Giving youngsters the chance to shine

Former offender and now advocate against the attractions of a life of crime Arfan Nazeer (centre) chats to Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan (left) and Labour’s Imran Hussain while on a visit to Manningham’s Carlisle Road business centre

Former offender and now advocate against the attractions of a life of crime Arfan Nazeer (centre) chats to Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan (left) and Labour’s Imran Hussain while on a visit to Manningham’s Carlisle Road business centre

First published in Behind the News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Bradford Chief Reporter

Arfan Naseer knows all about taking the wrong path.

The former gang member, from Manningham, was aged just 21 when he was jailed for nine years after receiving a conviction for drug offences.

But instead of becoming instutionalised and resigned to a life of crime, he turned it around.

He got involved with the Prince’s Trust and has now set up his own social enterprise called Consequence, which aims to deter youngsters from getting involved in crime by showing them the harsh consequences of doing so.

But it hasn’t been easy. As soon as people know he is an ex-offender, doors slam shut in his face.

Mr Naseer wants to take children into prison cells to show them the harsh, cold reality of what being locked up looks like.

With 23 hours in a tiny space and just 30 minutes a day to choose whether you want to go for a shower, go in the gym or queue for your phone call.

He has already taken some youngsters to Wetherby prison where they saw the reality.

But it is not enough. He wants more prisons to open their doors and work with Consequence and allow children into secure facilities to see where their actions will take them if they do not abide by the law.

But this week saw him holding a presentation to Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, who promised to write to Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke to try and get Mr Naseer – known as Naz to his friends – more access to prisons.

Mr Khan was in Bradford supporting Labour hopeful Councillor Imran Hussain in the Bradford West by-election last week. Mr Naseer was holding the presentation because he said that Coun Hussain helped him when many doors were slammed shut in his face.

Mr Naseer also rubbed shoulders with the Prince of Wales at a Clarence House summit in February.

He told the Prince the lack of a male role model was the reason he got involved in drug-related crime as a teenager. Mr Naseer was five when his father died.

He said that prison officers were his first male role models and, when he faced up to his past, he set about making changes.

Speaking this week, Mr Naseer said: “At 19 I got involved with the wrong crowd, and at that stage education was not my main goal.

“I ended up with a nine-year sentence for a first offence and spent from 2003 to 2008 in prison.

“I wanted to be a plasterer when I got out because I thought I would not get another job because I was an ex-offender. Prison can be a university for criminals if you choose that path.

“I had self-confidence issues. I went on a Prince’s Trust course and was the first-ever serving prisoner working for the Trust. Someone believed in me.

“Now I work with ex-offenders who really want to change. We took 12 young adults to Wetherby prison, but we only did that with the help of the police. If we try to do it alone, we come up against lots of barriers.”

He urged Mr Khan to help him, and he agreed that education was key.

He said that this was the only recession where arson attacks had gone down or stayed the same because of firefighters educating youngsters.

He also said that the population of British Muslims in the UK was up to four per cent, with 12 to 14 per cent of those in prisons.

“More than half of first-time offenders are below the age of 18,” he added.

“This project is a good example and a win-win all round.Evidence based on latest figures from the Office of National Statistics shows that crime against the person and knife crime and crime against property has gone up.

“We have thousands fewer police officers and we spend £2 million on Police Commissioners at a time when youth unemployment is at a record high.

“One in five young people between 16 and 24 years old is unemployed and that is a perfect storm for crime going up.”

He promised to draft a letter to Mr Clarke and said that he would see what he could do to help Consequence.

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