Within the framework of our National Lottery-Funded project - fighting crime in Manchester, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with a gentleman,Denis (not his real name). Denis lives in Greater Manchester. He spent several years in and out of jail as a result of crimes he committed. Denis no longer commits crime and says he deeply regrets all that he put his victims through.
He also says rather tearfully during our interview that it is his fervent hope that any individual (be it a parent, a young person, a social worker, a young person’s care home worker, or anyone who directly or indirectly may be involved in the life of a young person; and picks out something from his interview that can contribute positively to their up-bringing, that would make his interview time with me a worthwhile effort. He adds that such a contribution is the least that he can offer society to make it better and safer.
he offers not only to parents but also members of the younger generation and the effect that crime has or can have in their lives.
On how he first got into a life of crime, Denis says as early as under the age of four, he used to be left to fend for himself by his mother while his father was never there. This led to him being moved from one children’s home to another. He said his mom was an alcoholic who consumed alcohol almost every day except when she had no access to it. As a result, Denis never benefited from the affection, love, care and the attention that any kid deserves. He also never had basic things such as food, decent footwear such as trainers, good clothing, etc. Consequently, when he saw his friends eating well and having all the nice things that he did not have but wanted as well, he resorted to committing crime in order to have them. There was no one to offer Denis guidance, advice and support. He was practically left on his own which meant he had to figure out a way to survive. The only way was a life of crime.
On his experiences as a criminal, Denis revealed the following: he said “Vivan, I was involved in burglary, theft, breaking into cars, shoplifting and I even robbed people in their homes while they were asleep at night”. He added that “there were several days during which I went without food if I did not steal just to have some food eat, or if empathetic and generous neighbors did not offer me some food".
Denis says he was imprisoned as many as 15 times in total with sentences ranging from months to years at a time. Before he was old enough to go to jail, he moved from one children’s care home to another and lived in as many as eight different children’s homes. At the age of 15, he recalls being moved from one of these homes and released into the community - at a certain place with only a bedsit and nothing else, no support, no money, not even basics. Denis says because he needed some basic and essential things but with no money, he said he simply went back to doing what he did ‘best’ – robbing others.
Finally, on advice to others and how people might learn from his past misdeeds, Denis recalls the many years in jail. He talks about missing out on any decent education. He never completed primary school, never went to secondary school or beyond. He never had the opportunity to get a good job, any job at all as no one would employ him because of his criminal record. Denis has missed out on what he calls normal life where people value and love him and vice versa.
As a result of these negative experiences all of which he now regrets, he “advises others to do whatever it takes to avoid a life of crime”. His advice to parents is to “love their children no matter how stubborn children may be”. “If parents are struggling, they should seek support from government and non-governmental organisations”. Advice to children is mainly “to be obedient to parents and trusted people in their lives”. He also encourages the younger ones to “focus on their education and to report anything suspicious, even something seemingly as simple as a request from a friend or a classmate that feels dodgy or doesn’t smell right”. A final message from Denis is that “together, crime can be reduced as everyone has a role to play in this endeavor”.