Jag Singh is the author of the eBook ‘Unbreakable’ based on the actual events that took place during his childhood in East London, England. At that time, during the 1970s, he and his family were surrounded by racist skinheads, school teachers, and bullies.
The story illustrates the full impact of hate crime and bullying, and it aims to eradicate such behaviors. Jag is a community worker and campaigner who has supported many great causes, including Anti-Bullying, Anti-Knife Crime, and Mental Health.
Jag is available for interviews and seminars regarding – Motivation – Ethnic and Diversity – Well-Being – Anti-Knife Crime – all of which have been devised according to his very own personal experiences. He is currently hosting his well-being TV show ‘Positive Minds’ on the Sikh Channel/Sky TV.
As a child you don’t get to choose where you grow up, neither did I. My grandfather came to England from India in the 1940’s and settled in East-London, because of it’s closeness to the city of London and work and educational opportunities. When my parents moved here they naturally followed his example. But, unfortunately for me, during my teenage years in the 1980s, the notorious East-London wasn’t a very safe place to be. I knew from watching American movies how similar the area was to the Bronx in New York City. Crime was everywhere. Just like the Bronx, at night you couldn’t walk alone in the streets for fear of being robbed or beaten. The chances were extremely high, as I found out.
I wish I hadn’t grown up in East London, but I did. Whenever I met my cousins who lived in other parts of the UK like Leicester, Derby, and Birmingham, they would always talk about how safe it was. They would tell me how beautiful their crime-free lives were. But not for me. I was surrounded by crime, drugs, and gangland warfare. I found myself slap-bang in the middle of it all, and I couldn’t hide. I knew if I tried, they’d seek me out, rob me or even kill me.
Most of the kids that went to my school were involved in gangs and carried knives; it was the norm. They spoke about things that teenagers growing up should never talk of or even hear about, like robbing, burglary, shoplifting, drugs, and stealing cars.
I had my first encounter with knife crime when I was only 13-years-old. It happened as I came out of the Stratford grant office —a public building where grant payments were made—a boy about my age, jumped out from nowhere and poked me with a small penknife. He forced me to move away from public gaze and into a nearby alley by continually jabbing the blade into my stomach. Though he didn’t use full force, I was beyond scared, I was petrified. I had no idea what to do so I obeyed. Instead of my fight-flight survival instinct kicking in, I just froze. It felt like I had no other choice.
He spoke, ‘Give me your money! What ya got?’
I was alone and convinced I was going to get stabbed. I prayed in my head, God, please don’t let it end this way…I have much to do.
Knife boy persisted and brought his face closer to mine as he gritted his teeth and screwed his lips. ‘I said, give me your money!’ His breath swarmed over my face.
I didn’t have any money, except for the grant cheque. ‘This is all I have,’ I showed him the cheque. It flapped about as my hands trembled with fear. What made matters worse, I knew the cheque wouldn’t satisfy him. Desperately, I looked about A for help but there was none, it was just me and knife-boy. I was now convinced I was going to die.
I could tell this wasn’t his first time by his confidence. I tried to hide a gold chain I wore around my neck, but too late, he’d spotted it. He ripped it off me and without another word or further violence, he scarpered down the alleyway. Likewise, I ran but in the opposite direction. Although I’d lost the gold chain my parents had bought me for my thirteenth birthday, I’d escaped with my life.
I re-joined the busy street and relative safety, but my heart still thumped in my chest. It took an age for me to calm down. With my head hung low so as not to catch the eye of any passer-by, I sloped back home. The event was over but even now the nightmare is still as vivid as the day it happened.
Because I’d spent most of my childhood running away from bullies, I could scarcely read nor write! I grew up in a strict family environment, and my parents did not allow me nor my brother to hang around street corners or outside the chippy like most kids. Although my early education was lacking, I still had a passion for learning and would have rather been at home studying than hanging about the streets. However, I soon realised that if you lived in East-London and weren’t involved with the gangs, you would eventually become a target. Torn between my strict family upbringing and the peer pressure of the streets, I had to find a coping strategy — I did, and lived two lives!
In my first life, I survived as a gang member. I got to know all the gangs and who was who in our area to make sure neither my family nor I become targets. It would take many years for me to discover the proverb ‘there’s no honesty among thieves’ Believe me, this is so, so true. I would meet up with the gangs and listen to their so-called heroic stories about how they stole from innocent and vulnerable people, robbed houses and distributed drugs for the ‘big’ boys. When they got bored with these stories, they would move on to the topic of weapons and compare knives, crowbars, screwdrivers and other tools. I have seen them all, fixed blades, butterfly knives, homemade knives, catapults, air guns and many more. Whenever I was offered a knife to keep for the gang, I would always make a stand and never take it. I knew my parents would kill me if they found it. I hated hanging around outside the shops and hoped that my parents would never find out. They just wouldn’t understand.
To get fully accepted I had to go through an initialisation process. I was tasked to go into Mr Patel’s Off License and steal four cans of beer. I didn’t want to get involved, this wasn’t the way my parents had brought me up, they had always told us not to steal, lie or cheat. But I couldn’t share this information with the gang. Instead, I pled innocence, and told the gang I wasn’t sure what I had to do. The infamous pack leader ‘Mac’ proudly rose to the occasion and offered to show me how it was done.
We both entered the shop together. Mac told me to go toward the sweets section, while he walked to the opposite side of the shop toward the fridge section. Mr. Patel’s eyes scanned us both at top speed without him moving his head. My heartbeat was so fast I thought it was going to burst out my chest. I was so scared, but Mac was an expert. He opened the fridge, grabbed the beers, and ran as fast as he could. I followed, leaving Mr. Patel shouting at the top of his voice. For me, my conscious was clear as I didn’t actually do the crime. Even so, Mac decided to let me in the gang as I had plenty of ‘bottle’ as he called it.
In my second life, I lived the one that I actually enjoyed, the one I actually wanted. I read books late into the night, wrote stories, and studied dictionaries from front to back, but I never ever told the gang members about this life. They wouldn’t understand. Of course, my parents were very proud of me and how studious I was, but they never knew the real truth until one day.
It was the day one gang member got a special knife known as a butterfly knife. He showed me how to flick it without chopping off your fingers. I practised and got really good at flicking it fast and with style. Stupidly, I broke a major rule I’d set myself and took the knife home. I remember sitting in my locked bedroom practising different techniques of flicking when I made another gross mistake. I left my room leaving the knife on show. My parents found it, and just like any parent, they went berserk!
To this day I remember my father’s words, ‘We come to this country to work hard and appreciate the education system so that we can contribute towards this society and make a difference, and then there is YOU! You who has a knife! What next? Are you going to become a gang member? I am ashamed of you!’
I tried to explain to Mum and Dad that I’d never used the knife and had no intention to do so, but this fell on deaf ears. I was banned from going out after school for six months.
When I was finally allowed to go out again, I was struck by how things had changed. The gang’s activities had escalated to class ‘A’ drugs, protection money from shops, fighting other gangs over turf control, and stabbings! It had gotten out of hand! I didn’t want to be part of this life. I didn’t want to die or get sucked into the juvenile prison system like many others. After spending a few days thinking long and hard about what I was going to do, I finally decided.
I heard that there was to be a face-off between two rival gang leaders. They agreed to meet after midnight at the Queen’s Market, Upton Park. The assumed outcome would be one would die while the survivor got to rule the patch. I knew this wasn’t right, they were both only teenagers and neither deserved to die! I turned up at the market at midnight, and they were already at it. The two gang members were swearing, punching, kicking, and spitting at each other. Finally, the knives came out. This was the sign to me that I had to do something, and quick.
Even though every sinew of my body screamed do nothing, I couldn’t let this play out. At the top of my voice, I shouted, ‘STOP!’
The fighters and spectators all froze and turned their gaze upon me.
‘Guys, that’s enough!’ I said.
Although many different things were said, the gist was, ‘Shut up Jag!’ Everyone ignored my plea.
Surrounded by their spectators, the two gang leaders continued to stare at each other. Their eyes red, filled with anger, and their bodies pumped with adrenaline. It reminded me of a scene out of The West Side Story — a film which I both loved for its songs but also hated as I lived the brutal reality of gang warfare.
As both lads resumed swooshing their knives at each other, I started to walk away from the crowd. Someone noticed and shouted out after me, ‘Where are you going Jag?’
I carried on walking and looked back calling over my shoulder, ‘This life you guys are leading, isn’t hard and tough, it’s stupid and pathetic. You have a choice, as do I. To live a good life or end up in prison or even dead. I don’t want to be part of this no more.’
From then on I didn’t feel safe. What had I done? They could all turn on me, chase me down, kick, punch or even stab me. But, luckily, they didn’t. I had grown up with them and gone to school with them; they knew me. Fortunately, within seconds, the sounds of police sirens filled the air, and we all scarpered in different directions.
Never again did I go back to meet the gang members in the evenings. And to tell the truth, I was always disgusted by their stories in the first place. I wasn’t missing my first life. When I met them at school, I would say ‘Hi’ and move on. No more conversions. As time went on, I heard so many stories related to guys I knew about being arrested, stabbed, and hospitalised. Some of the members even came to me and told me that they wanted to get out of the gang as well. I would tell them exactly what I would say to any gang member, today, ‘Just walk away…’ I did, and I never regretted it.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate that it’s your decisions that make you or break you. If on that night in the Queen’s Market, I hadn’t made the decision to walk away, who knows where I would be today. Luckily, for me, I made the right choice. We all can. Unfortunately, for some, it’s hard to walk away. Many feel a sense of honour in belonging to the gang. Others fear the repercussion for not joining or leaving, and sometimes both. If this is you, reach out and get help. It is out there. Nobody should live in fear for their life, day in, day out.
Make the right decisions, live your life, and stay away from bad influences. I am glad to say that because I made the correct decision all those years ago, I’ve been able to help others make them too through my work as a motivational speaker, a writer, and a supporter of many charities such as the NSPCC with child protection. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t walked away. I did. Many don’t, or can’t, and if I hadn’t, I would have either been in prison or worse.
Always take your time making decisions. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Never rush into things and always seek help if needed. Your future is in your hands, make the most of it and always ‘do the right thing, because it is right!’
Jag Singh is a London/Essex based inspirational freelance writer and speaker. He is always campaigning for Anti-Bullying, Anti-Knife Crime, Mental Health, and many other areas that affect the well-being of communities. Jag has supported the NSPCC (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) by conducting seminars and workshops campaigning and working in child protection.
Jag Singh – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/c/JagSingh_ican
Twitter – @jagsingh_ can
Website – WWW.Jagsingh.UK
For public speaking, voiceovers, sponsorship, or any other inquiries you may email Jag Singh directly – firstname.lastname@example.org
Unbreakable eBook – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unbreakable-Part-One-Jag-Singh-ebook/dp/B089C2GVP1
Throw Away the Knife and Live Your Life –
Copyright © 2019 by Jag Singh.
All rights reserved.
Published by Minter Publishing Limited.
Website – https://www.jamesminter.com/