BOLD ENOUGH TO WALK AWAY
Living a life where your neck is constantly twisted looking over your shoulder, always aware that someone might be after you or wants to hurt you is the reality of 18-year-old Khalid Bosch. He shares with us how he took back the reigns of his out of control life that was filled with drugs, violence and mayhem.
Born and raised in Mitchells Plein and a former gangster, Khalid’s first experience with crime was at the age of 5. “My brother (22) was arrested and my family decided not tell me the story because they wanted to protect me. I learned when I got older that he was in jail for the murder of an enemy from another gang. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail.”
Khalid’s life spiralled out of control at the age of six when his father died of a heart attack. “I think losing my father at such a young age really had great affect on me. I spent the rest of my life looking for that father figure.”
His father was the breadwinner and to adapt to the new situation was not easy. “My mom tried to get work but it was not constant, so we struggled. She also started dating a man I did not like much. As soon as I met him he wanted to control me and I felt bullied in my own home.”
Khalid says that his mom tried to keep him away from the violence and gangsterism in the area but her attempts failed. The lure of the glorified gang life took him at age 11, when he received his first gang tattoo and joined the same gang as his brother.
“People always told me I’m going to end up like my brother. The life of gangsters seemed so good, they always got what they wanted. It looked like they were brothers and loyal to each other – I know that’s not true now – but I wanted that life too. I wasn’t happy at home,” says Khalid.
Khalid rubs his hands together, then holds them tightly, changing their colour as he remembers the day his mom found out that he joined the gang and tried to cut the tattoo out of his body with a blade.
“My friend told my mom I joined the gang and when I got home she was waiting for me. She pulled my t-shirt off to find proof that I had joined. She saw the tattoo on my chest, she shouted and picked up a blade. I was only 11 and I was scared. I remember her cleaning the blade on the paraffin stove and walking towards me. She pushed me down and she pierced my skin.”
As the first tear dropped from his fearful eyes on that day, Khalid says that his mom stopped and they both crumbled and cried into each other arms. They were both raw in that moment and spoke honestly for the first time in years.
“I told her that since she got married again I didn’t feel welcome in the house. She told she was sorry but that it was not enough reason for me to be part of the gang life. She told me that she loved me and she was afraid for me.”
Khalid says that he learned in that moment that all he had to do was speak to his mom and he’ll know that she loves him. And despite the decision to carry on with the gang, it is a lesson that he always carries with him.
Khalid continued in the gang for most of his pre-teen and teen years, “I started as a ‘runner’, I would collect and deliver drugs and money between the gang members. As time passed, I started small theft and fighthing for the gang.”
During this time his life took an even darker turn when he began taking drugs, “I was 14 and used anything from Marijuana, Mandrax to Methamphetamine (Tik). At the age of 16, I dropped out of high school.”
Khalid doesn’t know why he used drugs, he says that there was an element of curiosity but drugs also numbed him. “So whatever pains I was feeling it took it away.”
He adds that he would often sacrifice food for drugs and that he would use drugs every day. His mom had a tuck shop* at home, and he would often steal from the store to buy drugs.
He recalls one night when he came home high and barely functioning, his mom wouldn’t let him inside their house.
“I spent that night in the street, I went to the houses of all my friends and no one would help me. This was the first moment that I wondered if the gang and drug life was for me. Even though it was terrible it helped me – I always tell people that through the hard times comes good.”
But the pull of drugs was still too strong for him, until one night when he was arrested for being intoxicated in the road and possession of drugs. Thrown into a jail cell, the then 16-year-old was faced with a crowded room of gangsters and criminals. He never told them his gang affiliation out of fear.
Khalid spent three days in the cell and spoke to many gangsters, one in particular – an older man he later learned had been convicted for a triple-murder – told him that the gang life is a dead end and that nothing good can come from it.
“This changed my life, because I would always aspire to be like these men. I grew up idolising them, copying them, wanting to be like them. But when I was close to them and looked into their eyes, I could see how their lifestyle choices had destroyed them.”
He remembers walking out of the police station with determination to change his life. The first person he spoke to about leaving the gang was his brother (who was out of jail and back in the gang) then his mother – who wasted no time to get her son into a rehabilitation centre.
“I think its because of my brother that I could leave the gang, he spoke to the leaders about my decision and negotiated my release with them.”
Khalid spent 11 months in rehabilitation and never looked back, he returned to school and passed Grade 11 – an achievement that he is very proud of.
“People thought I would fail, so it felt so good that I proved them wrong. I returned to school for me and proved to myself that I can do it.”
Today, you will find Khalid studying or baking. He uses cooking to keep him focused on his goal to attend culinary school after high school and become a chef.
Ironically his dad was a chef and in a way, Khalid says that through this activity he feels closer to him. With a wide-brimmed smile, Khalid speaks with joy about the moment he first made a milk tart for his mother.
“Seeing my mom smile and be happy with me around her, are moments that I will cherish forever.”
Khalid discourages other youth from getting involved with gangs by often speaking openly about his experience. Most recently he started sharing his experince in the school assembly.
Khalid ended by saying, “I always tell people that is never too late, if you really want to change ask for help. Help will appear from the most unexpected places.”
Khalid is a Health4Life participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.
*Tuck shop – is a small, food-selling retailer