Another metal door shuts behind us. Karen jangles the heavy chain of keys attached to her waist. One more lock, one more twist of the wrist, and the door in front of us swings open. We step across the threshold. “Welcome to Isis,” she says.
We’re in an outdoor space defined by concrete walls and sharp wire fences. The silence is a surprise. For a prison and young-offender institution housing over 600 men, HMPYOI Isis, in Thamesmead, southeast London, feels remarkably quiet.
Nonetheless, this prison is full – and many of the men serving sentences here have been convicted of serious, violent crimes, such as armed robbery, kidnapping and manslaughter. Karen’s challenge is to help some of them – those involved in gang-related offending – to make a new life for themselves.
Street gangs are responsible for an estimated 20% of all violent crime in London. Gang members who are caught and convicted are at high risk of reoffending. It’s a cycle Karen wants to break.
She works for a small charity, Belong, that’s piloting a new way of equipping these men to find a path out of gang culture and to live differently when they are released back into society.Click here to view full story >