By Loushe Jordaan-Gilbert
Born and bred in Woodstock, 48-year-old Rashaad Allen positively changed his life and that of others when he decided to give up a life of crime to start a foundation which empowers hundreds of youngsters on the Cape Flats. Celebrating 13 years of freedom, the former convict and ex-gangster said after serving a broken sentence totalling 20 years and three months in jail for separate hijacking and robbery offences, he had no choice but to turn his life around.
“In the year 2000, I decided that enough is enough and I needed to change my life. At the time I was in Brandvlei Correctional Centre at the maximum-security unit. I sat in a dark cell with no lights and I made a conscious decision to invite the good and forbid the evil. I shared the dangers of the number with my cellmates and former ‘brothers’ warning them of the dangers of gangsterism and the consequences thereof,” he said.
“I completed my Matric in Malmesbury Prison and when I was discharged, I already had plans in place to start a foundation which would help ex-gang members and drug addicts rehabilitate themselves.”
Upon his release, Allen chose to live his life with purpose. Thirteen years ago, he established the Foundation for Positive Change which accommodates men and women as they try to reintegrate into society.
Keeping up with the fast life
Sitting in a room filled with gangsters and drugs users at one of the shelters where many are in recovery, Allen drifted into space as he explained what led to him choosing a life of crime.
“My father was a drug merchant in Woodstock and made a decision to bring drugs to Parkwood. But he later decided to focus more on the Woodstock branch of business and I was terrified that I would lose the reputation I had built. I always had money and he always bought me expensive clothing, so there was no way that I could go back to wearing cheap clothing. I had to uphold the fancy lifestyle and for that, I needed the money and the only way I could do that was by being part of a gang. Gangsters were admired and they were role models and never lacked anything. I needed that life that so I started robbing people and hijacking cars,” he said.
The harsh reality of prison
Allen who found a sense of belonging amongst the 26 gang, says he was left traumatized by what he experienced during his time in jail.
“I experienced many things during my life in jail. I saw how people stabbed each other, how they bombed cells and I even saw people setting themselves alight and burning to death. People were also shot through the head with real guns, but I believe my experience should be used to warn others who are on the verge of having a life I had back then. When I was younger, I had no-one to guide me or share their stories. Hopefully, my story would be able to help others and save them from having to go through that kind of horror.
Starring across the room, Allen says if it was not for his foundation, he does not know how his life would have turned out.
“My foundation helps me as much as it helps all my clients. If it was not for this foundation, I don’t know how my life would have been today, worst case scenario, I would possibly have been one of the biggest drug dealers in Cape, but I chose and still chose to use my influence positively.”
Making the change
No matter how deep into gangsterism or drugs one finds oneself in, change is possible, he says.
“I believe wholeheartedly that everyone has the ability to change, but it depends on you. I also believe that change cannot happen with Allah or God, you need him for guidance and protection.”
Allen says there is a specific prayer he teaches every single client seeking help from his organisation.
“I believe in the serenity prayer and we recite it as often as we can. The prayer says ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can and also give me the wisdom to know the difference’.”
LISTEN TO HIS STORY HERE: