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Did you know that two fifths (40%) of prisoners aged under 18 were of Black or Mixed ethnicity, despite these ethnic groups accounting for less than one fifth (17%) of the entire prison population? Many nights I’ve spent meditating and contemplating what my life would have been if I had one positive role model to look up to as a youth. Yes, my father would come, and my father would go, but I didn’t know of one job he had until this day. Not that he didn’t work, but there wasn’t any emphasis on what he did for a living. I suppose, in a way, if that were there, it would have shaped the career path I would have chosen. Instead, all my role models were gang members. In my late twenties, I made the conscious decision of becoming a full time ‘career criminal’, with no days off and no annual leave. At that point, morally, I fell out of touch with my Creator; I lost faith and started to question whether He existed.

I was first introduced to the term ‘career criminal’ by a judge who coined the term just before he would sentence me. At first, I thought he was just talking rubbish, but I fully understood what he meant as time went by. My only source of income was from crime. Every day when I wasn’t incarcerated, I would commit a crime according to the government and the powers. But the reality was that it was just a way of life for me and thousands of other youths growing up in the inner cities across Britain. I, along with other youths, never liked to consider the consequences of our actions. If we did, we probably would never have committed the majority of the crimes that we did.

I refused to take responsibility for my wrongdoings. Instead, I seemed to find an excuse and blame it on a situation or a person. I would tell myself it was never my fault, and that kind of pep talk would have me going round and round and never knowing how to break a cycle. I can clearly see the traps and snares along the way. At the time, it seemed impossible to avoid them, and now I think how did I fall for everything and stand for nothing. I guess every man follows their heart’s desire and growing up surrounded by destruction and mayhem. Subconsciously I yearned for chaos and daily excitement. I used to love the thrill of living on the edge.

There was a point in my life where I was trapped in crime, not knowing how to get out, where to turn or whom to ask for support. In prison, they like to talk about rehabilitation. I firmly believe that no prison can rehabilitate a man. Rehabilitation comes from determination, motivation, a firm decision to change, and the Most High’s strength. Without these key aspects, many men will continue to support the government by keeping cells full and creating jobs for policemen, probation officers, prison officers, and the list goes on and on.

First, you have to understand your situation and the politics behind every prison cell. The reality of it is, from the very first-time prisons were privatised, it became a business. When the first prison was built to the ninety-ninth prison, I often wonder when they will stop building prisons and realize that it does not work. Every prisoner is given one prison number, and if you serve a prison sentence and get released and come back in ten years, you have the same prison number for life. Meaning, you always have a reservation in her majesty’s prison. Prison is definitely not a deterrent. People live better in prison than some people live in the community – three meals a day, no bills to pay and a roof over their head. We have old age pensioners who can’t afford to heat their homes all year round. At the same time, prisoners are walking on heated floors and getting their laundry washed and delivered to their cells. If you can imagine, this is a luxury for people that come from nothing.

But for me, this was like being in hell, a place I could never get used to. Everything had its allocated slot. However, I truly believe that most prisoners are entrepreneurs, not conforming to the slave labour of a 9-5. Now don’t get me wrong, I commend all the people working their 9-5, and there is nothing wrong with the 9-5. I’m just pointing out the fact that most prisoners are entrepreneurs, albeit setting up illegal businesses. I met many good friends in prison. As they say, her majesty’s prisons are just like a big college where you meet other criminals from other cities with better ideas, dreams and aspirations.

A prisoner’s mind is not confined to the four walls of a prison cell. The majority of my time in prison was fantasizing about things I would do upon my release. After my fourth sentence, I fully understood the dynamics of the prison system and how to play the game because it literally is a game that you play; some win, some lose. The key was never to let anyone see you down. I would always tell myself that this would be a memory in time.

My past experiences in the prison system have led me on a path to become a best-selling self-published author through the sharing of my memoir Breaking Cycles: From Prison to Purpose, to the world with the support of M M Author’s Academy. In my book, I write about issues that affect black youth and offer insight into why the prisons may be disproportionately filled with young black males. I also explore what we can do as individuals and as a community to address these problems. You can purchase the book here (link).

By Agos Youngsam