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On the right road

Former gang member SEPHTON HENRY tells Renée Davis how finding God changed his life

When I was 11 years old, I ran away

‘FROM the age of eight, I was familiar with the streets,’ says South London-based Sephton Henry. ‘I was groomed by the older boys on the estate to sell drugs. I thought it was just stuff that they wanted me to take down the road and they gave me money for doing it. I was happy because I thought I was getting in with the older boys.
‘There was a time when I watched a guy overdosing on the floor with foam coming out his mouth. I was scared, and I knew that the stuff I was carrying caused it. I didn’t want to do it any more. I tried to avoid the older boys on the block. But as time went on, my circumstances became worse with my family. I decided to take life into my own hands. When
I was 11 years old, I ran away.’
Sephton went from house to house, sleeping wherever there was space – often in the houses of older women on the estate, some of whom were on drugs.
‘Many of them suffered with mental health problems and loneliness because they’d split up with their boyfriends,’ says Sephton. ‘They’d want to have sex with you in exchange for letting you stay in the house. They were so hurt and broken that they’d want us young boys to be in relationships with them. We used them, and they used us. We needed somewhere to stay, and they needed some sort of reassurance against anxiety.
‘The older boys on the estate would use the houses as somewhere to hold drugs and have sex with the women. They would terrorise us young boys. They would kick us in our heads to wake us up and shove drugs down our throats.’ He was just an adolescent, but hanging around the estate meant that Sephton saw enough violence to last a lifetime.
‘I’ve seen older dealers go up to younger boys and bite their nose off because they lost some money,’ he says. ‘I’ve watched them pull out guns and knives like it was normal. I’ve seen a samurai sword slice down someone’s back. To grow up seeing those things and for them to become normal is detrimental to the mind.
‘One day, I took 18 ecstasy pills,’ he says. ‘That was me self-harming and saying I didn’t want to live any more. Many people would die from taking just one tablet. I knew that. But I just felt like I didn’t have a reason to be around.
‘The older guys loved to see me on the pills because I was funny when I took them. For them, it was entertainment. As a young guy, you don’t tell people what you’re going through, you just be strong and carry on.’
Sephton did whatever he could to survive. Sometimes, the only thing he had to eat was toast. The older boys from the estate ridiculed him. Life was hard.
‘I started selling drugs again because the older boys told me I needed to start making money. I agreed because I had nothing,’ he says. ‘It’s not easy selling drugs as a young person. You have to constantly look over your shoulder. One day, I got robbed, and I decided it was never happening to me again. So I got a vicious dog for protection.’
From the age of 13, Sephton became hooked on crack. Because of the effect that the drugs had on him, he stopped selling them and turned to robbery.
‘I thought it was easier than hurting people. I became a feared face. I was a villain. I built a name for myself and formed a gang.’
When he was 14, he went to jail for the first time for robbery. He felt abandoned and misunderstood.
‘I had been doing robbery to survive,’ he says. ‘I was going through a tough time. I was called names, kicked in the head, treated wrongfully and struggling to eat. I was hurt and tried to make something out of a bad situation. Yes, I did the crime, yes I should’ve been punished, but nothing was done to help me out of my situation. I felt let down that no one could understand my circumstances. I was angry at the world.’
For many of his teenage years, Sephton kept going in and out of prison.
‘People used to call me a bad man, and I’d say: “No, I’m just hurt.” But after going to jail so many times, I became a beast,’ he explains. ‘I’d been programmed to have love for no man. In prison, you constantly see guys getting their head kicked in. You don’t want to be the victim, so it’s fight or flight. I got worse and I made sure of it.’
Life began to change for Sephton when he came into contact with XLP, a youth charity that works with people living in deprived inner cities.
‘I remember seeing their blacked-out van with speakers on the side of it come onto the estate for the first time. I thought: “What! Who is this coming on the block?” I walked up to the van and met XLP mentor Ethan. I saw a studio inside and got excited. He told me I was allowed to use it. I was blown away.


‘Meeting Ethan was the first point of escape I ever had in my whole life. He saw I had talent and passion. The things he said to me were so powerful they made me stop and think. He made me start thinking about changing my life. He was the only person who could calm me down.’ At 21, Sephton began a relationship with a woman whose influence inspired him to make further life changes.
‘One day, I noticed my girlfriend reading the Bible for the first time since we’d been together. I was shocked. She would say certain things, but never force her faith on me. I knew there had to be a higher power, because nothing on this earth would help me. I knew I needed something more.
‘One day, I was standing outside talking to some Jehovah’s Witnesses and my girlfriend asked me why I was chatting with them.
‘When I walked upstairs, she started telling me everything about Christ. About him coming back, about the Book of Revelation and more. I was blown away. I believed everything she said. Upset, I said to her: “We’ve been in the same house for over ten months, why didn’t you tell me this before?” She said: “I couldn’t tell you, you weren’t ready.” I began to believe that Jesus was real.’
Sephton continued on his path to change, but backtracked when he took part in the 2011 London riots. He was arrested.
‘At this point, I hadn’t accepted Jesus into my life, but I had started to believe,’ he says. ‘I still wanted to know more and understand what was going on. One day, I left the police station and prayed: “Lord, I believe in everything that you’re saying. I want you to change my life. I can’t continue like this.” There and then, I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I turned from my sin and turned to God.’
For his participation in the riots, Sephton was sentenced to a year in prison. He believes it became a training ground for him to grow further in his Christian faith and knowledge of the Bible.
‘When I was released, I got back in contact with XLP,’ he says. ‘They lifted me up and gave me opportunities I never thought I’d have. When I came out of prison, it was a battle trying to live a Christian life. XLP empowered me to change. They put me in places where my talent and the things I am able to do can be seen and heard. I am now a youth mentor.’
Today, Sephton speaks at conferences and summits about tackling gang crime and violence. He also works for Gangsline, a non-profit organisation established to help young men and women involved in gang culture.
Sephton continues to use his story to inspire others to choose a different life.
‘Young people involved in street culture have gifts, but they’re not empowered to use them enough,’ he says. ‘The lifestyle looks so glamorous, but the outcome of it isn’t. It messes you up inside. You may feel that you’re strong, but that lifestyle will eventually break you.
‘Whatever the circumstances, we can achieve so much more than we think. With God’s help, the circumstances that you’re in don’t have to decide your fate. I’m a perfect example of that.’

Sephton is on Twitter:
@sephtonspeaks

 

The War Cry 14 January 2017

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