St Giles TrustEx-offender Junior Smart, from the SOS+ project run by St Giles Trust, speaks to students.

Two reformed ex-offenders warned students of the dangers of getting involved in gangs during a series of hard-hitting talks and workshops this week.

Junior Smart and CJ Burge, who were both previously jailed for their offences, spoke candidly about their experiences at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

On being drawn into a gang, Junior said: “You think you’re going into a big thing but the reality is you’re working seriously long hours for little pay off.

“I know for a fact it doesn’t pay up, when you consider the time you can be sent down for and not get to see the people who are important to you.”

He then asked the students: “How much is your life worth?”

The event was part of SOS+, a project run by St Giles Trust, which provides support for disadvantaged people, such as those who have experienced prison, homelessness, long-term unemployment, addiction and severe poverty.

SOS+ provides thought provoking and interactive discussion designed to empower young people to stay safe, resist street pressures, avoid destructive situations and make better life choices.

Sessions run by the charity include looking at the reality of prison life, gangs and the consequences of crime, drugs and violence, weapon awareness, sexual exploitation, bullying, victims of crime, assertive behaviour and motivation.

Student Franci La Paz, 18, who attended one of the talks, said: “I’ve learnt to think about who I make friends with, and it’s not worth joining a gang just because you want to be cool as you could be killed or end up in jail.”

Another student Reka Varju, 19, added: “You need to be careful. What I’ve heard today has opened my eyes to what being in a gang is like and the consequences. It’s made it much more real.”

The event formed part of the College Values Week, one of several enrichment activities run at CONEL throughout the year, and followed on from a talk by police, a lawyer and community figures on ’stop and search’ powers on 2 May 

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