Gwenton Sloley: life of an ex-offender
“Was I going to end up back in prison for any little thing I did? Would I ever be able to walk away from crime?” These are a few of the insecurities Gwenton Sloley faced when he was released on probation after serving three of the six years of his sentence.
When you first meet Sloley, you don’t notice a tall, dark man with a round face and strong features – brown eyes, full lips and broad shoulders. You notice an aura of calmness that immediately lifts your spirits. You notice his way with words that captivates and inspires his audience. You’d never be able to tell he had a dark past, but you wouldn’t know of all the good he does without asking.
According to Bounceback, an organisation that helps ex-offenders, “six out of 10 employers automatically exclude applications of those with a criminal record”. It makes it hard for ex-offenders to re-integrate into society.
With a belief that you need your voice to be heard to make a change, Sloley wrote his first book, From The Streets To Scotland Yard. It started as an account of his mother’s silent death, but within this context, he also had to write about his own life. It has been a successful voyage: “a dynamic and insightful exploration”, “an example of how courage and strength can turn a life around”, are only some of the comments people have made.
His new memoir, Alone With My Thoughts, is planned for release in late 2015. It explores male sexual abuse. Statistics show that 96% of the victims of sexual violence are women and that 4% are men. Gwenton was part of the four percent. At the age of five, he was sexually abused, the perpetrator was his aunt. “I tried for years to block it out so my memory is very patchy,” he says.
Crime in Hackney is on the rise: in December 2014, there were 2030 crimes committed in the borough; in January 2015, there were 2101. Sloley’s books were written to raise awareness. He says it is hard to talk about his past everyday, but “it could help someone else from going down the wrong path because not everyone makes it out alive”. Dedication to empowering young people is what he lives for now.
He was born to a poor family in Jamaica, where the simplest things were a luxury – they lived with no electricity or gas. Nevertheless Sloley remained upbeat and says that “it was good despite being broke”. At eight, he moved to Stoke Newington. He grew up with his father and stepmother, but lost contact with his mother back in Jamaica after his stepmother changed their phone number. School was never a priority, but becoming a gangster was, which is the reason he didn’t get good grades despite his father hiring a tutor.
It all started because he “wanted to be known as a fighter. I would have as many fights as I could after school.” Many knew his reputation and it was not long before he had girls and gangs pursuing him. At the age of 11, he was a member of a gang. At first, he hung around the estate with the older boys, watching them smoke and deal. He made many allies because he did not fear them. One of their pastimes was standing outside McDonalds chatting up girls; another was fighting other areas to gain more respect.
Sloley started stealing to send his pocket money to his mother in Jamaica because he was unsure how she was eating and worried about her. After battling cancer, Gwenton’s mum passed away, leaving him with no care in the world. His fearlessness and carelessness eventually earned him a place in prison. He was arrested for armed robbery with intent at the age of 18.
“How long would I get” was what went through his mind – he was condemned to spend six years of his life in prison, leaving his girlfriend and family behind. After 18 months, there was no more girlfriend, she left for another drug dealer. “It broke my heart, not because she left but to think the guy was having a laugh at my expense.”
Sloley has been to a total of nine prisons all over the country, including in Dorset, Surrey, Birmingham, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Two years into his prison sentence, a friend was murdered during a drive-by shooting. This was a turning point. Once out of the confinement he knew, “it was time to walk away”.
Sloley gained the support of Hackney’s ex-superintendent Leroy Logan. He recognised “leadership qualities” and “immediately thought, if you could put those skills and abilities into something constructive, you could be truly remarkable”. He believed in Sloley because “he was searching for a way out”. Leroy used his power and respect to get Sloley a job in the youth offending team.
- Watch ex-superintendent Leroy Logan speak about Gwenton Sloley’s change for the better
However, Gwenton did face some discrimination initially. “People could not get over the fact that I had once been in trouble with the law,” he says. He felt like they were “all waiting for me to fail”.
“Most [charities and organisations] do not have clinically trained staff to deal with the level of trauma most ex-offenders face once back in the community,” he says. He believes more training is needed for teachers and professionals working with youth.
Sloley worked in a secondary school mentoring youth. By now in demand, he was asked by Scotland Yard to help them infiltrate gang culture, offering support to anyone who wanted to change.
Today Gwenton Sloley, 31, is engaged and has a boy and a girl. He teaches his children to have the confidence to speak out if someone – even him – makes them uncomfortable. He stays on the right path and travels up and down the country, connecting with like-minded people. He truly inspires change, himself a prime example of a positively changed man.