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Aiden's story: prison
'Life was ok; I didn’t have the best mum and dad and I suppose I gave them a hard time, but things were ok. Secondary school was when I reckon my life changed. I started hanging out with a new crowd. They were older than me, and to start with I never got involved in their stuff. It was after I got robbed a second time I thought, this isn’t happening again.
'I wanted mates who’d have my back for a change so I started hanging out with the older guys more and more. They gave me a knife for protection; I used to take it everywhere, everyone had one.
'Just after my 13th birthday they told me to rob my local shop. I was nervous the first time but it was easy to be honest. We’d rob for money and phones mostly. Never really planned - if we wanted something, we just get it.
'The police would arrest us from time to time for stuff like fighting or intimidation but none of it really stuck, we were good at covering our tracks. We looked out for each other.
'School; I just didn’t go, I didn’t want to go. They put me in the Pupil Referral Unit, a class for ‘troubled’ kids. I went less and less and obviously left with no GCSEs. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best decision. Hanging out was the easier option, even though I was often up A&E because of the fighting.
'At 18 they arrested me again. This time they had enough evidence to charge me. The witness ID’d me and the police saw my knife on the CCTV. I didn’t use it, I would never have used it, but I had it on me and that was enough. I got sent down. Four and half years I was in prison. Now I have nothing apart from my criminal record.'
'When I was 11 I was happy, just living at home with Dad and my sisters, it was good. I was at secondary school and had good friends and no problems really. In the second term Steve asked me out. He was in Year 9, everyone knew him. So when we started going out everyone liked me too.
'We’d been going out for nearly a year when he started saying we should have sex; he’d say ‘everyone else had does it so why don’t we’. Sometimes we’d argue about it; he always made me feel like I was in the wrong.
'It was just after my 12th birthday when we did it. I didn’t know he’d filmed everything on his laptop. From then everything changed. He threatened to share the video on Facebook so my dad and friends could watch it. My own boyfriend! Why was he doing this to me? I begged him not to. He promised me he wouldn’t if I slept with some of his mates. I was desperate so I said yes. I literally hated myself but I didn’t want anyone to see it.
'My grades at school dropped and they started making me hang out with them all the time, I had to sleep with them whenever and wherever they wanted. They’d even make me watch it back. Always laughing at me, tormenting me. It was horrible; I hated it, I hated them but I couldn’t tell anyone. One day I screamed and screamed at him to make it stop. I remember him just staring at me saying nothing until one of his mates piped up with; ‘Let’s meet her friends’. Maybe if I let them meet my friends they’d leave me alone.
It was nice to meet up with my own friends again. Even my dad seemed happy I wasn’t hanging out with Steve and his friends all the time. I felt sick to my stomach every time I introduced a friend to the gang. Each time the same thing happened, my friend would end up sleeping with one of them. Of course they’d film it so she was trapped like I was.
'Steve dumped me and his friends lost interest in me. They were using me for fun, like I was a piece of meat. I stopped going to school. I knew it was wrong but I didn’t care. It was all my fault and I hated myself.
'I didn’t bother wearing nice clothes anymore, could care less about make up. Guess I was scared other boys would want me. I couldn’t take it anymore. One day my older sister came up and just hugged me and that was it. I told her everything.
'I’m 14 now and getting the help I need. I still have a long way to go but the constant nightmare of Steve and his gang has finally stopped. I have new friends now, real friends. I learnt the hard way that it’s not just strangers that can hurt you, it can be people you know too.'
'School was tough, by 15 I hated it, and I was being constantly bullied by kids in the year below. It was all the time, every day they would go on about me being short, I don’t think I’m even that short, actually I think I was probably taller than most of them. For whatever reason, I didn’t fit in and they didn’t like me.
'Walking home from school was the worst time of day, it didn’t matter what time I left school or what route I walked home they found me. They would shout stuff, chuck rubbish and drink at me, but all that I could deal with.
'It was a Thursday in October when things escalated, I was pushed from behind to the floor, six of them surrounded me. They gave me ten seconds to run before they said they would get me, I didn’t have time to move before they all piled in, repeatedly kicking, punching and hitting me.
'There was nothing I could do, suddenly they disappeared. I didn’t tell anyone, I felt embarrassed I had been beaten up by year 8s. It was that day I decided I’d had enough and wasn’t going back to school and I haven’t. After that my days were spent hanging out and avoiding being spotted.
'Then I met Tim, he was 20 and part of gang, we got on, we were mates. He had a phone, car and cash, he gave me phone and anything I needed. I must admit I didn’t feel threatened by anyone anymore. We all carry a knife; if anyone in the gang has a problem it gets sorted. I’ve been stabbed three times, but the other person always comes off worse.
'For two years it’s been good, but now Tim for reasons I don’t know has changed, I’m now the one he has issues with. I’ve just had a warning he stabbed me from behind, which has put me hospital. Tim said the next time I won’t be so lucky. I’m scared how this could end.'
'My son was enjoying life; he had good friends, played rugby at the weekends for the local team and attended one of the top grammar schools in the area. At school he was a good student, with a very promising future ahead of him. Everything changed that Friday when he did not come home.
'He was breaking up for the October half term and he was always home from school by 4:30pm. I must admit I was at home, but I was busy packing as we were all going away to see family for a few days and leaving later that evening.
'I remember stopping and looking at the clock and seeing it had gone 5:30pm, I knew then that something was wrong. I immediately called all his friends and they had all seen him leave school at the normal time. He was missing for five days, he was found by the police in the company of three men, who were known members of an extremely violent gang.
'When he was brought home I just hugged him as he walked through the front door. I thought everything would be ok now he was safe and at home, little did I know that this was only the beginning.
'The police believed that he has been groomed, but there seemed little that could be done to protect him. From that Friday it’s not unusual for him to disappear for a couple days, or be out until the early hours. Every night I lay awake looking at the clock just waiting for him to come home.
'One night I heard him fall through the front door and I found him in a heap in the hallway, he had been badly beaten, he cried and told me he had told them he didn’t want to do it anymore. He was in hospital for three days, I knew then he felt trapped as he feared what would happened to him and his family if he ever tried to break away.
'I have seen my son change from being a bright, happy boy into a scared and angry young man. There is no doubt in my mind he is being influenced and controlled by a gang. The police have informed me that he is selling drugs and I have found many mobile phones in his room to support this.
'I have gone over and over in my head the weeks before he first disappeared to see if I missed anything. He did have a new pair of trainers, which we did chat about and I had asked where they had come from, he told me he had spent his birthday money. I had no reason not to believe him. Then he had new mobile and he told me it was an upgrade. What all seemed very normal at the time, I now wonder if they were gifts to lure him in.
'He should be sitting his GCSEs this year, unlike most mums I’m not worried about whether he gets good grades – I’m scared he will not be here to sit them. My only hope is that he is sent to prison, this is the only way he can escape and turn his life around.'
'As a child I refused to wear dresses and hated anything pink. At school I would always run about with the boys and played football. I was a decent footballer and always got picked to play, at one point I even played for the local team.
'When I was 11 all my friends were boys, we’d hang around the streets, causing trouble. We were bored and did stuff to entertain ourselves. We would fight someone for no reason, wreck bus stops and pull wheelies in front of cars to make them swerve, we were really lucky we never got hit, all of it was just for a laugh.
'We were out there and could look after ourselves – if I’m honest I think I was the worst. Then we started hanging around with older guys, they were part of a gang, we were then part of the gang. It was a pretty tight group and we all looked out for each other.
'Any trouble with a girl it was my job to sort it and I did and I still do. I’ve got hurt, nothing that has put me in A&E. You might think I’ve been lucky, but luck doesn’t come into it. I’m always prepared, I carry a knife and on occasions a gun, you just don’t know what you could be walking into. It would be stupid not to.
'At 15 I got more involved helping out with gang business, running drugs, no problem, again I just got the job done.
'Six months on I started selling and making some good cash; that was until my brother caused me grief about a missing gun. Because I’m good at what I do it’s now been agreed I keep working, selling drugs, until the debt is paid. I have no idea how long it will take, I will just keep selling until the debts cleared – it’s not like I have choice.'