London (AFP) – A former drug dealer working for an anti-gang charity, Abdi has found himself on the frontline of a battle against London knife crime — with two recent stab wounds to prove it.
Since being released from prison last year, the 26-year-old has helped recruit young Londoners into a programme to prevent them falling in with gangs and getting sucked into knife crime.
“I just tell them: ‘Bro, there are two options you can either go to the grave or cop a 35-year sentence’. It is no way out,” he told AFP in an interview at a workshop in the capital earlier this month before being injured in a stabbing last weekend.
“It is a facade and a mentality we want to change,” he said.
Abdi was stabbed on Saturday while out with friends in north London, weeks after a previous stabbing when on his way to work — the assailants went for his throat but struck his knuckles instead.
But even he once found a life of crime all too tempting.
“Every inner city boy in London would want the fast cars, the girls, the expensive clothes. The nice life innit!” said Abdi, speaking at an event at Queens Park Rangers’ football stadium, Loftus Road, in west London.
“How many boys in the country that want that lifestyle. But you just got to work hard. Nothing comes easy. The things I am saying now I used to hear from older people,” he said.
“What I am doing now is targeting young boys before they even go to that lifestyle,” said Abdi, who wore a bandage on his hand from a previous stabbing.
Knife-related crimes rose by 23 percent in London last year and a spate of stabbings and shootings have left more than 50 people dead this year, pushing the murder rate higher than New York’s.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Monday blamed the crack cocaine trade and vowed to do “whatever it takes” to curb violent crime, including more funding for youth programmes and stricter laws.
– ‘I am going to win’ –
Abdi works for Key4Life, an organisation set up in 2012 after nationwide riots the previous year that aims to create solutions to help reduce youth offending and gang warfare.
He works as a mentor alongside 24-year-old Anthon Dinnall, who was in prison for robbery, touring public housing estates to identify young men at risk of getting involved in gangs.
Key4Life’s founder Eva Hamilton calls them her “disciples”.
Abdi — born in England to Somalian parents — said he may not be living the “fast life” and earning the money he was when he was selling drugs but he finds the work rewarding.
“I am helping people who are in the position that I was five years ago,” he said.
“I am just telling them ‘boys you look at me you don’t want that lifestyle you don’t want drugs convictions you don’t want to go down that route,” he said.
“People not being born in this country are getting arrested and I say to them: ‘Did your mother and father come the whole way to this country so you could sell drugs and fail in life? … No, they came here so you could prosper and progress in a country like this’.”
Abdi’s first encounter with Key4Life was when volunteers from the organisation came to visit him in prison.
“It is only right I show them the same loyalty they showed me,” he said.
Abdi described the euphoric feeling of returning to Brixton Prison, where he was held for the final part of his three-year sentence, as a free man helping prisoners.
“There was no more me being a prisoner being told what to do, when to shower, what to wear, when to eat,” he said.
“It made me feel like you know what I am someone in society, I am not going to let the system beat me. I am not going to lose, I am going to win.”