Anyone who wants their child to be a doctor tells them to seek out medical training.
Want to be a lawyer? Write your LSAT and apply to law school.
But what if you want to teach your kids what not to be? Like a gangster.
On that subject mostly we hear from the police or academics, but a member of organized crime who got out of the game is a rarity and is probably the only one with the real expertise to put the fear of gang life in your kids.
Meet Farooque Syed.
Syed used to be on a mission to get deals done, make money, stay out of jail, and stay alive. Now his mission is to make sure not a single kid follows the dangerous and reckless path he went down in life.
“I truly believe things happen for a reason, and me keeping you alive and out of prison and off the streets is what I feel I was sent to this Earth to do.”
That’s from Stolen Dreams: How to Help Children Avoid Gangs, Drugs & Violence, Syed’s recently published book.
In Stolen Dreams, Syed lays out his childhood in South Vancouver and later East Vancouver as the youngest of five children in an upstanding, loving family. He was a good kid, did well in school, and he actually pursued a career in law enforcement. He started doing security as a stepping stone.
But on the streets of South Vancouver as a teenager, he would have occasional interactions with childhood friends who were on a very different path.
“I got involved and recruited in gangs and organized crime without even realizing it in high school,” Syed said. “Later I was involved very heavily and moved up the ladder.”
His family came to Canada from Pakistan when Syed was just two. He discovered early on that the diversity and strength in South Vancouver was also something that created the foundation of South Asian gangs.
He recalls in the book having his shiny new yellow bike stolen by two older white guys who called him a “lil Hindu boy.” He was shocked and in tears, but moments later two “powerful-looking” Indian guys went after them and retrieved his bike.
They took care of Syed.
“Due to racism and a neighbourhood that was truly diverse culturally, I was glad that we had this amazing camaraderie.”
But it was relationships like this that would lead to him into gang life. He made friends, forged alliances, often no different than cliques in high school. Eventually he was in a gang, starting by not even doing anything illegal.
Incrementally, that changed. He was given a pager by his new Mexican gang friends. Naively, he took packages and was told not to look inside, and he was paid hundreds of dollars to deliver them.
“It’s so subtle and easy to get these kids to mule, transport drugs guns, messages almost anything without them knowing,” Syed said.
Sometimes kids that may feel like nobodies are recruited to do small, street level stuff that makes them feel like somebody.
He said back then, in the 1990s, kids like him got into gangs almost by mistake. Today things are different.
“Most will do it knowingly these days. The energy is different, the mindset is different now. Ruthless, dangerous, irresponsible, cut throat.”
After years in gangs, rising up to the level of someone who can make several calls to try to get a hold of kilograms of illegal drugs at a time, he was busted. He was eventually convicted of importing three kilograms of heroin and sentenced to federal time, three years.
He served almost two and a half years of that, but eventually was released. Unlike so many other repeat offenders and gang-connected dealers, Syed changed his ways.
Outside of prison, he said he was treated terribly by police but he also realized that so-called friends in the gangs, they might not trust him anymore.
He has seen heartbreak and turmoil, he has seen drug deals gone wrong, friends shot to death. What he sees in today’s gang climate is even worse. He says many of the gang-related shootings reported in the news aren’t even about serious money or drug issues.
“These kids are killing each other for nothing,” Syed said. “Girl-related and disrespect feelings from over-inflated egos and ripping each other off.”
Stolen Dreams is easy to read, a work of non-fiction with a fiction quality because he changed all the names, many locations even, but he says it is based on his life without exaggeration.
“It took me 17 years to write and decide to publish my book,” he said. “Which I did not sensationalize at all. It’s written so any parent, guardian, educator, and elementary school child can read and learn.”
His passion today is prevention. Getting people out of gangs is nearly impossible, arguably futile, but preventing young people from going down that road is all that will help, he says.
“Every child we ignore today is tomorrow’s gun-carrying, trigger-happy gangster.”
Syed struggles today with Parkinson’s, a disease he has had for five years now, but he is still working hard to get his message out.
Last October he appeared at the West Coast Women’s Show in Abbotsford alongside Bif Naked as a speaker, and more and more schools and churches are contacting him to hear what he has to say.
Stolen Dreams is available at Cole’s at Cottonwood Centre, and copies can be ordered through his website stolendreams.ca. That’s where anyone interested in hearing his message can get in touch.
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