From tears of joy to painful nights sobbing over the death of friends and relatives, living in Brixton for over 10 years has played an enormous role in my upbringing. The nights spent laughing over games of FIFA and COD, and chilling in the park after school are some of the best moments of my life. Journeys from Myatts field, past the numerous dirt-white and grey estates, to Somerleyton, where I was regularly greeted by the Jamaican residents who were hanging outside the cornershops or sat outside Somerleyton’s own set of estates, will forever remain with me. But where there is light, we must acknowledge the darkness. That darkness was the thriving gang activity.
Notoriously known for its gangs & violence, Somerleyton has always been an infamous area. Angel Town more so, with Myatts Field having a reputation of its own. I am not ashamed to say I knew, and was friends with some of the gang members. Brixton has been, and always will be, home for us. Although I was never in a gang, and had no desire to be, we all looked out for one another. So it was not strange to shiver as the all too familiar feeling of brotherly love fell on me as I sat with Patrick discussing our past. As a reformed alcoholic and drug addict, Patrick had a long history with the local gang.
Patrick, unbeknown to many, has schizophrenia. Exhibiting the symptoms from the age of 15, Patrick has had to navigate in three different worlds: our world, the world of gangs, and his own. At times they all merged into one … but memories of those nights were all a blur. The hallucinations had him acting violent towards his friends, often surprisingly swinging and jabbing the nearest sharp object towards those closest to him. The disorganized speech, erratic behavior, and disjointed memories made it even more so difficult to explain what was happening. His inability to manage his emotions gave him the reputation he secretly did not seek. Many dreaded his presence, seeing him to be the madman his condition made him out to be. He was both an asset and a liability to the gang; a lonely warrior only called out to battle, so he turned to drugs and alcohol to drown his sorrows as many do.
When discussing how he felt during those days, there were moments his voice would get lower and lower, until it was inaudible muttering and I could see him clench his jaw and tighten his fists. I could see the flames of anger behind his dilated pupils – a sight all too familiar when he was about to lash out. It seemed he could sense my discomfort, because after glancing at me, he reached in his bag for a packet containing his medication and threw two small white pills in his mouth, swallowing it without gulping any water. We took a break from our discussion. Walking wearily around the estates he spent so much time running around, he began pointing at areas where he had induced himself with drugs whenever the paranoia become overwhelming.
The stress of providing for your family but being ashamed of where your money came from, the pressure to participate in the gang activity his brother fell victim to, the fear of falling at the hands of another young man and into the devil’s palms made him lose all sense of himself. The desire to hurt others because it was all he knew, but having no one around to truly help, crippled him until he could no longer handle it. His parents wouldn’t understand what he was going through, and even if they did they were not wealthy enough to pay for therapy.
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t help him early enough. The thought that gang members faced mental health conditions was not one that crossed my mind at that time, and even if it did I knew next to nothing about mental health. All I saw was a young man in a desperate situation looking to provide for his family by taking the path closest to home.
These days the “roadman” lifestyle is glamourized, as though it is a praiseworthy path. Those sprinkling glitter over the lifestyle know next to nothing about the danger that comes with being in a gang. Those actively involved but who prefer to show only the positives are falsely leading children to live an unsavoury existence. I’ve lost friends due to gang-related activities. There’s nothing glamourous about living your life in fear and not having the opportunity to take care of your mental health. Let’s take more time to understand others rather than judge. Let’s take more time to help others rather than stare. Let’s take more time to give a handout and love … let’s put an end to this. Patrick isn’t the only one; but I hope there won’t be many more like him in the near future.
***Disclaimer: Most, if not all, names used in the Mental Health Series are pseudonyms***