Gwenton Sloley tells Andrew Chilvers about gang culture and the shocking increase in radicalisation of vulnerable young men in prison.
“I’m often asked why vulnerable gang members are radicalised so easily when they’re in prison.
My reply is that to understand how young people are being radicalised in prison, you first have to understand about gangs; why teenagers join gangs and how gangs are evolving – and becoming more violent.
Every summer there’s a new breed of young person coming out of school; these kids are getting more dangerous each year. They believe the education system has let them down, even robbed them of their youth. They’ve got a lot to prove.
Add to this drug problems and mental health issues.
During their early years many of these young people spend their lives smoking skunk in their bedrooms and playing on computer games, which are based on murder and robbery; Grand Theft Auto and Black Ops, in particular.
The skunk they smoke is very, very strong, grown quickly to make money for the dealer. To give it strength, growers mix the weed with fibre glass, crack cocaine, heroin. Even battery acid.
So these young people are smoking very strong skunk and playing computer games killing people online – all day, every day. Consequently, we’ve seen a big rise in teenagers diagnosed with ADHD and different levels of autism. A lot of them won’t take the medication that’s prescribed and parents let them play these games to keep them quiet. To control them. Big mistake. And some of these kids are very young.
I’ve been to homes where nine year olds are killing people online. I have mothers asking me “what else can I do to control them? It’s the only thing that will keep him calm”.
So they kill people all day and have done this for much of their young lives. When they leave their homes their reality is based around these killing and robbing games, combined with a habit of consuming very strong skunk. They then take all this on to the street and into the gangs they join.
Throughout England and Wales young people from 11 years old are getting involved in gangs. But they can’t join these gangs and run the streets if they have nothing to offer. So these youngsters have to prove themselves to their peers by stabbing or robbing someone. Often members of other gangs. And because they’ve been playing these murder games all day, it’s easy to do the same on the streets. Not much difference. It’s already a reality for them.
By mid-teens these young people will eventually end up in some kind of institute or, later, prison, where they’re very vulnerable from day one. They’re probably already in the same space each day as people they’ve attacked and robbed in the past.
Their only real protection is to convert to Islam.
From the early 21st Century, everyone knew, including me, that when they went to prison they’d tell everyone they’re a muslim. People convert for protection and friendship; it takes their mind off pressures and stresses that are going on around them. With Islam, the support network is already set up. For someone in prison, there are a lot of positive things that come with converting to Islam.
When I first went into prison in the early 2000s, everyone else had already converted to Islam and I was the last one that hadn’t converted. On the Friday afternoon all the people I saw as friends and respected attended the mosque, while I was left outside. So after a while I converted to Islam.
It was a good feeling. A lot of support came from it and it made prison life better. For people who are in for a long stretch, conversion is a salvation. The only thing helping them cope, keeping them safe and giving them respect is Islam.
Nevertheless, at the same time you have particularly vulnerable gang members who have mental health issues, which is often a result of smoking skunk and playing on those killing games in their bedrooms.
If the wrong person gets hold of them in prison and teaches them a radically different version of Islam than the normal scriptures, you see a massive change in that person.
When I was inside I knew a young man who was quiet, studious and read books all the time. The prison officers were terrified of him. I couldn’t work out why the officers were so scared of him. Later I found out that he had become a terrorist when he left prison, traveling the country radicalising young people. His name was Jermaine Grant and he had been radicalised by the shoe bomber, Richard Reid.
What hasn’t been looked at properly are the vulnerabilities of these young people in prison, particularly around mental illness. There are no good statistics on any of this – about the number of gang members who have converted and since gone to Syria, Iraq, Libya. If there’s a vulnerable person who was prepared to kill someone on the street to impress the gang, imagine what that person will do for God. And a lot of them are prepared to die because they’re told they’ll be rewarded when they’re dead. They don’t mind dying.
This is where you see radicalisation coming in; people bringing in their gang mentality when disseminating the scriptures. Using that to brainwash others.
Radicalisation is the same as gang mentalities; contract killings, stabbings, robbings. There’s no difference between radicalisation and carrying out contract killings. Between killing in a gang and killing in a computer game. It’s all linked and it’s all about being brain washed.
No one is monitoring any of this. These young people go in as gang members having spent their lives killing online and on the streets and the system then loses track of them when they convert. At least 75% or more of gang members are being radicalised in prison. I work up and down the country and as soon as I walk into the prisons I’m told that the majority of these people have converted.
How do we resolve this? I believe we need to use a matrix system for people converting in prison. This system is well known, used by the police and can be easily used in prisons. Until there’s a system of tracking these people, we will never know who these vulnerable young people are associating with in prison, who they’re spending their time with and where they go after they’re released. There are no records and this has to change if we’re to understand how to combat the radicalisation of young people in prison.”