Youngsters’ Lives Matter – How former gang member turned his life around and is giving back

By Edmund Magnus
August 25 2020, 12.25

“If I could go back now, I would tell myself to put the gun away. I thought it would earn me respect. It didn’t. I was just a foolish kid who had lost sight of what really mattered.”

It was April 1995, Eugene Sobers had been in the process of arranging a drug deal, but an argument had broken out with his supplier.

Aged 18, Eugene stood in front of a house in Manchester’s Moss Side, gun in hand, intent on an act that would change the course of his life forever.

“My supplier opened the door. I pulled the gun out and shot him twice. At that point there was no going back,” Eugene explains.

The 23-year-old victim miraculously survived. Eugene was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

“It cost me the best years of my life as well as so much pain and suffering for the victim and his family. The mental scars of that situation have stayed with me forever,” he tells me.

Years later, Eugene, now 44, a personal fitness coach and in his final year at Manchester Metropolitan University wants to share his tale and help kids who find themselves in the same situation as he once was. 

Eugene is now a personal fitness coach based in Manchester. Picture: Felix Shumack

He says: “I want to tell my story to people who have grown up in a gang environment like myself. To let them know there is a way out. There is another side to this story.”

Eugene explains he is determined to help those communities in Manchester suffering from gang violence. 

He is in the process of establishing what he is calling ‘Youngsters Lives Matter’ (YLM) with the aim of stemming the violence and inviting investment into the community.

A website equipped with a Facebook, Instagram and Twitter page are being developed which he expects to go live from early September.

Eugene says that YLM will help youngsters develop their confidence in all areas of life and work, with community and former gang members encouraging them to turn away from gangs and a violent lifestyle. 

Eugene wants to help youngsters develop their confidence in all areas of life. Picture: Adam Roussak

Eugene explains that he was attracted into the gang culture by the money and status that seemed so unobtainable by simply living a ‘normal life.’

“Gangs gave me a chance to shine. I saw these guys on the streets who owned 3 cars and had 4 girls around them. I hero-worshipped them.”

Eugene came from a family of ten. He grew up without a father and says his mother was unsure how to deal with him as a teenager. 

He struggled at school but found that the gang lifestyle earned him respect and a form of identity.

Eugene at 16. Within 24 months he would be facing a 12-year jail sentence

The appeal of money and status was brought to life by various films. 

“I wanted to be like David Banner in the Hulk. The influence of films like Scarface and Boyz N The Hood clouded my judgement on reality. I loved Reservoir Dogs. I wanted to copy what they did,” he explains.

Eugene believes the rise of social media is a major contributor towards knife crime and gang related violence in the UK today. 

“Now with social media it’s a lot more dangerous because you can disrespect someone from your toilet and that will make someone want to leave their house to kill you,” he says.

Eugene was part of the Rusholme gang which competed for territory with the likes of the Gooch Close gang and Doddington gang in the Moss Side area of Manchester during the 1990s.

Eugene believes social media is exacerbating gang violence. Picture: Ian Valentine

“I grew up in Moss Side when gang culture was kicking off. I was young and impressionable.

“There are things I have done which I wish could take back. To this day, I am still having to prove to some people that I have changed,” he said.

His advice to youngsters caught up in gangs today is simple.

He explained: “Don’t be fooled by what you think is reality and don’t be fooled by those who are supposedly leading you. It’s a facade.

“They will turn on you when it suits them. When you’re facing death or a jail sentence they will desert you. Choose your role models from the ground up. Start with your own mother.”

Eugene knows that the mistakes he made as a teenager and the years he spent in prison can never be forgotten or erased from his past. 

“I have physical scars but I also have mental scars which run deeper. People used to say let me see your bullet hole, let me see your stab wound but it’s mentally where I was affected. When you leave prison, you don’t know whether you will be able to cope in society again after being away from it all for so long.”

Eugene has battled with his mental health since leaving prison. Picture: Ian Valentine

After prison Eugene spent years battling with mental health issues and said there were times he felt close to breaking point.

“I have tried clairvoyants, spirit healers, spooky psychics, counsellor’s and shaman’s juice,” he explains.

Despite this, Eugene feels he is finally in a great place. He married his wife last year and has 3 children, all of whom he adores.

Eugene knows he has made mistakes and that life has been a steep learning curve. He is now determined to be a force for good in the world and to stop others from repeating his mistakes. 

With recovery and perseverance has come salvation and for Eugene, at 44, the future, now more than ever, looks bright.

If you would like further information about YLM, you can contact Eugene by emailing [email protected]

Feature image courtesy of Calder Marley photography, with thanks

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