Imagine feeling so different to everyone else that you feel like a misfit within your own family and your peers. You feel ostracised, lack identity and crave a sense of belonging. You want to be a part of something important and exciting. You want to be valued and respected.
Meet Keith, (not his real name), now aged 25. He had a terrible accident as a young child, which left him with injuries that affected his speech and facial appearance. He missed quite a lot of school due to being in hospital, and fell behind on his school work. This sent him down a downward spiral of disruptive and anti-social behaviour, both inside and outside of school.
He became a prime target for bullying by his peers because of his differences, and he struggled to connect and build relationships. He was called names, jeered, mocked and laughed at, until he couldn’t take it anymore and made the choice to become a bully rather than be bullied.
This decision attracted a particular gang who prided themselves on intimidating and bullying others for ‘kicks’. They were involved in criminal activities and didn’t think twice about using violence to get what they wanted. Keith found that this group of ‘friends’ accepted him despite his differences, and he felt a great sense of belonging and status within this circle of people. Keith now felt popular and protected; he felt he was ‘cool’ and part of something big and exciting. Something that demanded respect. Everything he had yearned for he now had…but there was a high price to pay.
During his time spent with this gang, he was shot in the face, which led to him losing his sight in one eye. He was stabbed on two occasions, arrested several times for crimes he had committed and was eventually sent to prison. Keith is now out of prison and regrets the path he chose. He realised that his sense of belonging within the gang was only there as long as he did what he was told by the gang leaders. He was bullied within the gang and pressured into doing activities that, in his heart, he didn’t want to do, but went along with it because he feared rejection and ridicule.
Keith regrets the time he spent in a gang and would like to erase that part of his life, but he can’t. It was in prison that Keith made the decision to turn his life around, but he is finding it tough. He continues to look for work, hoping someone will look beyond his history of crime and violence, and give him another chance.
There are many ‘Keith’s’ out there who may have never felt that sense of belonging, and feel that being in a gang will give them identity and self-assurance. It’s true that being in a gang has something to offer for those who may feel left out, but the price is high – it can even cost you your life. Whatever a gang has to offer is short-lived and has more negatives than positives in the long term.
People who value you and your friendship will not indulge in illegal and dangerous behaviour, and exercise power over you.
A leader of a gang is powerless without his/hers followers. If you refuse to follow a gang leader, they will have no gang. I watched a movie recently that involved a fictitious London gang. At one point, the gang members refused to listen to their leader when he was attempting to give orders. I was amazed at how scared and vulnerable he became without his followers. Think for yourself and follow the path you know is right.
It is important to note that not every group of young people should be labelled as a ‘gang’ and assume they are up to no good. In reality, there are thousands of young people who are good, law-abiding citizens and add great value to our society.
For those that have a lack of belonging and feel drawn to a gang, stop and think, because you have a lot to offer. What do you enjoy doing? What can you get involved in locally? Are you creative? Perhaps you enjoy sport?
Be assured that you are valuable; you are not an accident and you have something to contribute to this world. Take the time to find out what it is and you will feel a sense of fulfilment and belonging.
Words: Rachel Brown
Image: Joe McCluskey