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Talking to British Ex-Cons About Getting On the Straight and Narrow

You can achieve a lot more when you're not beating people up in the street.

Brave Soul from TK Maxx jacket, Primark T-shirt and jeans, Timberland shoes

Words: Jamie Clifton


I guess most people would think I had a tough upbringing, but I never saw it that way. I didn’t realise I was in a position of disadvantage until I was in school. Then I started to realise that I was in a different situation to the others. I cultivated this bad attitude.


One day, when I was 11, me and my brother were walking down the street and a man got shot in his face. My mum detected a change in us after that. We got involved in a lot of stupid situations. We had always been brought up to know wrong from right, but I got involved with carrying weapons, drugs, robbing people, robbing shops. I identified it as wrong, but I didn’t feel remorse or guilt.

When David Cameron came in, my mum’s disability money got cut, so she couldn’t work. Her care package was cut as well. I had this twisted logic that the money I was earning was going towards my family. I was eventually charged with armed robbery. I couldn’t go back to doing those things. I’m studying TV and film, and a lot of it involves theory work, talking about ethics in news and TV production. How can I criticise someone on TV for moral things when I’ve done something like I have to a fellow human being? My mentality now? I just wouldn’t be able to do it.

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Thrasher T-shirt, Stromberg beanie


I grew up in Southend, skateboarding, graffitiing – just getting in trouble, really. There was nothing else to do other than fight. You know, “We’re from Southend, they’re from wherever" – completely pointless rubbish. I finally got charged with assault and the use of an offensive weapon. I had a longtime relationship with my girlfriend for around five years.


She would go out on girls’ nights out and deliberately get guys to chat her up and drop her home. Nothing ever happened. But one day I came back and caught her in the house with one of my mates. I just lost my temper, kicked the door through and got hold of him. I bashed him up. After that I was so ashamed.

My dad’s a police officer. I rang him up as I drove off and said, “Dad, I’ve really fucked up. I need some advice and help.” So he said the best thing you can do is go and hand yourself in. Two days later I got released on bail and I was told that I can’t go anywhere near them. I carried on with my normal life for the next couple of weeks.

But she came over, started bashing on my door, shouting through my letterbox. When I ignored her she would tell the police that she had seen me down her street or that I had called her. That basically got me three strikes and they put me inside. As you get older, it eventually gets out of your system, as you find more important things in life to keep you focused.

North Face hat, Ralph Lauren top, Primark jeans, Nike shoes


My mum worked her arse off for us and did everything in her power to teach us the correct way of living. My dad died when I was nine, which obviously upset me, but being that young I never really know if I understood or not. I always used to hang out with my big brother when my mum was at work, ironically in the police force. When I hit year 7, I was already chilling with year 9s. That was when I started doing minor crime.


I meandered into dealing a bit of hash here and there – smoking it, too. I got sucked into that whole rudeboy scene. I isolated myself in my tracksuit with my so-called friends around me. I never felt remorse then, it was almost like the worse behaved and more violent we were, the more kudos we’d have among the messed-up minds that we thought were judging us.

Now, I feel a lot of remorse, but it's still my life and I can’t say I would change it. I was on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, when I first got locked up, and I didn’t get the message. I just knew that when I got out, I was out, and happy. All I really wanted to do was make money. The second time I went in, I was close to home with loved ones on the outside. I even drove past my house on a prison transfer! That was the game changer. I knew from that sentence I was done. No more. I walked out that gate and I said to myself I’m never going back. I got home, gave my old friend my phone, which was a pretty busy line at the time, and that was it, no crime since.

I work hard. I have a beautiful girlfriend. I rent my flat, I pay my bills, I have a car. I work all over the planet. Life’s crazy now, but in a good way. I owe it all to my mum and my big sister – they’re the ones who stuck by me. Me and them have always been polar opposites, and they were disgusted by those things I did, but they’re still here chilling with me. That must have been hard for them.


Stone Island top


Growing up as a young man on a council estate, you just get into drug dealing, robbing or fighting. I was more on the fighting side of things. I think it came from my school having trouble with two other schools nearby. I used to have to walk back on my own to where I live along a route that passed the two other schools. I had to learn to fight, and from then I started to enjoy it. But it was mainly fighting, more than other crimes, and later on it was to do with football violence.

I support Millwall, and a lot of the time when you go to football, even if you don’t fight with other fans, you end up fighting with the police. The police are basically legalised hooligans. They come up to you, smash you over the head, spray gas at you. They’re worse than the fans most of the time. I’ve had a lot of convictions. But what I got sent to prison for was affray, which is like taking part in a riot, and two ABHs, which were for fighting in pubs or on the street.

One time, some Jamaican guy came up to me and tried to rob me in Tooting, saying I was a white boy and so on. He pissed me off and I smashed him up. I ended up getting nicked for it. Now I think, 'Don’t go out of your house thinking bad things are gonna happen. There are a lot of opportunities out there for good things to happen; don’t be one of these people that drag themselves down.' ’Cos that’s what I did. I did it the hard way, but I learned quite early. I got sent to jail at 20 – it helped me. I came out thinking, 'This ain’t the life for me,' and I changed from then on.

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