talking to Gwenton, a father of four who attends the Seventh Day Adventist church, you get a sense that he has got his life together, both professionally and emotionally. He speaks often of how much mentors have helped him achieve, and he is currently engaged to be married.  “It’s due to the support I received.  When you have people around you, supporting you and teaching you, you have to give thanks for that.  A village raises a child.”

Gwenton feels churches can do a lot to help troubled youth.  “The first thing is for churches to accept there is a problem.  A lot of churches are in denial, and think all young people need is some real discipline.  You could use the biblical text to help straighten out a young person, but the Bible is not going to do the work for you. What the people in church need to understand is that you need to put your hand in your pocket and offer something to these young people.”

He believes churches need to become safe havens, where young people can find solace, be accepted, and build meaningful relationships with both the adults and fellow youths.  He also calls for churches to become places of understanding for everyone.

“Make people feel comfortable, so they can come to their brothers and sisters in the church and say, ‘My son in is prison’ or ‘My son is on drugs’, instead of just coming there to pray and feeling like people are going to judge them.  When we get to the place where people feel comfortable to talk about the real things that are happening in their homes, it’s only then that they are going to have change.”

From the Streets to Scotland Yard is available for purchase from www.gwentonsloley.com.

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