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Tanayah Sam – the ex-gang member vital to the NASDC’s success

Tanayah Sam is living proof that the destructive cycle of re-offending can be broken. His harrowing but uplifting life story shows that no-one is beyond help and that solutions to issues such as gangs, extremism and violent crime can be found.

Tanayah first fired a gun aged 14. It was handed to him by his father. After stabbing a fellow pupil with a screwdriver he was expelled from school and ended up in a young offenders’ institute. After release, he got caught up in a life of gang violence and drug dealing before going on the run while awaiting trial for an armed robbery.

By this stage, Tanayah had converted to Islam and during his four years at large he spent a lot of time reflecting on his previous lifestyle. He spent several months in Yemen where his faith deepened as did his determination not to return to crime and violence. He felt a ‘calling’ to help others break the cycle too.

Whilst serving his nine-year sentence, he became a peace-maker, mentor and role model to other inmates, many of whom he knew from his life of crime and previous spells inside. Upon release, that ‘calling’ became his life’s work.

He now has his own non-profit organisations, Tanayah Sam Associates and One 2 Engage, working with young people in schools or prisons who are part of, or at risk of, joining gang culture, as well as those vulnerable to extremist influences.

He also offers training for those working in the criminal justice system, giving them deeper insight into the backgrounds and culture of BAME offenders and how to tailor their programmes (especially sport projects) to engage and achieve the highest impact with that particular audience.

Tanayah’s expertise is greatly cherished and valued around the table at the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime as we seek to explore best practice, policy and strategy for using sport to tackle crime.

As well as being a member of the NASDC Steering Group, Tanayah is Co-Chair of our Positive Action Group on Gangs, Violence and Extremism.

“I’m very passionate. It’s where my heart is at,” he says. “I am one of the NASDC’s biggest fans and I’m proud to be involved. 

“I want to contribute in whatever way by showing different, positive avenues for today’s young people to go down, and to get them to understand the consequences if they go down the wrong routes. I’ve been in prison, have friends that have been stabbed, shot and murdered, so I know the consequences well.

“I am also trying to make practitioners aware of the needs of young people who are in urban street gangs; what it’s like to have that background of struggle, and how best to engage with them effectively.”

One of the most exciting projects Tanayah and the NASDC are involved in currently is the Youth Resilience Council. It will bring together 16 young people aged between 16 and 25 who have experienced adversity but have been through the process of developing and demonstrating resilience with the help of a sporting organisation or project.

The council will give those young people a voice and an opportunity to share their ideas on how they think sport can impact upon their peers who are involved in gangs, violence or extremism.

“The level of violence we’re seeing on our streets is effectively young people trying to tell us something, albeit in a brutal way,” explains Tanayah. “Hurt people hurt people. They are trying to express their own suffering. We need to listen and give them a platform to air their views and contribute to solutions.”

In his own practice, Tanayah uses sport as a tool to get his message across and he has no doubt that it is the best way to connect and achieve a change of mindset within complex and challenging young people.

“I’ve seen myself how sport can be a vehicle for changing behaviour,” he says. “The prison gym department, for example, tends to be a place where prisoners aren’t so defensive. They take a real interest and pride in it. It’s an area that promotes mental and physical wellbeing, by its nature. The approach of the officers is a bit more humane. You find that those who would have been the more challenging ones on the house blocks are the ones that excel in the gym.

“Then there are community sport organisations. They’re places where the young people can let off steam, they can leave all the peer pressure at the gate and have fun. Barriers are brought down and there’s really good engagement.”

The Positive Action Group chaired by Tanayah has seen discussion kick-started on producing a ‘best practice’ framework that can be used nationally by organisations using sport to combat gangs, violence and extremism.

With organisations such as Nottingham-based Switch Up CIC, Fight For Peace, anti-extremism charity Upstanding Neighbourhoods, Kinetic Youth, West Midlands Police, Public Health England, Gwent Positive Futures and many more joining Tanayah around the table, the collective expertise is immense, as is the potential to achieve real change.

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