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“Practitioner in gang culture, training, extremism and the criminal justice system”


“Practitioner in gang culture, training, extremism and the criminal justice system”

On the final day of the Beyond Sport Summit, Tanayah Sam told the story of how he turned his life around, leaving behind a criminal lifestyle to dedicate his time to helping current and former prisoners.

Tanayah Sam had a lot of difficult experiences while growing up in Birmingham, UK. He witnessed domestic violence and was himself beaten by his father.

But initially he did well at school, enjoying subjects like history and geography. One day that changed, when his father asked him to shoot a gun out of a bedroom window, aged 14, in what he describes as “a coming of age”.

The next day, he wasn’t interested in school. He felt like he was “a big man and a bad man” and the experience of shooting a gun drew him to the streets. He had always enjoyed football and continued to engage in the sport but was not interested in learning.

In the space of a year, he went from being near top of the class to being expelled from school for stabbing a classmate with a screwdriver. In the next few years he became more and more submerged in gang culture and served several spells in prison for offences related to drugs and weapons.

After being charged for armed robbery, he was bailed and went on the run for four years. During this time, he converted to Islam, took trips to Egypt and Yemen, and reassessed his life which he was determined to turn around. When the police caught up with him, aged 24, he was sentenced to nine years in prison, serving five and a half of them.

Telling his story to the Beyond Sport Summit in London, Sam frequently mentions sport as being an important outlet throughout his life. On the streets he was afraid of his opponents and enemies, and rugby and football gave him a means to escape that reality. Prison was a “hyper masculine environment” where the gym was his only break.

He supports the increased use of sport with serving offenders and argues that former prisoners should be given a free gym pass to help them to manage stress.

On leaving prison, Sam was determined to help people who have lived through similar experiences to him. Described on the Beyond Sport Summit programme as a “Practitioner in gang culture, training, extremism and the criminal justice system”, he has delivered training to people working with current and former prisoners, and appeared as a speaker at multiple conferences and seminars.

He also founded a non-profit, Tanayah Sam Ltd, which works to reduce reoffending rates. The organisation advocates for the use of art and sport to engage with young people and serving offenders, and is a member of the National Sports Alliance for the Desistance of Crime Steering Group in the UK.


Article type



Paul Hunt


Monday, October 26, 2015 - 23:00