Return of the Native Devoted dad Danny Smart’s enjoying the affection of his friends on a night out with the lads and his electronic tag. But the way he’s going Danny (second from the right) could soon be back where he’s just been: behind bars instead of propping one up. Glynn Thomas reports.
‘Some boys were pimped out in the showers. Others had their faces smashed in while prison guards turned a blind eye.’ “THERE ARE TWO rules in prison. Do not grass on anyone. And don’t show that you’re weak.
“Luckily, I’m not a pussy and I will always fight back if I have to, just to show that I’m strong,” said Daniel as he swigged his way through his second pint of Carling. He was making up for lost drinking time after serving seven months in a young offenders’ institution, and the next seven under a 6pm curfew with an electronic tag around his ankle. “I’ve come here pretty much every evening since taking the tag off”. He insisted on meeting in ‘The Unicorn’, a dingy pub on a rough Telford council estate. It must have been easy for him to make the transition from prison life to confining himself in this dump. The pub looks like a youth prison. There are tracksuit-clad teenagers everywhere. Everyone wears the same clothes - scruffy trackie bottoms, smart Nike trainers, and black Henley T-shirts. Daniel Smart, 19, is no different. His outfit comes complete with a bum fluff moustache, a celtic symbol tattooed on his neck and ‘Sarah’ tattooed in giant letters down his right arm. “Prison is fucked up. But doing the time is easy if you’re hard enough.” A smug grin fills his face. “But I don’t want to go back because I want to be close to Sarah. Not being able
Getaway: Daniel’s favourite pub
to see her was the hardest part of those seven months.” Sarah is his daughter, born a month before he was jailed. Sarah’s mother, his ex-girlfriend, dumped him the day he was sent down. His smug grin is replaced with anger. “I can’t stand the bitch, but I have to keep cool with her or I won’t be able to see the baby. She didn’t stand by me when I got locked up. She moved on and fucked someone else. “How fucked up is that?” he asked, bloodshot eyes beginning to pulsate out of their sockets. I humoured him with false sympathy. You can’t blame his ex-girlfriend. Daniel Smart is anything but smart. He ordered a Chinese takeaway in May last year, but when the food arrived he realised he had spent all his money in the pub earlier that day. So he pulled a knife on the deliveryman and threatened to stab him if he didn’t handover the food. Daniel was already serving a
suspended sentence for a drunken fight months earlier and he didn’t think of the consequences. The police knew where to find him because he ordered the takeaway to his own home. He was charged with armed robbery and received a 15-month prison sentence in Stoke Heath Young Offenders’ Institution in Shropshire. “The second hardest thing about prison is going so long without pussy. I didn’t miss my ex though, just the pussy,” his eyes start to dilate as he makes the cheap dig. “Some people turn into fags because they go so long without any fanny, and you do see some horrible things in the showers. I would never resort to that. “One of my friends fucked one of the prison guards. There were a couple of hot female staff and some that were not so hot. “But after seven months without fanny the ugly ones start to look hot, you know what I mean? The female staff would always flirt with us to wind us up.” One of his close friends, who asked not to be named, warned me that Danny has become ‘really perverted’ since leaving prison, evident from his winking every time the pub’s fifty-something bar maid walked past. He also warned me Daniel is ‘full of shit’. “I’ve had loads of girls since leaving prison. Girls love the bad boy image,” Danny said, helping to back up his friends’ claims. It is hard to tell how much of Daniel’s story is truth and how much is fantasy drawn from seven months’confinement. But his claim that prison didn’t rehabilitate him is believable. It made him worse. “I made money by selling drugs. “It is easier to get drugs inside of prison than it is outside. You are locked up with hundreds of dealers and users. The visiting room is like a market. You get friends to give you the goods and you sell them on in prison. “The biggest money maker is mobile phones. They sell for hundreds. But I would never do that. “You have to smuggle them up your arse. A relative will slip the phone under the table and the dealer will ‘sit on it’. I know a guy who stuck a torch up his arse to prepare himself for smuggling mobile phones into prison.”
‘One guy stuck a torch up his arse to prepare himself for phone smuggling’
Daniel made enough money from dealing to buy a phone. By breaking the rules he was able to talk to his friends on the outside. “You just need to find a friend or relative who will put credit on the phone for you. “Charging up the phone is easy. We pocketed lemons from the canteen. If you wire the phone battery to the lemon there is a chemical reaction and it powers the phone. But if you get caught with a phone you are in serious shit”. Daniel didn’t get caught with the phone or drugs and managed to complete his time inside without officially ‘getting into trouble’. He doesn’t agree that prisoners are pampered and have an easy ride. “They do have computer games in prison, but it’s not like what you hear on TV. They don’t give you an Xbox when you arrive. They have a games room but you can only go in there if you keep out of trouble. “I never got caught doing anything wrong and I made friends with some of the prison guards, but it wasn’t until my final month that I got to go anywhere near computer games. “The idea is to encourage people to behave well. It’s a reward for keeping out of trouble and I guess it is supposed to make us better people. “It doesn’t work, though. The only motivation I have for staying out of prison is my daughter. There are people in there that don’t have any motivation. “You get a lot of gangs who stick together and they enjoy the prison lifestyle. Especially if they can boss weaker people around and call all the shots.” Stoke Heath has a notorious history littered with attacks, riots and suicide. Daniel attributes this to the prisons’ gang culture. “There are people who can’t handle it. There are gangs who will go for you if they can see any weaknesses. Some guys are pressured into having sex in the showers because they are too scared to fight back. “I can see why people kill themselves. “People constantly start fights with you for no reason, just to see if you are tough enough to defend yourself. I had to get into random fights to prove myself. But the people starting the fights actually respect you when you fight back.” He says prison guards are partly responsible for problems in the prison. “The guards are friendly with some inmates, especially those who are doing long sentences, because they have known each other for years. “On one occasion someone grassed on a long termer and a prison guard who is friendly with them left their cell door open so a group of lads could go into their cell and beat the shit out of them.” Daniel has struggled to find legitimate work since leaving Stoke Heath. Instead he uses the skills he gained inside to
make money for his daughter, and to fund his drink habit. He is a drug dealer. “I am actually going out later to make some money if I can find some buyers. I’m completely skint. But my mate Robby sorts me out with work so I can get by. He’s got me some work tonight.”
‘I’ve had loads of girls since leaving prison. They love the bad boy image’ His close friend said that Robby is a local drugs supplier and Daniel does ‘odd jobs’ for him. Which includes fighting as well as drug dealing. Daniel is clearly grateful for the work and he spends a few minutes telling me that Robby protects him and gives him money to buy gifts for Sarah. But it sounds like he is doing exactly what he avoided in prison – working out of desperation for a gang. Daniel struggles to differentiate between right and wrong. In his eyes, keeping out of trouble means avoiding the police. And now that he is 19 he faces the prospect of adult prison if he’s convicted again. Meanwhile, he is dealing drugs all over Telford and getting into fights on behalf of someone else just to get by. He is confident that he has a bright future, though, and has convinced himself that he can turn his life around. “I am sorting myself out. I will be moving into a council house soon and it is close to two pubs. I don’t officially work yet but I am
applying for a ‘Care in the Community’ grant from the council, which means they will give me money until I can find a job”. Daniel’s phone rings. Our conversation ends. “Alright kid… is it still going down? I’ll be there in half an hour,” he said, putting on his macho voice as he takes the call. “That was my boss. I have to go, something is going down tonight.” Daniel, loaded with three pints of Carling, picks up his Reebok bag that he has held close to him. It makes a clanking sound as he lifts it. He opens the zip enough to show me what is in the bag. A meat-cleaver. “I probably won’t use it. It’s just in case,” he said. He placed the bag over his shoulder and we say our goodbyes. As he walks out of ‘The Unicorn’ doors, I don’t know whether to despise him or pity him. He ended up behind bars because he was stupid. Now he struggles to find work because of his criminal record. He thinks he’s free, yet he does someone else’s dirty work just so he can get through life and maybe find a job. Maybe he’ll never be free because he will always be haunted by his mistakes, stuck in a vicious cycle from which he may never be able to break - just to show that he’s strong.
Smug: Ex-con Daniel enjoys his freedom
Abuse, murder and suicide Stoke Heath Young Offenders Instituion has a history of ‘brutal’ and ‘inhumane’ neglect.
lan Averill was celebrating his 17th birthday. He made himself a chocolate cake and shared it with all his friends in cookery class.
But there was one person in cookery class who Alan hated - 19-year-old Maurice Travis. The two boys often argued and Alan enjoyed bullying him. So he taunted Maurice and told him that he could not have a piece of the newly-baked cake. Maurice was unhappy. So he stabbed Alan in the chest three times with an onion knife. The blow punctured a main artery. Alan bled to death. The cookery lesson took place in Stoke Heath Young Offenders’ Institution in June 1998 and Maurice was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. It was the first murder to take place in a British youth institution. Since the event, Stoke Heath - in Market Drayton, Shropshire -has remained a notoriously violent, with bullying, riots and suicides. It has been criticised for over-crowding and for keeping prisoners in inhumane conditions. In 1999 the institution was branded the third worst in Britain, with assaults on more than half of the staff and inmates, nearly three times worse that the most violent adult prisons in the country. “Stoke Heath is not safe. It is
appalling,” Chief Inspector of Prison, Sir David Ramsbottom, said after he visited in February 2001. “More than 100 people are injured every month and visiting the institution was a terrible experience.” He blamed staff for the violence. “Officers use inappropriate methods of restraint. A lot of boys are hurting each other as well, and this is due to a lack of control from staff. “The authorities should be worried.” A year later a mentally disturbed inmate hanged himself.
‘Stoke Heath is not safe. It is appalling. The authorities should be worried’ John Scholes, from Manchester, was found hanged by a ligature from his cell window in October 2002. The 16-year-old had served nine days of a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to robbery. He was mentally disturbed and suicidal, allegedly as a result of sexual abuse from a relative when he was younger. Before prison he stayed in a care home where he slashed his face with a knife 30 times. He then tried to overdose on tablets and attempted to jump out of a window.
In court, he told the judge he would kill himself if sentenced to prison. When he arriving at Stoke Heath he was admitted to a special cell with CCTV cameras and checked every 15 minutes. But after a few days he moved into a standard single cell. No senior members of prison staff were punished after the suicide. “Why was my son allowed to die?” said his mother, Yvonne. “If this had been a death in social services there would be a public outcry. The fact that my son died at the hands of a different state body should make no difference. “Joseph was a wonderful child. I loved him dearly, but he was very disturbed with mental health problems and he required a safe environment. Paul Cavadino, chief executive of the crime reduction charity Nacro, uses John’s case as an argument against institutionalising young offenders: “The shocking case demonstrates why a vulnerable child should never be held in Prison Service accommodation. “Most Juvenile offenders should be dealt with by supervision in the community. “The small minority who need to be detained should be in local authority secure units, which have higher staffing ratios and regimes more suitable for vulnerable and disturbed young people.” Another teenager was found hanged in Stoke Heath in 2005. Karl Lewis, 18, had served one year of
a six-year sentence for robbery. Amnesty international blamed the ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ conditions of Stoke Heath as the cause of depression amongst inmates, after inmates were locked in ‘special cells’. Troublesome children were stripped naked and locked in cells with no toilet, no mattress and no window. One offender said: “It was dirty, with bare walls and graffiti. Because there was no window I couldn’t tell if it was day or night.” Stoke Heath officials later revealed one prisoner had been held in the cell for five days. Fran Russell, director of a penal reform group, said: “Children with mental health problems cause most problems so they are being put in these cells. “Yet they are also the people most likely to be harmed by the trauma of them. “We are especially concerned about the effects of groups of officers forcibly stripping and detaining a young person who is likely to have suffered sexual abuse in the past.” Overcrowding is also a big problem in the institution. Stoke Heath currently houses 29 extra crooks above its 632inmate capacity, with dangerous inmates forced to share cells.
An entire wing of the prison shut down after a six-hour riot last year. 18 inmates threatened staff and caused £120,000 of damage. In 2006 a prison officer was hospitalised with a broken nose, and three other officers were injured, after 30 inmates organised a nine hour riot. Prof Rod Morgan of the Youth Justice board believes that action needs to be taken to reduce the number of children in young offended institutions. He said: “The youth justice service is close to meltdown. Locking up more children is not the way for us to sleep more safely in our beds,” “Crowded institutions mean that inmates receive too little rehabilitation to turn them from crime.” Officials at Stoke Heath claim that the institution now improving. Last month Stoke Heath Governor, Teresa Clarke, said: “The institution has expanded it’s education provision so youths have more constructive things to do and relationships between staff and offenders has improved.” Stoke Heath is attempting to improve but it’s violent and inhumane history has raised an important question. Is institutionalisation and effective form of rehabilitation for young offenders, or does it put them at risk and make them worse?
‘The youth justice service is close to meltdown’
Locked up: Inmate in Stoke Heath Institution
Talking point Is institutionalisation the most effective way of dealing with young offenders? “Young offenders aren’t punished hard enough for the things they do. Punishment needs to be harsh to deter them from offending, so prison is the only answer.” - Lynn Baker, 63 “Teenagers are easily influenced and if they are in an environment where the common ground is crime they may get into more trouble. Community service is a far better option because offenders are made to pay back society.” - Paul Noble, 41 “Prison is a good way to deal with young offenders, but it doesn’t work alone. There needs to be a mix of schemes and gentle rehabilitation to promote better behaviour.” - Rosie Newton, 21 “They need a firm hand, but prison isn’t working. The government needs to bring back national Service. Teach these young people some discipline and help them grow and change.” - Rosemary Beckett, 65
Far from the M
â€˜Action for Stanningtonâ€™ leader Danny Piermattei thinks the youth joke. Prison is not the answer to reducing youth crime - taking tee gangs is. Danny (third from the left) and his team of volunteers improve behaviour in Stannington one youth at a time. Glynn Tho
h justice system is a enagers away from their s are on a mission to omas reports.
”FOUR YEARS ago I was looking out of my living room window and I saw a fat horrible little kid throwing rocks at my 85 year-old next-door neighbour.
“I rushed outside to stop him, but then he started throwing rocks at me. He was 13 and had a gang of younger kids with him. He told them to aim for my face.” Danny Piermattei ran back into his home and called the police. Although intimidated by the children, he has made it his mission to reduce youth crime in Stannington, Sheffield. Now he is helping troubled youths turn their lives around. He moved to England eleven years ago and formed environmental community group ‘Action for Stannington’. After the rock incident in 2005 he invited young people to join in his community group. He plans to gradually attract youths from all over Stannington and encourage them to contribute to their community. “I keep youths out of trouble by getting them involved with environmental projects. The council gives us grants to organise trips for the kids in return for their hard work,” he said, guiding me around a green concrete council hut that resembles a public toilet. “I give young people a choice. They can mess up their lives by getting into trouble, or they can bet rewarded for helping their community.” Danny is the last person you would expect to spend his evenings with troublesome teenagers and young offenders. The short Italian has a bright orange fake tanned face, short curly hair and a goatee. He looks like a living caricature with his beaming grin. “I am not the kind of person who people are afraid of. I am the kind of person who people respect. I will only raise my voice if I really have to.” His eyes widen as he forces a laugh. There is a sense of pride in his happy expression. Seven girls are volunteering today. Most of them wear school uniform and a few, as young as 12, are plastered in
makeup. They are well behaved, with the exception of one girl who constantly shouts ‘where’s the bloody stapler?’ One girl paints a wooden crate. She plans to fill it with plants and give to some elderly residents in the area. I am impressed with her gesture, but she is only doing it to get money off the council so the group can go on trips. A small group of girls are sat nearby writing a letter to the council asking for funding. “When you see everyone working together and behaving, it shows that my youth club really is a good idea. This is definitely the best way to improve society”. “The council needs to learn that treating young people with respect and rewarding them when they are well behaved is the only solution to cut down on crime.” Danny deserves to feel proud. The girls are all interested in their work. Four years ago Danny could have chosen to live in fear of troubled teenagers. He decided to reach out to them instead. “The youth justice system is a complete joke. It’s pathetic. “If you respect young people they will treat you with respect. They treat this place as their own. ASBO’s won’t stop youth crime. Prison just breeds more violence. Naming and shaming the young offenders isn’t going to help either – it just gives them notoriety. Danny’s eyes stop beaming and fill with anger at the mention of the youth justice system. A young offender was supposed to visit the group today for community service. He hasn’t turned up. “This young offender was supposed to do two days of service, four hours for each day. Guess how many times he can cancel miss his service? Have a guess?” A ten second dramatic pause ensues and then Danny puts me out of my suspense. “Three times! A two-day placement and he can miss it three times.”
‘The youth justice system is a complete joke. It’s pathetic’
There are no young offenders today, but everyone at the club comes from a disadvantaged background and many of them have been in trouble with the police. He points to the main craft room, at the skinny pale girl who is now shouting incoherently about her missing stapler. “Lucy is here on placement. This means she doesn’t go to school because she is too destructive, but instead she comes here to do community work. It is great for us because the school pay us to look after her.” She is 13 and has been here for two months but refuses to tell me what she did to get kicked out of school. Some of the girls come here to avoid friends from school and home. One make-up clad girl tells me: “A lot of friends of my friends steal and do drugs, so I come here to get away from them. Everyone is well behaved here.” Most girls are reluctant to talk about their backgrounds. But Danny introduces me to his “biggest success story.”
in her parents’ fights every evening, but one day she found a way of getting away from the house. “I saw Danny picking litter outside the house. I don’t know why but I thought it looked fun”, she laughs awkwardly as she says it. “I asked him if I could help out. It became a way of getting away from home and I actually found it quite therapeutic. “Danny told me that he was starting up a youth group and he managed to get hold of this council hut. I’ve been here for four years now and I have the title of team leader. “Since joining I have kept out of trouble at school, and have received lots of environmental awards. It has turned my life around.” Being a regular visitor to the youth group has helped Christina change her attitude, but it hasn’t been easy for her. “People take the piss at school. They don’t understand why I spend my spare time recycling, but I tell them to shut up. I have more to put on my C.V. than any of them do and I am hoping to go to college next year. “Some of my friends still get into trouble. One guy at school takes cannabis. I am just glad I sorted my life out and didn’t end up like him.” Next Saturday Danny will use some of the council funding to pay for a trip to London, where Christina will collect the ‘Queen’s Award for voluntary service’. Christina is modest about the awards she has won. She casually shrugs as she mentions her ‘Award for environmental excellence’, ‘Duke of Edinburgh’, and ‘Sheffield Star Super Kids’ awards. The awards are not important to her. They provide her with some good photo opportunities and help the group get more funding, but for Christina the most rewarding part of the youth group is getting away from her troubled home life that nearly “screwed up” her future prospects. She leaves to help Lucy find her stapler. Danny tells me that four years ago she would have been the one swearing about a lost stapler. “Christina is a good girl and is proof that the work we do really does help young people. She has trouble at home and that is the case with a lot of people who come here,” he said. “But there are some people who are just little shits. You can’t always blame other people for bad attitude. “We encourage young offenders to come back after their community service. This has happened on a few
‘I punched a girl in the face a few times. A lot of times actually. Her face was covered in blood.’
Christina Christina Distefano looks out of place here. The other girls here remind me of the tracksuit clad teenagers I see in the streets with bottles of ‘White Storm’ cider, shouting abuse at anyone who doesn’t have a spare fag. But Christina is more like a girl guide than a troubled teenager. She has short cropped hair a green school jumper and a cheesy grin as big as Danny’s. Four years ago she wasn’t so innocent. “When I was twelve I punched a girl in the face a few times. A lot of times actually. I kept punching her until a teacher pulled me off her. Her face was covered in blood,” she said. “The school phoned the police and the girl was taken to hospital. “She called me a white bitch and said that my mum had shagged every man in Stannington. Then she claimed that I had been racist to her. “At the time I was getting into a lot of trouble. Swearing at teachers and bunking off school regularly. Christina was close to getting kicked out of school. She blames her old attitude on her parents. “Things aren’t great at home. I would come home from school every day and find my parents fighting. I would get caught up in the middle of it and the next day I would take my anger out at school.” She was fed up of getting caught up
Good work: young volunteers including occasions. But I would be lieing if I said this is common. I am trying to change as many people as I can, but for some youths it is too late to help them.” Danny hopes that his group will prevent anti-social behaviour in the area by breaking up local groups. “When people are involved in antisocial behaviour there is always one or two ring leaders. They get a gang of ten people and encourage them to throw
g Lucy (far left) and Christina (third from left) rocks or beat up grannies or whatever. “We act as positive role models and try to get people involved with humble services, such as repainting fences to keep out of trouble. “They have a choice. You can’t change people by nature. They have to change from within. We don’t force anyone to come back and do the work, we let them see the positives and it is their decision.”
With the afternoon session coming to a close, Danny reflects on his achievements. “We have around thirty different youths visiting at the moment, but over time we have had a lot more. “You get a lot of little shits visiting and some never come back. But every time one of those youths turn their behaviour around it makes organising this completely worthwhile.
“And my proudest moment was when a young offender visited last year. It was that fat little kid who throws rocks at old ladies. I try to respect people, but when this kid started arguing with others kids in the group I intervened. “I only shout when I have to. And he hasn’t thrown a rock since.”