A former drug dealer who turned his life around in prison has warned that a generation of young people face a perilous moment due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Curtis Liburd, a reformed bad boy, said the cross-hairs of school closures, isolation and the impact on the economy has put many at risk of gangs, knifes and crime.
The youth outreach worker sold crack cocaine and was involved in crime and violence before spending time in prison over a carjacking in Nottingham.
While he expressed deep remorse and mended his ways, he fears the current generation of teenagers face much greater pressures as they are shut out of schools and youth clubs.Advertisement Advertisement
The 36-year-old works for the Guiding Young Minds (GYM) Intervention charity, which reaches out to some of the most disaffected young people in Coventry and Northamptonshire.
‘A lot of kids are in a desperate situation, ’ he said.
‘There ’s sheer boredom, a lot have turned to online gaming and are playing around the clock.
‘Then there ’s the impact on their mental health, with a lot of kids being trapped inside the house away from school, friends and people they would look up to.
‘A lot of them don ’t even believe what ’s going on in the outside world.
‘The danger is they will go out onto the streets where they will be exploited by older gang members and that ’s the start of a downward spiral.
‘Once they start selling something small like cannabis, which is a Class B drug, they find it doesn ’t bring in a lot of capital so it leads to bigger things, such as crack cocaine and heroin.
‘It ’s a really risky time to be a young person at the minute and without the right guidance and the right services they can get into some bad situations.
‘It might not be gangs or drugs, it could be violence to others, even to parents and carers.
‘My fear is that violent crime and suicide rates will go up in the lockdown. ’
Curtis went off the rails after a family upheaval which began with his mother and father splitting up when he was aged three.
She moved the family, also including his two older brothers, from Coventry to Nottingham for a fresh start.
The city was plagued by organised crime bosses at the time and the impressionable teenager soon found himself without any qualifications and surrounded by negative influences.
Road to redemption
Graduating from petty crime to selling crack and heroin, which brought in little profit, he was eventually jailed over a car-jacking after a friend decided to steal an Audi A3.
During a three-and-a-half-year custodial sentence he took part in rehabilitation schemes and resolved to make his mum proud, writing a letter to the victim to say sorry.Advertisement Advertisement
The married father-of-three now works directly with young people, which has included going directly onto the streets in inner-city areas where GYM parks its graffiti-emblazoned van.Curtis Liburd ’s road has taken him from street crime to redemption as he guides young people to positive pursuits (Picture: David Bohus)
‘When I was younger I wanted money and the lifestyle, that ’s what led me to crime, ’ he told Metro.co.uk.
‘Having said that, I had a lot of thinking time inside prison and I really wanted to become a legal person, to go and buy things with my own money which I ’d earned properly. I didn ’t want to keep walking down the street looking over my shoulder and be in and out of prison.
‘I always wanted to make my mum proud and even though she never stopped loving me I wanted to earn her pride.
‘The first time I got my own wage, it felt amazing to go to the shops and buy my own stuff with my own money. ’
As well as the closure of secondary schools for most students, there are predictions of a global recession as a result of the second wave.
‘Ticking timebomb ’
The YoungMinds charity has warned that the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have led to a ‘crisis ’ in young people ’s mental health which could be ‘significant and long term ’.
Curtis said: ‘It ’s a ticking timebomb at the minute with young people who need regular support.
‘The pressures are far more severe than when I was growing up.
‘If the support isn ’t there in the lockdown, I worry about the path many young people will take. ’Advertisement
However Curtis, who lives with his family in Coventry, said GYM is part of a range of youth services that can help young people keep to the right path.
He appears in a social media video campaign set up by the charity ’s founder Anton Noble where he draws on his ‘roads ’ days to act out some of the choices that face young people at risk of falling into crime.
Curtis said: ‘I play the bad guy and it was quite easy for me to remember the lingo and walk the walk and talk the talk.
‘Now I ’m a good person and all you get from me is positive energy, but I wanted to go back into that role to show it ’s never too late to make positive choices no matter how bad your situation is.
‘It ’s not all doom and gloom out there, there are people and services that can help young people and there are things they can look forward to.
We know it ’s a really bad time for young people at the moment and we ’re just saying to speak to someone to ask for help, unload to somebody. It ’s something I ’ve only just learnt recently.
‘A lot of the time it ’s loneliness that drives young people onto the streets and into crime and gangs, but we want to show they are not on their own and we want to impact as many young lives as we can so they can make the right choices and have a bright future. ’Advertisement
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