Ex gang-member speaks of meeting God in a Police cell
Former teenage knife gang member Robert Bragg told a Norfolk audience how an encounter with God in a Police cell helped him to give up a life of violence and crime. Kevin Gotts reports.
Robert shared the realities of gang life and knife crime at the Norfolk Broads Filling Station in Hickling on October 14.
Showing an earlier family photograph of him as a child with his parents, he said: “My mum and dad were great, but my dad was a drug dealer, and there were two events that affected my life.
“Firstly, I had a computer game that I expected to play as usual, but the computer and game were sold by my dad to buy drugs, as he had started to use and secondly was life without him at home,” explained Robert. “He was sentenced to prison and later went to a Christian-based drug rehabilitation and became a born-again Christian.
“After a year he returned as a better father. My parents started a rehab where lives were changed and saved by God’s grace. Dad was tough on me with discipline. I became angry with him and God, so I made the choice to make dad angry.”
Robert had sporting success at school with football and boxing: “as I enjoyed hurting people,” he said. Eventually he was expelled from three schools.
At the age of 12, he was invited to join a gang where he wanted to fit in and became involved in crime including his first stabbing.
Aged 13, Robert got more embroiled as older gang members encouraged him to burgle and rob and he made lots of money selling drugs.
A year later Robert was homeless after running away from home. He was abused by an older man whom he had trusted, after smoking a cannabis splif which, unbeknown to Robert, had been laced with hard drugs.
“I had no one to speak to, I held it in and became emotionally detached and all that, angry and confused, and being violent made me feel masculine and better,” said Robert.
Rhetorically he asks, “Was it worth it? No,” he said. And aged 15 he went to a young offenders’ institute and then a variety of prisons for most of the next six years, where he found life tough.
“I believed that carrying a knife kept me safe, then there was a scary moment when a friend died. A knife does not keep you safe, sooner or later it gets used on you.” Robert showed a hashtag #thinkalifenotaknife.
Sitting in a police cell, he reflected on how he had messed up his whole life with poor choices, as well as being a poor teenage father himself. On release, he returned to his father’s church, saying: “God if you are real, help me. God came, I felt warmth, cried and broke down.”
The next day he left the gang but continued his criminal life for two more years. Asking for his dad’s help, and after release on licence, Robert went to the faith-based Victory Outreach programme in Dublin, Ireland. And then he spent six months at a Bible School in the USA.
Robert tells of a prophecy: “God said, go back and tell them (former gang members) there is a way out.” He was able to do this on the streets in London and to speak of his life and God’s love to a group of 200 gang members within a church in prison.
“What really matters?” Robert reflected, “family matters, especially my oldest son - where I missed six years of his life while in prison.”
“Life’s great now, I also have a younger son, God has restored my relationship with my mum and dad. They believed in me and stood in the gap praying for me for over 11 years and never gave up.”
Robert now works with a charity, Uprising Youth & Community, which connects with young people, families and those on the margins of society, including running workshops and training parents and teachers. He also has responsibility of sharing his story with schools in Kent about knife crime and the gang culture.