“It wasn’t really about trying to get kids to get into crime, it was really more about growing a brand and giving some sense of belonging and family to people who didn’t have it.”


I was heavily involved in gang activity, both in Canada where I’m from as well as internationally, for a good 10 years. At 17, I had left my mother’s house for multiple reasons and was on my own. I would spend a few days here, a few days there, mostly couch surfing or staying in shelters to survive. I felt lost. I felt scared. And I felt angry. I started meeting guys who were living on the streets in similar situations as me, and we became some sort of family structure. We provided each other with acceptance and belonging. 

This was my new family. I learned their skills and methods of survival, which were mainly dealing drugs and robbing people. And I was good at it. Over the years, my name became very recognizable, even across Canada, for the part that I played in the formation of these groups. Eventually, I became more involved with the organized branches of criminal business. As my reputation was growing, other much larger groups started to scout me. They recognized my talent for violence and organization, and I started traveling to other countries like Peru, Colombia and Panama to help with their businesses. The international crime network was huge and thriving, and I was a vital part of it. 

I grew up in Toronto as the oldest child in my family. My parents were a biracial couple, which was not very accepted by society. They went through a pretty rough time. My mother is Caucasian and from Canada, and my father had recently migrated from Jamaica. I was born in what we called the Metro Housing Authority Project. It felt like a little village when I was a kid. We were all very close. We even called other mothers “mom.” Growing up I was much closer to my mother than my father. My dad was a popular reggae artist when I was a kid, and so he was absent from my life for the most part. He was busy living that “rockstar” life. 

Having an absentee father wasn’t unusual in our community, because in order to live in this particular complex you had to have two or more children. You could not claim a father in the household. So, most of us didn’t have fathers around. There were government-funded recreation centers available to us, which was great for the single mothers living in the community. It gave us kids a place to go and things to do to keep busy and out of trouble. But, when I was 13, a new government took over, and they cut all access to these vital social programs. 

I believe that led to the decline of a lot of lives in my community, including my own. The kids got bored. We had nothing to do, and we were too often left to our own devices. This was the early 90s, and there was a huge fluctuation of American media into the Canadian system. It influenced our urban culture. Combined with the removal of the rec centers and the huge breakout of skinhead Nazi groups entering the city, a lot of young people in minority groups turned toward gang culture. The early gangs were more like social groups that started in response to this latter threat, as a way to protect particular minorities from the infiltration of neo-Nazis.

But it didn’t stay that way. 

Our housing project was right in the middle of an upper-middle-class area, so there was a lot of stigmatization and bias against the people in our community. It created a really negative attitude toward “outsiders,” and we developed an attitude of like, “What about us?” Once program funding was cut, there was an immediate change in the culture of violence in our area, and we started to feel the need to “survive.” I started drinking and participating in minor criminal activity, including theft and things along those lines. 

My mother had married my stepfather after my dad left, and they had started their own family. I felt like I wasn’t part of their new life, and I began to act out. I was getting in trouble, my grades were dropping, and I was skipping school. I eventually got frustrated with my home situation and took off. I didn’t really know how to navigate the world. It was all pretty scary and overwhelming, but I did what I had to do, and I survived. 

I started to express myself more and more through anger and physical confrontations. Anytime someone pissed me off, I responded with violence. That became normal to me, and I became good at it. Once I turned 17, I started organizing groups of young people that I had met living on the streets. I was into the idea of creating a type of family, something that I never felt like I had. I was ambitious, and so 

I started to learn the trades of the guys hanging around – the drug dealers and thieves. I took on more of a “street business” mentality. I was doing really well for myself during this time, and I used my influence and learned skills to grow a very large gang. It turned out a lot of people were in need of connection and feeling the same way that I was. It was never about trying to get kids into a life of crime. It was really more about giving a sense of belonging to people who didn’t have that.

I always knew that what I was doing was wrong. I was never fundamentally a bad guy or a violent person. I just became really good at leveraging fear and intimidation into tools that I could use to grow the “family.” My decision to leave gang life was a process. There’s not one pivotal moment where the change suddenly happened. 

I got shot one night coming out of an after-hours club, and I started thinking, “Okay, this is not good.” And then, when I was hit again in the same year, just a few months later, I realized that maybe I needed to change my attitude a little bit and take a look at the life I had created. I still didn’t leave. I just sort of turned my attention toward more organized forms of crime – businesses like clubs and bars. 

That felt a little less dangerous to me and more legitimate. I also have to credit my decision to step back in part to love. I had met a woman and fallen in love. She had children, and although I was able to provide an above average lifestyle for them financially, I began to see the danger that I was putting them in. 

Also, at this time, the government was doing a really good job of shutting down the gangs with the help of the police department. So, really, the group itself was dismantled, and I narrowly escaped arrest. I could have easily joined another group and started again. My name equity was still very strong, but I decided to take the opportunity to get out entirely. And it was a clean “out,” where nobody wanted to kill me. I didn’t have to “snitch” to take the step back. So, that’s the route that I took, and it sort of happened at a perfect time.

There is still some residual activity from my time that affects my community. Toronto just had the highest murder rate this year that it has ever seen, and I feel some personal responsibility for that. I was a part of one of the groups responsible for bringing in firearms into Canada. A lot of those guns have been, and still are, responsible for lives lost.

Now I am a leader of crime prevention. I use my talent for organizing people to help build my non-profit, One by One. We are a group of ex-leaders – ex religious extremists, ex-Nazis, and others – who are committed to helping individuals avoid resorting to livelihoods of hate and crime. We’re very boots on the ground – sitting down with gang members, murderers, people right out of prison, you name it.


We realize that we can’t save everyone, but if we can get into the mind of somebody before they join, or even if they are “in” and we can get them “out,” then we will have saved a life and done our job. Prevention is probably the main focus of what we do. I do a lot of talks at schools and universities. We also have programs for young kids to help them build self-confidence and self-awareness. 

My biggest message to these impressionable young people is just to be careful. It is very easy to be manipulated when you are young and to think that people want to help you, but sometimes people have an agenda. 

Very rarely do people give you something without expecting anything in return. That can be a hard lesson to learn. 

I want to give these vulnerable people a safe place to process their trauma and to teach them that there is always a way out of their situations. There is a way to change the way you think, and there are always second chances. People need to think outside of the box, outside of their comfort zone. Take the time to meet new people from different cultures and races. People, at that point, will become human to you again, and you will realize that your struggles are really no different from theirs. This can lead to great healing. That is what helped me, and that is what I want for others.