Birmingham & Black Country

Ex-gang member 'brainwashed' aged 13

Joel Ecclestone
Image caption Joel Ecclestone, also known as "Whitey', got involved in gangs at 13

"Your environment shapes you and I come from a family who is known for being part of gangs - I was brainwashed for a long time."

Joel Ecclestone, from Handsworth, also known as "Whitey", said he is an example of a would-be gang member who has chosen a different path.

The 21-year-old could have been a "big player" in one of two notorious local gangs, the Burger Bar Boys, had he not decided to step back from it all.

"I've lived here since I was six. I've been to jail and I've been stabbed because I got involved in gangs when I was 13.

"Now I'm helping to burn it out. We need to change the mindset of the kids here because what people think is horrifying has become normal and glorified.

"Kids need to know that getting stabbed is not OK. But when you're seven or eight or, nine-years-old you want to be part of something."

Mr Ecclestone now works with another ex-gang member, Sharif Cousins, who set up the New Day Foundation in 2011.

They talk to young people in the area who are at risk of being lured into gangs and the criminal behaviour that can come with it.

Mr Ecclestone said: "It was Sharif who helped me, I've steered away from that life and have broadened my horizons.

"But gangs will be hard to stamp out and for a lot of kids the only option is to be bad because no one tells them otherwise and I don't see enough being done to keep young people occupied.

"We want to set up the constructive projects that are needed and push our force for justice to protect our community.

"There are no real role models and it's up to us as ex-gang members to change things."