Behind the scenes of the promotional video for consequences, breaking the negative cycle.
Review for Prisoner to the streets by Robyn Travis
In the summer of 2011 I was on my way to Holly street with Janette Collins (project manager for The Crib) to deliver the Consequences and Trading places workshop to some of the young people in that area. As we were driving Janette stopped the car asked Robyn where he was going, we were all heading in the same direction. This was my first time meeting Robyn, Jan asked him what he was up to these days, and he mentioned he was writing a book. Jan said snap, and mentioned I was doing the same thing. On the short ride to Holly Street, Robyn gave me a small insight to what his book was about and the purpose behind it, from then on I was eager to read it when it was done.
Just over a year later the book was completed, I know what type of satisfaction and relieve Robyn must have felt the first time he actually held the finish article in his hands. No more editing, but actually holding the book in his hands, knowing all the hard work and scarifies you have put in to a project like this.
Robyn called me to invite me and Janette to the Book launch on the 17th of October at the Bernie Grant centre. I was really looking forward to it, and I was not disappointed because I left there feeling inspired by the poets, speeches and by the humbled and comfortable atmosphere. So I left feeling good and now I have the book time to get reading.
I am not person to promote something just for the sake of it, so I decided I will not recommend the book to anyone until I do it justice by reading it first.
I can honestly say Prisoner to the streets had me experiencing a wide range of emotions, from, laughter, to sadness, to anger, also of relief. The book is an honest portrayal of Robyn Travis who takes you on an emotion journey right from his infant years to him becoming a young man aspiring to achieve greatness. The book talks about his childhood growing of on the fringes of Hackney and Tottenham, the hard times he faced with his older brother and his mother. The transition from living in Tottenham and moving to Hackney (Holly street), the impact of the change and what was to follow as he grew up in Hackney and still had ties to people in North London. Taught from an early age to defend himself and those that he cared about, Robyn took pride in doing just that, at times he was ready to use his knife and gun to defend himself and his people, even though at times the sentiment was not returned by some of the people he called friends at the time.
Growing up in Holly Street but having gone to London field’s primary school, things got more complicated as Robyn transcended into his teenage years. Those early friendships at primary school, no longer counted as the beef between Holly Street and London fields began and took to new heights with weapons being introduced.
For me the pages seem to be turning by themselves as I found myself engrossed in the struggle as I went on this journey with Robyn. Growing up in Hackney myself I could understand and relate to some of the things he spoke about, but other times I could not imagine what he was going through.
The pain he talks about in the book would be unbearable to most, but true to himself and the will to carry on he put it upon himself never to cry or show emotion, as this could be seen as weakness. As I continued to read this book, I sometimes just paused to think, about the situation our young people find themselves and wonder if we are doing enough to break this cycle of learnt idiotic behaviour that has us burying children before they have lived. The pain of seeing mothers bury the children is not the way mature should run its course.
Robyn was a young man who did not want to fit into the stereotypical position of a drug dealer, even when times were hard, he opted to look for work and he did. Working as a cleaner in restaurant it was an escape from the realities he faced on the streets. An ambition to become a footballer and a boxer were fading as he got older. Throughout the book he had to overcome so many barriers , as things heated up between Hackney and Tottenham, at times Robyn didn’t feel safe in either side, even though he had ties on both sides.
“For me this book has an uncompromising message for all, this book is the undiluted truth to some of danger and realities young people face on the streets of London”
This book is also about social relationships he had with the people he had in his life, understanding what friendships mean when you’re a prisoner to the streets, asking yourself do I have any real friends? Also a message about betrayal, people he trusted or did not trust, overcoming months in prison In Jamaica, overcoming grief after grief, from friends who fell victim to the streets, overcoming getting stabbed numerous times and being shot at. The loss of his grandmother, the relationships he had with his brother and his mother and what he was missing by not having a father figure.
Most importantly this book is about redemption, finding a purpose in life and going for it, regardless of what struggles he went through, he managed to find a way to not let it be an excuse. That emotion inside I believe is what drives him to succeed and to become a good father for his children. The message is also about change and forgiveness how it is possible to achieve both. I will not say too much but you can get the full story if you buy and read the book.
One of the greatest gifts I was given was when I was younger was a book, to fill me with knowledge, so this is a great gift to give to your young people, words are powerful and you never know who will be affected in a positive way. So please do not just read and leave it on your bookshelves for it to catch dust, share it and keep sharing it.
Some say it is best when you learn from your own mistakes, but the brutal truth is on the streets all it can take is one mistake to destroy two sets of lives (victims and perpetrators). We cannot afford to let young people fall in too deep and make their own mistakes, when they can learn from others.
So READ READ READ and SHARE SHARE SHARE.
Prisoner to the streets by Robyn Travis.
More info http://www.prisonertothestreets.com/
On October 4th and 5th 2012 The Crib youth project ran a trading places workshop on Debeauvoir estate N1 with the Metropolitan police.
This is some highlights of the two day session.
The idea for this video came to me while I was thinking of what I wanted for the cover of the book. This video is basically what happens before that image is taken on the front cover. The whole idea is about sharing and passing on knowledge, the main character (John-Luke) who is running to help make sure his friend makes the right decision. When he eventually gets to his friend (Kelvin) and gets him to think about his actions, he hands him a book, which Kelvin eventually hands to his friend (Toby) who is still in that negative cycle. That is the image I used for the front cover of the book. Young positive men ready to break the negative cycle by sharing knowledge.
Of course there are different barriers that many young people face, the book talks about some of those barriers. The thing is that you can do all you can to help young people make the right choices, but ultimately when that time comes you have to hope they make the right choices.
For me the most important part of the front cover is the willingness of the young man who wants to receive the knowledge and use that to progress.
I hope that explains the concept of the video and how it ties into the front cover of the book.
Big thanks to the Director Sam Edwards and the producer Hannah Nedas for all their hard work.
Big thanks to all the young actors:
Image by: Stefan Paul: twitter @sketchdesignsuk
Are you willing to kill?
Last week I had the opportunity to have a discussion with a group of young people who are actively involved in a gang in Hackney, East London. Their allegiance is decorated on their skin with tattoos of their postcode and gang name. They gave their consent for the documentation of our discussion based on anonymity. The intention of the dialogue was to explore their reasoning regarding their gang involvement. None of these young people are engaged with local youth projects.
Initially the conversation focused on questions about gang hierarchy. With a unanimous voice they declared that they answer to no one and will act on impulse. One replied “the time we use to answer to ‘olders’ (older gang member) is long gone”. “You have to put in the work for your team; this is how you get your status up. Eventually when people know your name they will fear you as an individual or your gang.” Another shouted “at the end of the day it is all about respect”
I intercepted their outbursts with a personal account of my annual video tribute dedicated to all the young people who had died in London due to gang and youth violence. Expressing my sorrow at this situation I enquired about their feelings towards youth deaths. The response I got did not surprise me, the oldest one exclaimed “this is how it is now, people become immune unless they are directly affected”. There was no emotion on their faces, lacking empathy they were devoid of care. The desensitisation to youth fatalities was evident in their reactions. It became apparent that this hard outer shell was embedded into their survival technique ‘never show signs of weakness’.
My questioning shifted to serious topics: Are you willing to kill for your ideals, your gang, or where you live?
The smallest out of the group replied; “we are in too deep, I have enemies who probably will not hesitate to kill me if they saw me slipping (caught off guard). That is why I am always prepared for whatever the occasion and if that means dropping a body in the process then so be it”
Although many may be shocked by this, I was not. Unfortunately this is not the first occasion in which I have witnessed this same content from young people. I am always reminded of a quote from the film ‘we own the night’ “I would rather be judged by 12, than be carried by 6”. After I told them about that quote, they all agreed, saying that is exactly how they see it.
What would it take for you to move on from this lifestyle?
They all exchanged glances before one of the quiet ones who hadn’t yet participated in the discussion piped up: “to be honest even if I decided to go legit, I would still be in the game because like they said before we are in too deep. I would probably have to move out of London totally to actually concentrate on other things. Apart from that no way, my guard stays up 24’s.”
It is young people with this mentality that I am consistently attempting to engage with. Their loyalty to their peers and self perception as gang members forms a stumbling block from opportunities to change. Although weapons cause considerable damage, the real danger is spread through the mindset of these young people. Minor altercations can now result in a fatal shooting or stabbing, leaving yet another family with a scar that can never be healed. I attempt to get these young people to attend my consequences workshops or engage in youth activities but they refuse. However I consistently converse with them to challenge their way of thinking and provide an alternative lifestyle to the one they currently uphold.
More senseless killings
A few days after our discussion, I found out about the fatal stabbing which took the life of Kwame Ofosu-Asare (17) in Brixton. Reading the story made me angry and reminded me of the pain of losing someone. Also thinking about the family and how they will now cope with this void in their lives.
I am reminded of the period when I was doing research for my book and a man in his late 40’s said to me “do not waste your time it is inevitable, they will continue to kill each other”. I chose not to accept what he said, that can only happen if we do nothing and allow this to continue. The thing is people do not think it is their problem until something happens that affect them. The way things are anyone could be a victim.
I wrote my book Consequences to enhance my ability to spread my message to people around the country and of the young people I work with that believe in change. Thankfully I have been doing that by speaking and working in schools, at youth projects, prisons, and in the next month I will be running more consequences workshops, speaking at youth conferences in Wolverhampton, and also in Berlin.
Although I enjoy communicating, action is essential for change. Due to this I have enlisted positive young men to take charge and make an impact on someone’s life through mentoring. There seems to be an outcry when the police kill someone, while young people are killing each other every day, with a lack of effort for change and justice. One thing I learnt from my time in Los Angeles, speaking with former OG Crip gang member is to always have hope no matter how bad things may seem.
My repetition is for emphasis: everyone can play a part no matter how small.
If we strive to change mindsets, promote ambition and invest in young people then we would not need to tell them to put the knives and guns down. They would be in a position to make the right choices. This is not the time to give up, or to remain silent. A generation of future doctors, lawyers, prime ministers and teachers are wrapped up in a detrimental lifestyle of violence where innocent people are dying. Complacency cannot bring change.
It has been a year since I took four young people from our Crib youth project to Los Angeles to do a gang intervention documentary. The idea was to find out as much as we can about young people in gangs in LA and the most important thing was to find out what intervention projects where in place to tackle the gang culture. We visited Crenshaw, Inglewood, Boyle heights and we even had the opportunity to get a tour of a county jail for juvenile young people.
Since then Tobi, Mustaphar, Bobbie and Bernard have been spreading the message of their experience in LA, through the documented interviews of active gang member, former gang member, gang intervention worker, and a District attorney. The DVD London 2 LA gang intervention documentary has been watched by more that 800 people. We have also distributed more than 600 copies in the last year.
The 4 of them are now working hard to build a successful future for themselves. They will never forget their experience in Los Angeles and hope that their message in the documentary reaches many young people in the UK.
For more information on the planning of the trip click the link: http://emekabnc.com/2011/08/10/london-2-la-gang-intervention-documentary/?preview=true&preview_id=64&preview_nonce=2d38405714