Devon was involved in criminality for a long time, recruiting children to deliver drugs for him and teaching them how to avoid arrest. Following a spell in prison, he’s put his previous life behind him and is learning how to gain respect from education.

From a very early age I was ‘involved’ in crime. I lived with my family in South London where it was common practice for friends and family to ‘duck and dive’ to survive or make a bit of extra money.

Aged 15 my father died and what little discipline I had vanished and I became more unruly and out of control. I became heavily involved in the drug scene (distributing, not taking) and left school as soon as I could; earning money was more important to me than an education.

Before long I was using local kids to ferry cannabis, cocaine and other class A drugs, knowing they would be less likely to be stopped by the police. I’d use apps and video games to recruit kids to my gang; it was easy – too easy.

Offering struggling kids money bought me respect not just from them but from their parents as well.

By 2010 I was living the life of a gangster although I’d convinced myself that I was actually a businessman. I became too cocky and in May 2010 I was arrested. The police investigation took over a year but in 2010 I was convicted and sentenced to prison.

I started my sentence full of attitude and carried on like that for the first couple of years. But, following a prison visit from my mum something clicked. I could see how disappointed she was in me and how she needed me at home. I knew that if I continued to flout the rules I’d never get out.

So I set about changing. I spent time in both the gym and the classroom and learnt to love learning. I was lucky to have a truly inspirational teacher and I realised that being educated could give you just as much power and respect as being a dealer. I started to believe in myself and with my teachers support I studied for three GCSE’s and took a personal training qualification.

I’ve been out of prison for a year now. I’ve moved away from South London, away from the friends and life I once had and it’s taken me a while to settle into a new area and a life away from prison. I managed to find myself a job in a gym where I run regular classes as well as doing 1-to-1 personal training. I’m enjoying earning an honest income and doing the normal things that other people take for granted.

I’m now ready to take the next step and I’ve just been accepted to study economics and marketing at university.

I’m a bit worried about studying, concerned about being amongst all the ‘clever kids’ but as my mum keeps telling me:

“You’ve got as much right to be there as anybody else. You deserve your place.”

I know there are still hurdles to climb and that my past could impact upon my future but I don’t see the barriers anymore just challenges to overcome.

By Devon (name changed to protect identity)

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