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Girl Gangs

Tracey Miller, ex-gang member and now mum of two, is reliving it all, but this time on the silver screen

Written by . Published on November 23rd 2011.


Girl Gangs

WHEN shocking scenes of rioters destroying their own London neighbourhoods hit our TV screens in August, it was hard to understand how a peaceful march had escalated into such shocking acts of violence.

What started out as a controlled protest in response to the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by a police officer in Tottenham, erupted into rioters dominating the streets.

Youths looted their local shops and torched high street businesses. The nation was baffled by how quickly the copycat violence had spread.

But what they were equally as shocked at was when CCTV stills later emerged in police appeals, and many of the suspects appeared to be gangs of teenage girls.

It's this issue of the girl gang mentality that has become a hot topic for the government. And it is also the focus of a new film Sket, which was inspired by former gang girl, Tracey Miller.

“I honestly think it was just a case of ‘let's use the Duggan story to go wild,’ simple as that,” says mum of two Tracey.

“London became ugly and I thought to myself: ‘Is this the kind of place I have to raise my children in?’ I felt numb watching it.”

Perhaps one of the reasons Tracey felt numb was that the shocking images were a bit too close to home for her

Tracey2 

While Tracey wasn’t in the middle of the 2011 riots – they acted as a stark reminder of those that hit Brixton in 1996. Tracey, a former gang leader, drug dealer and full-time criminal, was in the midst of the chaos back then when she was shot in both the arm and leg by a rival group.

“I was a member of the 28s,” she said, “they were a well known gang in my then neighbourhood of Brixton Hill and at one stage I was one of the youngest. I’d dip in and out of it and started out with petty crime. Soon this led to bigger and more serious things.”

While an on-going dispute questions whether the wanted looters in the August riots were members of established gangs or were simply opportunist thieves, the facts are still there: six per cent of ten to nineteen year olds (450,000 youngsters) admit to belonging to a gang.

There are also around 200 rival groups in London alone, with more in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. And the fact is, more and more girls are forming gangs in the same way that Tracey did in her teenage years.

Tracey quickly became the delegator and was leading dozens of gang members who took part in serious organized crime. Revelling in her ‘top-dog status’ she felt like she was invincible. Not a day passed when Tracey didn’t leave her house without a knife tucked into her waistband. And shockingly, at the age of fifteen, she stabbed an innocent man in the street.

While she served four months behind bars for a robbery she denies being part of, the judge didn’t extend her sentence for the stabbing. He said she deserved a chance. 

“[The stabbing] was completely unprovoked,” she says, “I went out intent on hurting someone. If it hadn’t been him it would have been someone else. I’m not proud of what I did. [The judge] let me off, he said I’d had a hard life. I was grateful that he could see things from my side but I wanted to stay in prison. It was a way of escaping from the world.”

Tracey And Friend Tracey’s life was never stable. With a mum who suffered with severe mental illness and a father in prison, the 33-year-old says it was easy to fall onto the wrong side of the law and be sucked into the world of gang warfare.

“Girl gangs are more noticeable now as it’s deemed a trendy culture to be like the boys,” she says. “Many girls go into gangs for different reasons but it’s often down to their home lives, backgrounds and foundations which are failing them.”

Sadly, as she left prison, Tracey walked straight back into the criminal world. And at eighteen she became a notorious drug dealer.

The same year she fell pregnant with her then boyfriend Jake*, and motherhood became her saving grace. It was her first daughter she says that gave her the reality check she needed.

“I realised I had to change my life and turn a bad situation into a good one,” she says. “I moved out of the area and cut off all communication with the people who were in that world. I took every day as it came but now it’s behind me. I’m proud of that.”

While Tracey has now turned her back on her criminal past, she doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as the ‘ex-gang girl’. But her experience of the criminal world has made her an invaluable help in the government’s recent efforts to tackle the rise in girl gang culture. And she now regularly mentors young people in the seriousness of gang violence across many London boroughs.

“When I first started mentoring I knew within my heart it was the right thing to do so it came naturally,” she says. “When I speak to youths to discourage them from wrong doings, I speak from the heart, nothing scripted. I honestly think that is the reason why I connect with them.” 

While home secretary Theresa May and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith work on an anti-gang strategy announced earlier this month, Tracey has inspired the new movie – Sket. The feature film set in the East End follows a group of girls on the streets that face violence, gang warfare and revenge.

After a chance meeting with British director Nirpal Bhogal (Cold Kiss), Tracey became his script consultant for his vision for a film based on London girl gang warfare. 

With comparisons to the likes of gangster movies Kidulthood and Adulthood, Tracey says seeing her personality re-enacted in Sket's lead character Shaks, was mind-blowing.

“When Nirpal Bhogal first asked me to script consult his film, I thought this was finally a chance to provide an insight into girl gang culture on the big screen," she says.

“Now that Sket is finished and being reviewed by the public it gives me comfort knowing that it won't tick all the boxes regarding answers to this problem. But it’s not meant to. It’s there to open the eyes of all ages.

"If one female can refrain from being in a gang after seeing it then my job’s done.”

Sket is out at cinemas now www.sketmovie.com

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AnonymousNovember 23rd 2011.

Incredible to see Tracey was able to turn her life around because not every story has a happy ending. Being a Londoner I see the gang crime that is omnipresent and it's not only sad but truly terrifying. So many young lives being lost and too much senseless violence and crime. Great to see light being shed on these issues.

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