In this interview Hanif Mohammed, Operations Manager at In2Change, explains how lived experience can be used in education to deter young people away from gangs and criminal activity. 

What is In2Change? 

In2Change is a charitable organisation focused on preventing young people and ex-offenders from becoming involved in criminal activities. In2Change initially focused on rehabilitating convicted offenders, discovering that changing engrained mindsets was incredibly difficult. Instead, as a means of prevention, the organisation’s focus turned to educating young people on the consequences of becoming involved in criminal activities. 

Why is lived experience so important? 

From a young age, Hanif Mohammed found himself dealing drugs and becoming involved with gangs. The events of his early life lead up to the event of a fatal stabbing, for which Hanif was convicted of manslaughter and served a 10-year sentence. This experience is what pushed Hanif to commit to helping people like himself. Following his release, it was his aim to educate younger people on the risks of gang culture and criminality before they were sucked into it. 

Hanif’s view is that young people need to learn about the impact of drugs and the consequences of criminal behaviour. By sharing his experiences, he feels he can engage with them more directly. This enables a genuine understanding of what motivates young people to engage in this lifestyle. Alongside policy and academia, Hanif sees education led by those who have first-hand knowledge of gangs as equally important. 

Why do young people get involved in gangs? 

Hanif highlights that a major factor in gang involvement is the absence of opportunities for young people. Lacking qualifications and work experience, young people have very limited ways of earning money to provide for themselves and their family members. Ultimately, in some cases, they turn to crime in order to survive.  

Gangs also provide a desperately needed sense of belonging. Hanif believes that young people have an ‘incredibly small world’. They find praise and acceptance from gangs by performing acts of violence or being materialistic; with appearances playing a key part in gang culture. 

Changing Mindsets: Embedding Lived Experience into Education 

Through In2Change, Hanif is able to speak in schools and give young people the opportunity to meet someone with first-hand experience of gangs, criminal activity, and prison. 

He is able to draw on his personal experience and understands why young people are driven into gangs. The initiative revolves around the telling of real stories by the people who have lived them. Even the In2Change theatre set-ups, designed to act out a crime taking place, involve ex-offenders sharing their journey from committing the crime to jail and rehabilitation. 

Many of Hanif’s sessions in schools focus on the myths of gang culture and the misplaced belief that the rules of gang culture need to be adhered to.  A good example is the belief that reporting crimes or potential criminal behaviour is snitching and should be avoided. 

Hanif raises questions about the way we teach children that are vulnerable to gangs. He argues that the National Curriculum should be directly focused on topics that can create legitimate opportunities for children from dysfunctional backgrounds, engaging them with activities they enjoy and educating them on the challenges they may face growing up. 

He also highlights the importance of not giving up on young people. When a young person rejects the education system and they are expelled in response, he sees the end result as inevitable: 

 “Expelling a child from education is the equivalent to giving them a prison sentence”. 

Hanif’s final piece of advice on changing the mindsets of young people is to think as they do: 

“Instead of expecting a 15-year-old to think like a 50-year-old man, we should expect the 50-year-old man to start thinking like a 15-year-old”. 

Sources:

[1] Interview with Hanif Mohammed, In2Change 

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In this interview Hanif Mohammed, Operations Manager at In2Change, explains how lived experience can be used in education to deter young people away from gangs and criminal activity.

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