As a youngster growing up in Sheffield I would often be told that one day I would end up in prison.
Yes, I did end up in prison but not quite as expected. I became director of Doncaster Prison, the country’s first and only black prison governor.
Apart from my parents, Brendan Ingle has played the greatest part in shaping the man that I am today.
Almost 40 years ago, Brendan took me under his wing at St Thomas’ Boys Club.
I was dabbling with delinquency and needed something to believe in. Joining St Thomas’ changed my life more positively than anything I have ever done.
Part of the magic of the gym was the mix of different people: black, white, Asian, Arab. There were champions, keep-fitters, alcoholics and people just sheltering from the cold. Everybody was treated with the same dignity and respect. No room for prima donnas, as Brendan would say. We were living multiculturalism before it was even coined as a concept and given a label by academics.
I have degrees in both social work and criminology but it is not the theories I learnt during those studies that help me understand the individuals I now work with. It is the life-skills that I developed during my time at St Thomas’ and the blend of perception and tolerance that has always been Brendan’s trademark.
Boxing taught me discipline, it helped develop my self-esteem and gave me a reason to feel good about myself. Everybody needs that. Boxing is a great leveller because in the ring it doesn’t matter what background you come from or whether you are rich or poor. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t become a champion because its skills and discipline will serve you for your whole life.
I am lucky to have met Brendan at the time that I did and feel proud I was able to share the experiences at the gym in those early days.
I know the benefits that I have gained from my experience and also what it can do for others. I am now able to give something back to the community because St Thomas’ gave something to me.
In a deprived area of Sheffield that doesn’t have a lot to offer its young people, Brendan’s gym remains one of the few bright lights. We must keep it burning.