2021s MOST INSPIRATIONAL TRUE STORY
HOW FITNESS TRANSFORMED ONE BRIXTON GANG LEADER
“It’d be easy for me to go back to my old life, but I know where that old life leads you.
You’re either behind prison bars or six feet underground.”
Terroll Lewis has lived a crazy life.
Growing up on Brixton’s Myatt’s Field estate, he was surrounded by gang culture, and like so many other young people, he found it hard to resist the lifestyle. By the time he was 15, he had already joined a gang, been stabbed, shot at, and was selling drugs.
A chance to play professional football offered a way out, but the lure of an easier life — the promise of girls, money, and cars — led him back to South London and the notorious OC, or Organised Crime, gang.
Violence and drug dealing were the norm in OC, but Terroll has long since turned his back on this world, though the association with OC endures through the ink on his skin.
These days Terroll’s giving something back; Block Workout, a street-gym he founded in his old neighbourhood, gives young men an opportunity to follow a different road to the one he took during his adolescence — helping them develop their minds as well as their bodies — and the chance to live a better life.
THE HEART OF BAGHDAD
Myatts Field estate, Brixton, South London, 2002
I hear gunfire and drop to the road. A deafening blast followed by several shorter ones. The shots are sharp and clattering, drilling the air. The sound rips through my eardrums, spears my brain and shoots down my skinny, thirteen-year-old arms and legs. My heart shakes to the rhythm of the bullets. The pavement is cold against my knees. Must’ve ripped my tracksuit when I hit the road. I’m sweating all over. Shivering too. I can’t see much, as it’s dark and the streetlights don’t work and I’m all crunched over with my hands on my head, chin almost touching the ground, like I’m surrendering to armed police. And there’s this smell of piss in the air: gunpowder. Somebody close by is firing a sub-machine gun, man. Sounds like a war zone for like four seconds or so, but that’s a long time for gunfire,
innit? Ain’t unusual to hear guns go off around here though. I mean, this is the Myatts Field estate. Its nickname’s ‘Baghdad’ ’cos it’s all shot-up. Some call it the Devil’s Den, y’know what I’m saying? It’s deprived.
I’m ducking in a road close to the Hills, the grass area that’s like some Teletubbies’ gangland on the edge of the estate. If you ain’t from ’round here, you don’t go near the Hills, especially at night – unless you want to get shot, stabbed or mugged. Reason I’m here? I came to see the Olders, to be on the block with them and feel the energy, y’know. I’d seen them ahead, about twenty of them, chilling in front of a wall, but before I could get into their space, this happened.
The Olders lead the OC [Organised Crime] gang. They wear expensive chains and clothes and drive flash cars like Porsches and stuff. You see them counting fat wads of cash, hear them making rap videos and it’s like, Wow, these guys are too cool. The OC gang protects this estate and its territories. It has enemies, other gangs that the Olders call the ‘pagans’ or the ‘Other Side’ or ‘opps’. I’ve just stepped into gang warfare.
Half-an-hour ago I’d been on the neighbouring Cowley Estate, flirting with my friend Sherise. I just took a small diversion on my way home to my nan and granddad’s house on Treherne Court, which is, like, a two-minute
run from here.
I lift my head, see the stampede: the Olders, running towards me, away from the wall beyond which the spray of bullets came. Some are wearing ballies. Most are holding their waists as they run, ready to pull their machines. Nike trainers thump past me and I freeze. Nobody’s noticed me crouching here. The gunfire has ceased but it’s still echoing in my ears, cshh, cshh-cshh-cshh-cshh-cshh-cshh-cshh. Some are shouting, ‘Run’, others yell, ‘Don’t run’. But they are running – and running and running and running, footsteps and voices disappearing deep into the estate.
It’s eerily quiet now. I look at the wall ahead, look all around me, breathing hard. There are no police sirens. Somebody close by has fired a sub-machine gun. Whoever did so could fire that weapon again. Fuck, I need to get outta here, man. A switch flicks inside me and my energy changes. I’m off my blocks and sprinting, sprinting, sprinting, back towards the centre of the estate, the heart of Baghdad. Up the slope of Crawshay Court, cut across, take the path next to the play park and beat up the slope onto Treherne Court, along to number seven. I get my key out of my pocket but I’m shaking so much that it takes me a few goes to stab it in the lock. I turn the key, hurry inside and slam the door, trying to catch my breath. Smell of fried potatoes and cabbage fills my airwaves.
I walk into the kitchen and Nan’s in there. Her short hair’s got pink streaks through it that match her nightie. Mum’s done her hair again, I’m thinking. Nan takes one look at me and goes: ‘Heavens, what’ve you been up to, Our Boy? Why are you all sweaty and out of breath?’
‘Yeah, I just jogged it home,’ I tell her, and boost it outta there. I hear her call, do I want some bubble and squeak? But I’m in the bathroom now, sitting on the lid of the toilet and hearing gunfire in my head again. I have no idea who fired that gun. OC has beef with lots of different areas. Could’ve been the Peckham Boys, or pagans from Lewisham, Tulse Hill, or anywhere. Either way, how fucking dare they? How dare they attack our estate? Adrenaline’s subsiding now. I’m thinking about what I witnessed and I’m not scared. I’m angry, a deep hatred for the Other Side rising
within me. I’m also excited. Those OC boys are holding down the ends – and I want to get out there and help them, man. One hundred per cent.
Tags: crime biography
- Format: ebook, hardcover
- Size: 232 pages
- Publisher: Ad Lib
- Publication Date: 21 January 2021
- Book Links:
Terroll Lewis is the founder of the Brixton Street Gym, a charity-based community gym that has gained a huge cult following in the short time that it has been around. He also founded the BlockWorkOut Foundation — the charitable base that supports this amazing gym, making it accessible to everyone regardless of income — and The ManTalk, an online platform that promotes male positivity.
Terroll had been embroiled in some of the most serious street gang warfare even seen in London, leading a band of armed and dangerous young men through the streets of the city, a wild time that ended in him being accused of murder. He was eventually acquitted of the crime and proven innocent, but is thankful for his time in prison, as it enabled him to re-evaluate his life and come out a better man, the man he is today.
“Terrol Lewis was previously heavily involved in gangs. He’s a point of reference for reform in the community. He has almost single handedly stimulated a wellbeing culture for young black men and women in Lambeth.” Karl Lokko
- Twitter: @TerrollLewis
- Facebook: @TerrollLewis
- Instagram: @terrolllewis