By Loushe Jordan-Gilbert
This story is part of a series focusing on former gang members who changed their lives for the better
Convicted for hijacking and after spending a decade in jail, former gang member Chad Kingsley* said he had to make a change to be a father to his child.
Growing up on the streets of Mitchells Plain, surrounded by gangs and no one to depend on, Kingsley embarked on a life changing journey, but little did he know that journey would cost him ten years of his life.
“I grew up in Mitchells Plain in an area infested with gangsters. We later moved to Delft and the situation was not very different to Mitchell’s Plain and that’s where it all started,” he said.
Now 38 years old, Kingsley* lived a life like many young men on the Cape Flats – barely having enough to survive and not knowing who to fully depend on.
“Growing up we never really had much. I never had the privilege of owning my own shoes. I had to wait until I got old shoes from other people and it was extremely sad. I always questioned why I lived the life I did and why I had such a tough upbringing,” he added.
“I got involved with the wrong crowd and we were very naughty. We always landed up in trouble for stone throwing or just being mischievous. We ended up stealing (petty theft) and the police always came looking for me because I was the smart one in the group,” he stated.
This fast life of crime continued for months and years until eventually he was arrested for hijacking and was sentenced to ten years behind bars.
“I didn’t have any visitors because my family didn’t know where I was and I didn’t want them to know. I refused parole because I didn’t want the police knocking at our door at random times in search of me and I didn’t want to expose my family to that kind of life.”
Kingsley*, who was never formally affiliated with a gang, said he had no other choice but to take on a number in prison in order to survive.
“Being in jail was not easy, it was difficult to adjust to that kind of life. There were many gangsters all from different areas and convicted of different crimes. We all shared the same cell even if the crimes differed. I had to make a choice to either become a gang member or become their punching bag, because that’s what usually happens. If you are a nobody in jail, they use you to do all the degrading things and they end up assaulting you amongst other things.”
“I entered a gang (the 26’s) merely for protection because I knew no one in jail, which made me an easy target. It was terrible when they recruited me because I had to do many things I am not proud of.”
“I had to do what I had to do to survive, to prove to the gang leaders that I was worthy to be part of their gang,” he stressed.
He described his experience in jail as “hardcore”. As a member of the 26’s gang, he regularly stabbed inmates upon instruction by his general. Prison was his mode of survival.
When asked how he dealt with the guilt, a remorseful Kingsley* said he could never come to terms with what he had to do to others to survive.
“I felt bad for having to hurt other people’s children, but the pressure from the gang was too much and I was intimidated by them, so much so that I felt I had no choice.”
“Looking back at my past, I can honestly say that those gangsters were of no benefit to me, all they did was steal a huge part of my life, a part I will never be able to get back. During my time in that place, my life was not even one worthy of being lived, my life stood still and my sentence seemed longer than it was supposed to be.”
“While serving my time I made a conscious decision to change my life, if not for anything, but for my child. I wanted to be a better person for him, someone he could look up to and not ashamed of. Someone worthy of being called a father,” he said.
“Before being exposed to an actual gang, gangsterism looked very attractive especially to someone who came from nothing, they made you feel like you belong and worthy of something. There was no financial burden and you had no worries in the world, but now, after my experience it means absolutely nothing. It is not worth sacrificing who you are just for a cozy lifestyle. Gangsters use children and if I could redo it all, I would never ever have gotten involved with them.”
LIFE OUTSIDE OF PRISON
There are many stigmas attached to someone who was part of a gang and tried to change their lives. Many people fail to see the changes and their struggle to reintegrate into society.
Kingsley* said even though he tries to live a normal life and be an active member of society, people continue to judge him for his past.
The most difficult struggle has been finding employment. Kingston has been out of prison for the past nine years and has never been able to find a stable job.
“My criminal record blocks me from doing normal things like finding a permanent job. People still see me as that gang member and they judge me based on my tattoos and outer appearance. They don’t see how I am always trying to change my life every single day. I choose to provide for my family in a honest manner instead of stealing or robbing. The gang I use to be a member of have asked me on numerous occasions to sell drugs for them. They say they will look after me, but I will rather struggle as an honest man than have blood on my hands.”