For a part of his teenage life, Tyrees Jackson pretended to be something he believed was cool. Tyrees shares his story of breaking out of fakery.
Born and raised in Mitchells Plain, Tyrees (16) grew up living with his mother and grandmother. His father, a notorious gangster, was killed when he was a year old.
“I had a good relationship with my mother. All I knew about my father was that he was a gangster, but my mother never wanted to talk about him. I grew up surrounded by gangsters on the street corners of our neighbourhood and would wonder if my dad behaved like they did.
I didn’t really know what gangsters did but I knew that they drove fancy cars and that everyone talked about them.
“Even though sometimes I missed having a dad when I was younger, my mother and grandmother were always there for me. From soccer matches to school, my mother would support me. I would think about my father when I saw other dads shouting for their kids from the side-lines. On a few occasions I told my granny that I wished I had a dad and she would always answer that God is there for me as a father.”
For Tyrees the words of his grandmother and the constant support of his mother saw him through his early life where he achieved academic success at primary school.
“Primary school was great; I was a good kid who enjoyed school. Things at home were also good.
“My bad behaviour started in high school. I would travel to school on the train from Mitchells Plain to Heideveld every day. I began making many friends… not all good. I also hung out with my older cousin, who as in Grade 12 and his friends.
“I was in Grade 8 (14) and he was 18, they would smoke during school and often drink in the afternoons. I would drink and smoke with them, I looked at him like an older brother and wanted to be part of whatever he was doing. They would normally talk about what they did over the weekends, I wanted to be part of it. So I thought of a way that I could convince my mom to let me move in with my aunty. I told her that I wanted to move to my aunt’s house because the trains were always running late meaning that I was never on time for school. My mom said it was okay and I moved in at the beginning of Grade 9.
“At my mom’s house I didn’t have many friends but at my aunt’s I had many. My mom had lots of rules. I would have to be at home by a certain time. On a Friday night I would go to a youth group at church and I also attended church on Sundays. At my aunt’s house, there was nothing like that. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted.
“They were some boys in my class, I would call them the naughty ones, who would hang out with gangsters. They would talk about drugs and robbing people all the time. Because they were friends with gangsters, people were scared to mess with them. They were seen by others as cool and I wanted to be their friend. I began to develop a close relationship with one of them, his name was Brent. He would say that I didn’t need to pay for the weed or cigarettes that we would smoke together. He was the main guy – always telling others what to do. I became close with him mostly because I would help him with his school work, particularly with maths.”
Tyrees says that hanging out with his friends became his priority and school was secondary.
“I failed term 1 of Grade 9, because I was smoking weed at school more than I was going to class. We would go to the back of the school and smoke. We would either go during break, or I would put my bag in class then sneak out. I wanted to do it because they were doing it. They always had money, they would get recognition, people would look at them as bad boys and I was getting that attention too. Other boys would sell weed and cigarettes at school and we would just take it from them, because people knew that we had gangster friends.”
After Tyrees failed the term his mom said he must come home and move out of his aunt’s house. However, he adds that his friend’s connection with gangsters went to the next level soon after.
“One day the ‘Bad Boys’, a gang from Heideveld, were fighting with another gang who had members at our school. They came onto the school grounds. Two of our friends were part of the Bad Boy gang, so when their fellow gang members came onto the school they joined them. They went to find the rival gang members in class so that they could scare them. They were only at the school for about 20 minutes before the school’s security chased them off. The principal also called the police. I think if the security hadn’t been there, someone would have been stabbed.
“A few days later, rival gang members, who were also students at the school, went to the principal and told him that we had brought the gang into school and that we sell dagga and cigarettes. We were brought into the office and given a letter to give to our parents. It said that I was involved in gang violence and drug dealing. My mom was disappointed, she was crying, and my grandmother didn’t talk to me for a while. I think they were afraid I would become like my dad. I wasn’t suspended but was sent to the School Governing Body, where I had to attend a meeting with my mother. I didn’t know what I was feeling, I was embarrassed because of what I had caused my mother to go through. I saw my mother crying and I felt bad.”
The following Monday Tyrees went back to school and there were no further consequences.
“I thought they would say that I must find another school, that I must leave, but nothing happened. Even though I felt guilty for my mom, I loved the fact that people saw and respected me. The feeling of power was too addictive to let it go.
“Our group’s behaviour worsened, we were popular and we enjoyed the attention. We saw a merchant* at school; a Grade 11 boy who was selling drugs, and we decided we were going to rob him. To do that, we agreed that one of our friends would bring a knife to school. He asked me if I could carry the knife because he would often be randomly searched by the school security. On that day, while we were gambling during break we were caught, taken to the principal’s office and searched. When they found the knife on me, I got a disciplinary letter and was suspended for a week. I needed to go back to the disciplinary hearing, but my mom didn’t want to go; she said I was on my own.
“This was a real wakeup call. The person who was always there for me had given up on me. I started realising that my bad decisions were leading me to a life similar to my father’s.”
Tyrees attended the disciplinary meeting with his aunt and had simple words for the panel.
“I told the committee that I was willing to change because I didn’t want to be a gangster. I pleaded for another chance and I promised that I would be good for the school.
“I think the committee was in two minds about my promises, but they decided to give me another chance. After that, I changed my behaviour at school and I became a committed student. This change was not easy, as my group would often call me out of class and then called me names because I no longer behaved like them.”
However, Tyress continue playing with fire in his neighbourhood by hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“We were drinking and smoking one afternoon on a street corner being were loud and drawing attention to ourselves. I had a bad feeling about the whole situation, I told my friends that we should get going. No one wanted to stop what they were doing, so I started walking away. A neighbour called the police and the patrol arrived, I could see it in the distance. Everyone began running because they had weed on them. I also ran home quickly. Four of my friends were caught and spent two nights in jail.
“The next day I went to church, came home and while I was sitting on my bed, began thinking about what had happened. I had never been so close to being put in jail. I got very scared, I had heard stories about jails and did not want to be part of it. I thought about the horrible things they could do to me.
“When my friends came out of jail I told them that I couldn’t be friends with them any longer. I just avoided them as much as I could. Over the years, I have seen almost all of them dropping out of school. A few of them left our community and the ones remaining I see them often on the corners smoking with other gangsters.”
Tyrees concludes saying that he realises now that he was pretending and that it nearly cost him his future.
“I was nearly a gangster, if I kept on with my behaviour I was either going to go to jail or die. I think many youth get caught up in difficult situations because they are pretending to be something they are not and only realise when it’s too late. More of us need to be confident in who we are and not to copy the people we see. Even if I am not a gangster, I am sure I can still be seen. With gangsters we see the fancy part, but we don’t see the dark side. We wish to enjoy the ‘benefits’ of gangsterism, but without the dirty work. I think I have realised that through decent hard work I can also have a fancy life, but with peace of mind and a clear conscious.”
Tyrees is a Leaders’ Quest participant
*Merchant – drug dealer