- Ex-gang member reveals terrifying ‘dip sheets’ that fuel brutal UK killings by keeping score of stabbings – and the chilling reason so many knife attacks are now fatal
- Joel Henry was in a gang as a teen but after he witnessed a friend’s murder, he became a successful basketball star
By Kathryn Knight – @katiejourno
Monday 6th August 2018
HIS own London flat, money in the bank and a stellar reputation… Joel Henry has found success by making a name for himself as a basketball star.
But if things had worked out differently, 26-year-old Joel would likely be competing in an entirely different arena – one where scorecards centre not on your sports prowess but stabbings and maiming.
Young gang members call them “dip sheets” – a tally of the number of people they have stabbed. Gangsters refer to who is on their dip sheet in controversial drill raps, where rival postcode gangs use the gritty music genre to taunt their rivals and threaten whoever they plan on stabbing next.
And gang life is something that is all too familiar to Joel.
In his early teens he was in a gang where stabbings, shootings, and crime were not just the norm but expected, while the creed he lived by was that protecting the honour of “the fam” – not just his own blood family but his fellow gang members – came first.
A world punctuated by gunshots
Only when someone was shot dead in front of him when he was 15 years old was he able to set his life on a different course.
It’s estimated that up to 70,000 people under 25 consider themselves part of a gang – with many of them paying a heavy price for their affiliations. In the last two years there has been a 40 per cent rise in the number of deaths from stabbings and feuding.
In the series the heavily masked and disguised gang members are given cameras to film for themselves on the street to show what life is like on the inside. It’s chilling. As they handle their serrated blades the gang members – girls among them – boast that “fast money” is the goal, and that you live, and die, by the streets.
They are mantras Joel recognises only too well. Raised in London – he doesn’t want to say which part – alongside two older siblings by his single parent mum, he grew up in an environment saturated with gang culture. “Family members I looked up to were deeply involved in gang culture,” he tells Sun Online. “I’d see them coming back with money and jewellery and I wanted some of that.”
By 13 he was fully involved. “It’s just a natural transition. When you’re a kid you’re not saying ‘what am I in?’ – it just happens.
“You don’t see it as a gang – it’s family so whatever you need to do to help the family you do it, you clean the pot.”
Knife as a ‘badge of honour’
The gang gave him a sense of belonging that was absent elsewhere. “There’s a lot of love around you. I didn’t have a lot of male figureheads in my family so these men were my role models, showing me how to survive.” But this “education” went hand-in-hand with casual violence in which carrying a knife was routine.
“From an early age I saw people getting stabbed, shooting, robbing, slapped,” he says.
“Growing up in this lifestyle I knew I was going to die if I don’t carry one. It was a badge of honour. People asked what kind of knife you had – it was all ‘mine is this number of inches long.'”
His mum and older brother were unaware of his affiliations, although his sister knew.
“She knew I wasn’t an idiot and she always had my back. But in some ways it was a double life.”
The shooting which changed everything
Yet even as a young teen, Joel had his misgivings. “There had been a few moments where I thought ‘I’m getting in too deep’. There was this gradual realisation that this life was going nowhere good,” he says.
A realisation cemented when, aged 15, he saw a friend shot dead in front of him at a party.
Joel was talking to another friend when he heard the “boom” of the gunshot.
“I saw the guy he was shooting at, his head just went straight back and he flew back and he was not moving on the floor.
“He didn’t make it. And I just thought: you know what there must be more to this – it’s a cycle that’s never going to end.” Breaking free was easier said than done though.
“It helped that my school shut down and I changed schools to an academy filled with the best basketball players with the country. I’d played a bit at my old school but when I saw the basketball scene in my new school I caught the bug.”
Gradually training started to replace the time he had spent with his gang, although he still saw them from time to time. “There was a lot of pressure,” he recalls.
“I’d go to a birthday party and you could feel the shift in the energy. It was all ‘I don’t see you round here any more’. The ties were loosening all the time but I knew how easily I could get pulled back in.”
Turning his back on violence
At 16 he was chosen to play in a tournament in Virginia in the US – another turning point.
“Going there – you realise there’s this big world out there and I was just ‘wow’ – I wanted more of it,” he recalls.
His coach was a big support. “He sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be in five years,” Joel recalls. “I had never been asked that before. I had never looked ahead before, seen a future.”
It was the spur he needed. “From then on basketball became my sole focus. I sweated blood and tears.
“Rain or shine I was practising. It was hard but rewarding too. Playing basketball you get a different kind of love – there’s this positive energy.”
Community college followed before, aged 22, Joel got an agent and started playing professional basketball, first in London and then for the Surrey Scorchers.
Rising stakes for Britain’s gangsters
Such was his talent that today Joel makes his living through “dunk contests”, putting on shows throughout the globe, from Romania to Russia, The Caribbean to the USA displaying his unique talents on the court.
He knows is a world away from the streets where he used to live and to which he sometimes returns. “There’s still a lot of love there for my fam. We’ve all grown up together and they respect that I’m chasing my dreams.”
It doesn’t stop him worrying about the next generation. “I’ve got little nephews and nieces and I worry about how they are going to get on in this scary time we’re living in,” he says.
A time where the stakes seem ever higher.
Fuelled by drill music – a form of rap which glorifies gang life, with videos displaying weapons, describing recent stabbings and issuing threats to rivals – the death toll among young teens continues to steadily rise.
Brutal attacks with severe blades
Meanwhile, one surgeon interviewed in reveals that in the last decade attacks have become more calculated and brutal.
“The types of blades that are being used are more severe, there are serrated blades and the individuals seem to know here to attack people anatomically, how to attack to inflict life-changing injuries,” he says.
It comes as little surprise to Joel. “It’s scary to hear that people want to act this way although I don’t think it’s anything new – I just think it’s more in your face,” he says.
“Gang life is a lot more commercialised now – social media has given people easier bragging rights. Kids are trying to do it for sport, to make a name for themselves.”
Is there any way the tide of senseless violence can be stopped?
“A lot of kids are bored and lost – they haven’t got a passion, they don’t know what to do with themselves. Instead of putting more laws in place we need to give them opportunities.
“That’s the single biggest thing we could do. Because without hope they don’t have a chance of getting out.”
Joel of course knows this first hand. “I’ve gained the world. And I want to say to other gangs: there’s a whole world out there they have to see – and it’s beautiful.”
Original Article: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/6953136/joel-henry-gang-dip-sheets/