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Gang life does not pay

IMPACT: HMP Isis

“STAY AWAY from gangs if you value your life,” are the words of an ex-gang member who now sits behind the walls of a south London prison.

Wole Osinlaiu, 23, is one of the 599 inmates at HMP Isis, a prison for young offenders aged between 18 and 24 years old based in Thamesmead, south London.

Osinlaiu, from Highbury in north London, hung his head low as he spoke with remorse of the criminal activity that led to him being incarcerated for his part in a jewellery store robbery in 2008.

Along with accomplice Billy Stewart, Osinlaiu used claw hammers to smash glass cabinets in jewellers Watches of Switzerland in Knightsbridge, west London.

ARRESTED

The pair were arrested immediately, and were sentenced to five and six years respectively, after pleading guilty to armed robbery.

Nigerian Osinlaiu said those who think that “prison is easy” should think again.

“I assure you it’s not easy in here. I can tell you that, my family can tell you that. Every day is hard, every day is a struggle,” he said, speaking from HMP Isis.

“Stay away [from gangs] if you value your life and you love your family.”

Osinlaiu gave his warning as the Metropolitan Police Service launched the new Trident Gang Crime Command on February 8, which aims to reduce gang violence.

He said that he regrets getting involved in gangs, but said at the time he thought it was the only way out.

“I was in debt, hanging around with the wrong people.”

Osinlaiu, who was 18 years old at the time of the robbery, had just been released from prison following a 22-month sentence for a cash in transit robbery.

“I was so easily led. I let myself be brainwashed,” he said.

One of the things he finds most difficult to handle about being in prison is the effect it has had on his family.

“I’ve missed my youngest brother go to university, I’ve missed my little sister grow up. One of my little brothers has never seen me out in his life, he’s two years old. I miss them so much.”

Osinlaiu added: “I have moments almost every day thinking ‘why have I got myself in this situation? Why have I got myself in a situation where I won’t be released until someone says I’m released?’”

QUESTION

He said that the time he has spent in prison, “made me question myself and question a lot of other things.”

But, he says that the experience has changed his life for the better.

“The day I got my sentence was the worst day of my life but it was also one of the best days of my life, because it gave me an opportunity to realise that I have done something really bad here.”


AMBITION: Governor of HMP Isis, Grahame Hawkings

He said being in prison has allowed him to mature and prepare himself for a more positive life outside.

In his job as a prison ‘listener’, someone who offers advice to prisoners who are experiencing low points such as feeling suicidal or depressed, Osinlaiu says he has found “some truly regret the crime they’ve done and find it hard to live with it.

“There are prisoners in here that can’t handle being inside and they want out.

“They can’t deal with what they done; some can’t deal with what they’ve done to their families.

“At the end of the day the families haven’t committed the crime but they have to suffer what you have to suffer.”

Osinlaiu is now looking towards a more positive future where he hopes to help steer other young people away from gang culture. He is currently studying for a degree in health and social care.

“I’d like to become a drugs worker but my main goal is to work with kids like myself so they don’t have to come to prison to learn from the mistake I made,” Osinlaiu said.

However, it seems that the gang lifestyle attracts many youngsters who “easily get tempted to join a gang,” another prisoner, Chris Theodule, told The Voice inside a cycling workshop in the prison.

Theodule has been in prison for 14 months for conspiracy to supply class A drugs. At 28 years old he is one of the few inmates above the prison age limit after he was moved from another prison because of population problems.

EXPERIENCE

“It’s been an experience. It changed my life and made me better than I was before,” said Theodule from Hackney, east London.

The learning and skills mentor ,who volunteers to help other prisoners with learning difficulties, said that those in gangs should make the decision to get out or face time behind bars.

“Keep doing what you are doing and you’ll end up here,” he warned.

Some who end up in prison and spend a considerable amount of time incarcerated, within a short space of time after release return to prison.

Reoffending rates particularly for ethnic minority prisoners, are higher than that of any other ethnic group.

During a meeting at Parliament last month, discussing ways to reduce reoffending for ethnic minority offenders, Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt revealed that “Over a quarter of the prison population is from black, Asian or minority ethnic groups.”

He said that the “most poignant” reoffending rates for adult offenders were in 2009. Statistics show that 27.4 percent of reoffenders were black while 25.6 percent were white and 20.6 percent were Asian.

Governor of HMP Isis Grahame Hawkings said that his aim is to help prisoners to “achieve their own personal objective and targets, and with a fair wind to go home and not reoffend again.

“That has to be our aim and ambition, to help people lead law abiding lives on release,” he said.

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