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Inspiring transformation landed ex-con a place at Cambridge

CHANGED: Leslie Abrokwaa has overcome hardship and now concentrates on youth work

A STUDENT who served a prison sentence for armed robbery has just been offered a place at Cambridge
University.

Leslie Abrokwaa, 26, from north London, will start his Youth Work and Theology degree at the prestigious university this September and describes the turnaround in his life as “nothing short of a miracle”.

Abrokwaa was born in north London but spent the early part of his childhood in Ghana where he was a model pupil. He later came back to the UK and was brought up by his mum who was by then a struggling single parent. After coming to the UK, his relationship with his-half brother sent him in the wrong direction in life. He recalls:

“I built a strong bond with my half-brother, who was five years older than me, during my teenage years. He was always into the latest clothes, latest cars, always had different women, and all these things. I wanted all these nice things he had and I didn’t want to ask my mum for the money so I thought let me start selling drugs, make my own money and buy my own things.”

He continues:

“At the same time I enrolled into college to study a BTEC National Diploma in Media.

LIFE OF CRIME

“I got a job at Marks & Spencer so I stopped selling drugs after seven months. Due to the recession, M&S had to let a lot of employees go.”

The redundancy saw him drift back to a life of crime.

“After losing my job, a close friend of mine came to me and told me about a ‘job’ we can do which involved holding-up a brothel house. At first I said no, but he persuaded me and we went to do the deed. The robbery didn’t go according to plan – firearms were left on the scene and I ended up taking the rap for all three of us that were involved. I was charged with possession of two firearms and attempted robbery. I was looking at 10 years in prison. I got three-and-a-half years.”

Abrokwaa recalls the impact of prison on his mother.

“The hardest part of jail was seeing my mum lose so much weight,” he recalls.

“Seeing her fight back tears when she came to visit me, and hearing her say the words, ‘I didn’t think I’d ever see you in a place like this’.”

He came out of prison determined to make his mum proud, but unfortunately he got swept back into the road lifestyle, this time selling class A drugs.

RENEWED COMMITMENT

Shortly after this he returned to the faith he was brought up with in Ghana and got re-baptised.

The next turning point in Abrokwaa’s life came when he met the director of the Salmon Youth Centre, an organisation that supports young people’s transition to adulthood by involving them in positive community engagement and preparing them for the world of education and employment.

Its director, Sam Adofo, was also the deacon at the church where Abrokwaa was re-baptised. Abrokwaa recalls:

“Sam took an interest in me. He gave me his card, told me what he does, and told me if I was ever interested in doing youth work I should get in touch. At the time, I was doing an apprenticeship at a law firm in an administration role. One day I woke up in the morning and I heard this voice say, ‘You should do youth work’.
From there I started volunteering and helping out with music at Salmon before getting onto the youth work apprenticeship course."

Things progressed quickly for Abrokwaa. He gained a Level 3 Diploma in Youth Work and is now the full-time Music Youth Worker at Salmon.

“I love the job I do,” he says.

“I’ve never had a job where I’m happy to come in, even on the days I’m not supposed to. It’s something I’m really passionate about – to be able to sow seeds of positivity in young people and to know that every young person has their own story, and their own journey.”

Abrokwaa was invited to share his story with students and staff at Cambridge University. Shortly afterwards, he was invited to apply and was then offered a place to study Children, Youth and Mission there.

“When the opportunity arose up for me to do a part-time degree in youth work and theology at Cambridge it was a no-brainer – you don’t think about that twice! Sometimes I still can’t believe it – me, the boy that turned his back on God and ended-up going to prison, is now working in this great job and about to be studying at Cambridge.

“I’ve now got to really make sure I finish my degree and make my mum proud.”

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