D died a week ago and I still struggle to come to terms with this senseless loss of life.
I doubt D would have thought that when he lit the Spice spliff and inhaled the toxic smoke into his lungs he ignited a chain of events that led to his death. D’s body had a fatal allergic reaction to the synthetic cannaboid. The actual cause of his death has yet to be determined, but what is without a doubt, is that Spice was the catalyst to his untimely demise.
D was a young 31. Boisterous and with a swagger, cultivated on the London council estate he hailed from, D loved living that ‘road life: a lifestyle of loose morals and excess. He lived in the moment, never seeing further afield than the need for the instant gratification that determined the choices he made. Drug dealing and robbery sponsored his passion for designer clothing, partying and promiscuity. He lived his life by a set of rules that did not coincide with the laws that govern the laws of the land. This often led to him being brought before the courts. As a consequence, much of D’s brief adult life was spent in custody. D had only been released from prison for three months before his untimely passing. Now D’s family and friends have only the memory of him for comfort.
A bullet or a knife did not take D’s life; the weapons of choice for ‘road men’, instead, and I’m unsettled by the thought, D was a victim of the lifestyle he loved. Friends, families and communities have become accustomed to watching their young men throw away their lives in the pursuit of ‘the hood dream’. Along with D, I was bought up on an estate plagued by poverty, misdirected aspirations, broken families and a lack of strong law abiding male role models. The ‘roads’ provided the trap door, a means of escape from the lives we had been given.
The inconvenient truth is that our prisons are full of young men who are marked by striking similarities. They share the same family dynamic, having been raised by strong women while having to come to terms with absent fathers. However, the most glaringly obvious truth is that the vast majority of the young men who have conspired in their journey towards custody resemble D, and they resemble me.
D was African Caribbean, but issues that lead to a young person resorting to crime pierce deeper than the colour of someone’s skin. Increasingly, young Asian and white people are encountering the same plight as their black peers. Though there may be differences in culture and beliefs, diversity has produced a distinct shared identity amongst young people. Their language is a blend of patios, cockney, Americanisms and ethnic slang: a reflection of the coming together of their cultures and shared experiences. The young men who have strayed into custody come from the same areas, have lived their entire lives on the same estates and attend the same schools. They share an environment where hope is sparse and their sense of grievance chips away at their shoulders. Not that D cared, he was unapologetic about who he was and what he did.
In many respects, D rightly or wrongly, made the most out of the life he was given and carved out for himself. I doubt he would have any regrets, apart from the amount of time he spent in prison. But the waste and senselessness of his death hit me hard … it made me think about my life and the choices I have made …