Danny Kruger reports from his company’s work with ex-offendersby Danny Kruger / December 16, 2009 / Leave a comment
Archie was born in Rwanda but when he was only three or four he arrived in Nigeria without his parents for some reason, and he just “survived.” He lived with a tribe of street kids; he doesn’t talk about it. Then when he was 15 he got a job on the docks, unloading cargo, paid in dollars. He saved up until one day he could do it: buy a fake passport and a plane ticket to London.
When he went he had no one to say goodbye to, and anyway if he’d told anyone in advance they would have robbed him. So he left Africa for Europe, age 16, unknown to the whole world. When he got to Heathrow, he heard a woman speaking Yoruba, and followed her onto a bus. It ended up in Peckham at 4am and the lady directed him to a Nigerian cafe. There he met some men. They were alright, took him home and gave him some work. So he survived in London.
Archie is little and lithe, with big eyes and cornrow braids in his hair. He comes two hours early for rehearsals: he sits at the piano and makes up gentle melodies. He is desperate for education; we’re fixing him up with a tutor. One day, for no particular reason he and Will—another member—bring a huge dish of Nigerian chicken and rice for the staff team; the kindest thing that’s ever been done here.
But Archie’s in a world of trouble. He’s an illegal immigrant so he can’t work and can’t get benefits. He has two babies with two mothers, one British, one Nigerian (“that’s useful,” says the immigration barrister: a love triangle means that Britain is the only place the children can see their dad). He’s been to prison often, for silly dodges and also for domestic violence, the dark secret of half our members and half the prison population. “Oh, domestic,” they say when they hear what someone’s in for, as if it were just a little spat. But in that world the hands get used and the police get called.
I went to court with him on a charge of driving without a licence: the car’s owner was drunk and they were in a street where one of them had been stabbed the week before. They didn’t want to walk, so Archie took the wheel. He tried to defend himself;…