THE life of petty criminal and drug dealer Korede Akintunde was set on a dangerous, deadly path – until a short spell inside made the 17-year-old change his ways.
He was not jailed for any crimes, but for a life-changing TV experiment.
Eight British teen tearaways with staff at a Florida maximum security jail[/caption]
Korede Akintunde, 17, says a short spell inside the Florida prison has made him change his ways[/caption]
Korede was picked along with seven other British tearaways to take part in Channel 4’s Banged Up: Teens Behind Bars, which starts Monday night.
The eight teens spent a week banged up in one of America’s toughest maximum security prisons, where they were subjected to a harsh daily regime alongside real inmates.
They were made to work on chain gangs, shouted at, threatened, belittled, humiliated and treated with contempt. They were referred to only by their prison numbers, never their names, and forced to wear a matching hooped uniform.
The onslaught was so tough that within that week, Korede resolved to change his future. And since his time in the Florida jail last November he has turned his life around.
Korede, from East London, believes that without the experience his life, like those of many other urban youngsters, would have spiralled out of control.
He says: “I’d never go back to my old ways. Hard work pays off and I know that now. I don’t need to steal a bike because I can buy one.”
He was only 14 when he started selling weed. Plenty of his peers did the same so when it soon progressed to heroin, crack and cocaine he barely batted an eyelid.
Korede says: “I didn’t just sell drugs, I did loads of things to make money.”
‘I HATED IT, I WANTED TO GO HOME’
This included using people’s credit card details to kit himself out in the latest trainers and carrying bolt cutters in his bag to nick bikes.
As with so many youngsters who have gone off the rails, his early years showed promise. He regularly had high grades and was dubbed “gifted and talented” by teachers.
His childhood dream was to become a footballer but in Year Nine he just stopped caring.
He says: “I wanted materialistic things. I was angry and I would have done anything to get money.
“I’d come to school with different trainers on every day, or go and buy a new tracksuit before school.
“People started looking at me differently. It got addictive.”
For three years he successfully hid his criminality from the police as well as from his dad Phil, who thought his son was “a good boy”.
The 48-year-old father-of-four, a concierge and motivational speaker, says: “I had absolutely no idea. I couldn’t reconcile it with the Korede I knew.
“I was pushing buggies when no man was doing it. Big burly black guy proudly pushing a pram. That was me. I didn’t miss a school play. I didn’t miss anything.
“When I found out about Korede’s world it was scary. He was dealing with forces that could have chewed him up alive. He could have become another statistic.
“A stereotype black-man-gone-wrong who’s a menace to society.”
Korede with his dad Phil and mentor Ade Omideyi[/caption]
The eight teens were subjected to a harsh daily regime alongside the real inmates[/caption]
With the UK prison population currently the highest in Europe, and youth-related knife crime up 60 per cent in five years, the makers of Banged Up wanted to see if British teenagers would benefit from America’s radical intervention scheme. Called Behaviour Attitude Modification, it is designed to keep young tearaways on the straight and narrow and encourage them to make the life choices that will keep them out of prison.
The documentary is the first time British teens have taken part in the US programme.
Korede was sceptical. He says: “At first I thought it was a joke, I was laughing every second.
“The guards were there with their guns looking all serious and I just found it funny.”
Even as they were being fingerprinted, stripped of their personal belongings and handed their prison uniforms, Korede was still sniggering.
He recalls: “They were like, ‘You think this is funny? I’m going to make you crack’.” It was up to the fierce but dedicated Lieutenant Robbie Stokes to teach the boys discipline and respect to, in his words, “break them down and build them back up again”.
An inmate gave me a lecture. He said selling drugs would lead to murder.
Lt Stokes explains: “A lot of these kids come with natural abilities but they’re using them for the wrong thing. This is about tough love.”
The ignorant, arrogant teens had to make their beds to strict standards each morning and stand to attention while guards inspected their efforts.
If one blanket was out by half an inch the guards would rip the group’s bedding off, make everyone do push- ups and start again.
Group punishment was the norm, as was being woken in the middle of the night by the guards.
Korede soon stopped sniggering. He says: “It all started to feel very real. They told us they wouldn’t call us by our names, they’d call us by a number. It was like being in the Army and inside prison at the same time.
“They kept on saying ‘We tell you what to do and you do it. We tell you when to sleep, when to eat, when to walk, when to stand, when to sit.
‘I HAD TO PICK UP DOG POO’
“I was thinking, ‘Wow’. Imagine someone telling you what to do and you have to do it. I hated it. Not having any freedom was the worst thing. I called my dad and said I wanted to go home.”
Every morning the teens had to take part in military style physical drills and were then put to work in the jail’s kitchen, laundry and on chain gangs on the roads — alongside regular and intimidating inmates.
Korede recalls: “The first day I had to pick up poo from the police dogs in the heat. It was disgusting and stank.”
Having a foot out of line, or even being caught rolling their eyes would result in guards screaming at them just inches from their faces. It left one of the British boys in tears.
Korede says: “I don’t know what it is with Americans, but their shouting is different. It’s so loud you feel it in your head. You straighten up when you hear it.”
His crucial moment came when the teens were given a talk by an inmate awaiting trial for murder.
Korede says: “He used to sell drugs too. I used to think selling drugs wasn’t that bad but he told me that drugs can lead to murder. He said a drug move went wrong and he had to kill someone. He has a son who he’s never seen. Now he’s in jail and he’s twentysomething. He’s been awaiting trial for three years.
“That’s when it really hit me. It made me look at my life differently. I don’t want to go to jail. And I’m never going to touch drugs again.”
Korede later earned a place on a West Ham apprenticeship scheme and now coaches football for a living.
At first I laughed and treated jail as a joke, then it all became very real.
His relieved dad Phil adds: “This process has humbled me.
“I was one of those people who’d hear stories of what the youth get up to and think, ‘Where were the parents? What were they doing?’
“It’s been an eye-opener for me — how your own child can have another life that you don’t know anything about. If it can happen to me, it can truly happen to anyone.
“For Korede, he’s had this rare gift of seeing what the consequences are like before they become real.
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“Most importantly, I’m proud that there was something in him that made him want to stop.”
Ian Dunkley, Commissioning Editor of Factual Entertainment at Channel 4, says: “The series poses an intriguing question. At a time when knife crime and youth offending in the UK is on the rise, could exposing wayward teens to the harsh reality of prison life act as a deterrent to them spending a life behind bars?”
For Korede, who has returned to his dreams of a football career, it certainly has.
- Banged Up: Teens Behind Bars starts Monday night, Channel 4, 9pm.
The teen inmates were made to work on chain gangs, shouted at and forced to wear matching hooped uniform[/caption]
Jail mugshots of the eight British teens in the office of Lieutenant Stokes[/caption]
Korede says he ‘treated jail like a joke’ at first but then it all became ‘very real’[/caption]
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