The woman who took on the gangs

Mimi Asher

How the mother of a former gang member persuaded others to turn their lives around.

It is one of the most remarkable stories to emerge from the gangs of Brixton: how a single mother used the power of love to destroy a notorious street gang that had threatened to destroy her own family.

Pastor Mimi Asher was terrified to learn that her own son, Michael, had joined the local gang on her housing estate at Myatt's Fields. She took matters into her own hands. She decided that the best way to end his involvement was by getting the gang, Organised Crime, or the O.C., to dissolve itself.

Over a three-year period, Pastor Mimi threw open her house to O.C gang members. She cooked meals for them, washed their clothes and even took them on trips to the cinema and swimming pool. For a time, the leader of the gang, Karl Lokko, or "General Lokks", as he is now known, lived at the house. He is now a successful musician and acts as a mentor helping young people leave gangs.

Mimi's story

Myatt's Field estate has been described as a place that not even the devil would walk through because young people living there at the estate were terrorising people. That's the estate I was living in. Young people there were interrogating people, asking them their password before coming on the estate. It was their way of monitoring who came on the estate.

I had no idea my son was involved in anything because he was such a good boy. I did not know anything about gangs, nothing to my knowledge at all until I spoke to a police officer.

The young ones look to the older ones as role models and they feel inspired because they seem them with cars, and girls, and money. The young ones get recruited or initiated. Everywhere in London it's the same process.

What I used to do is I would go out there with my wooden stick looking for him. Random times he would be in conversation with friends and I would just turn up and tell him to come into the house and because he was very respectful he would follow me.

So everbody knew that Michael's mum would come at any time so they felt quite a lot of unease. They would see me on the estate and they would be hiding because they knew Michael's mum was coming. If need be I would turn up anywhere. Two o'clock in the morning I would be driving round the estate looking for him.

I was really desperate to save my son because I knew that either he would end up dead or in prison and I couldn't live with that.

Image caption In 2010, Mimi Asher received a London Peace Award from Mayor Boris Johnson

I then started going through his friends and invite them to my house and cook for them. They would come over and I would try and have a conversation with them.

All the boys on the estate, I generally cared for them. I was seeing them as these young boys that had potential to do well but it's only through things that can happen to them. So it was that drive, that real drive and passion in my heart. I was desperate to save all of them. The little money I had I would share with them.

The answer is to try and mums and dads to get involved and not be passive and leave the government to tackle [gangs]. The government should provide facilities, rather than cut down. They pour so much money into the Olympics and yet we have these young people on the estate, there's little for them to do, little to motivate them. There's no facilities.

It was a big task. sometimes I was afraid for my own life. there were times I would get paranoid. I had to hold my faith and keep my head high. But I don't let fear stop me doing what I'm doing.

Karl's story

Image caption Karl Lokko is the ex-leader of the Organised Crime gang - the O.C. - on the Myatt’s Field estate, Brixton

I was in love with that culture. It weren't really drugs. I believed it was a good way if living for some time.

You take a lie as a truth and I took it as the truth. There's different reasons, there's different things that will lead a man to want to join a gang. At the end of the day I never really see it too much as a gang, I see it as my circle, my friends, my family, my home away from sort of thing. It was just like a group of friends. That's what you call a gang, really. There's different gangs, it's just that ours wasn't mainstream.

I wasn't able to join a gang at the beginning I had to make my own and I was 13. The one I made started off with just three people, it was M.A.D - Max, Addict and Drowsy. I was Addict.

A lot of people are under the illusion that people join gangs for financial gain. Don't get me wrong, there are some that join for financial gain. And once you become the member of a gang and you get older in that gang you understand that you need money in the society that we live in today.

So money becomes an objective but that's not the main drive. There's more of a romance behind it. It's more the fact that you have an identity, you get self-esteem, you feel that you have a purpose, you feel that you're needed. A lot of people will have been coming from broken homes and that could be their family.

What held me for a long time was loyalty. You feel as if you've all made your bed, so you must all lie in it. I'm not for punishing. I'm for reformation. I'm not into chastising.

I dedicated seven years to that lifestyle. I've been cut on my face, I've been shot at a silly amount of times, I've been chopped in the back, I've been sliced on my chest and by God's grace I'm still here. That's all it is really.

I've had close friends killed. I never lost them to natural causes. I have a friend who died the other day to a natural cause and I didn't really know how to act. That's the first friend to have died of a natural cause that was involved in any form of gangsterism.

I'm used to mourning the fact that someone's died but also projecting a hatred to that person who killed them. But I had no one to project that hatred to cos that guy was in a car crash. Human beings are not just conditioned by life to kill one another.

The struggle with me was that I'm forsaking my brothers, and that's how they saw it as well until, by God's grace, I was able to speak to them and let them understand. And a lot of them were fine with my change. Everyone wants good for them. If they're really your friends the want what's good for you.

It's just chaos here. You can lose your life just for looking at someone wrong. Maybe they're going through something and they're feeling paranoid.

Pastor Mimi dedicated her time, she showed me love and she was genuine. I was able to then decipher and see that lies I was fed as truth were false. I would go and speak to people that may have shot at me and I showed them that I'm no longer a threat.

I just went over to them genuinely and they were able to see that, same way I was able see my pastor was being genuine when she was trying to outreach to me. And they're my friends.

Listen to Andrew's reports on gang culture on the Today programme, BBC Radio 4.