MY LIFE JOURNEY HAS BEEN A PRETTY CRAZY ONE

When I was just 10 months old my home in West London was petrol bombed. My father wanted to protect my brothers and me, so we were shipped off to family in the heart of the rainforest of Grenada, the Isle of Spice.

When I returned to London aged 7, I was equipped with the mind of a jungle boy. Urban life seemed alien. The extravagance and opulence in Notting Hill shocked me: crocodile and snakeskin shoes, silk socks, Rolex and Cartier watches. Unfortunately, our neighbourhood hadn’t got any safer since we’d been gone. Just 3 years later, my 16-year-old brother Denny, was murdered in the Metro Club in London. It was one of the first black-on-black murders in Britain.

Then, in 1979, aged 16, I was sentenced to 9 months to 3 years in Borstal for burglary and stealing cars. I started in HMP Wormwood Scrubs during the first prison officers’ strike, as a boy in a man’s prison, mixing with hardcore criminals. From there a life of crime was almost inevitable…

In 2001, I was sentenced to 23 years for armed robbery – until I learned to read and write and launched my own appeal, which reduced the sentence to 17 years.  Since being in prison I have studied for the first time in my life. I have just completed my third Degree and I am working towards a BA Honours in Humanities. When I’m not studying, I dedicate my time to creating positive change in prisons and stopping the escalating violence within the prison system.

Q&A WITH EMMANUEL

Where did this book come from?

I have embraced writing as a direct result of being a mature illiterate who, through sheer passion and perseverance, learnt how to read and write. When I was in solitary confinement, not being able to read a book to pass the time ignited my thirst for education. 

How has education helped you?

It has focused my energy into positive things. I stopped using violence, as I found that I could articulate myself more effectively in other ways that could bring about a positive change in all aspects of my life, such as relationships and future goals.

What inspired you to write?

Being illiterate and wanting to have some form of contact with my children from the inside looking out.


What would you like to see more of in prisons?

More second chances. Once you have committed a crime and are stigmatised with that label it is hard to get a second chance.

How do you think we can help steer young men and women away from a life that will lead to prison?

Education is the key. However, you have to be able to relate. Having a story like mine enables me to break bread with all youth.

What is your message to anyone in prison right now?

Don’t count the days, make the days count. Anything is possible.

What’s next for you - Have you got anything more in store for your readers?

I am currently writing a book about my life growing up in Notting Hill, London and being forced to move to the Caribbean as a child.